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Wisconsin is a no-fault divorce state, which means that a couple, or an individual, seeking a divorce do not have to prove to the court that there is any specific reason for the divorce, or that one party has committed any specific action that would justify the marriage ending. Instead, the parties can simply assert that the marriage is irretrievably broken, and there is no reason for it to continue.

In some cases, however, one partner may assert that the marriage has reached the point of no return, while the other may argue that the marriage can still be salvaged, and divorce is not the correct course of action. When this happens, the court must look at all of the information and factors available in determining whether to allow the divorce to move forward.

In a recent Wisconsin divorce case, Marriage of John v. Fritz-Klaus, Mr. John initiated divorce proceedings against Ms. Fritz-Klaus after they had been married for approximately five years. Mr. John told the court that they had been living apart for the last two months and that after an extensive period of trying to work through marital issues, the marriage was irretrievably broken and could not be fixed.  In response, Ms. Fritz-Klaus told the court that she believed the marriage could be saved and that she wanted to work things out rather than pursue a divorce. She requested that the court allow the two parties to engage in counseling for a period of time before moving forward with the divorce. The court initially agreed and ordered Mr. John and Ms. Fritz-Klaus to attend counseling sessions together.

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One of the most difficult aspects of a divorce involving children is navigating the complexity of requiring two parents who no longer get along but are required to make decisions about their children together. While courts want both parents to be as involved as possible in their child’s life, as that is usually in the best interest of the child, they also want to ensure that the parents’ disagreements over issues don’t interfere with the child’s future or prevent important decisions from being made. In order to avoid this problem, courts will sometimes grant one parent more authority or control than the other in order to allow decisions to be made in an expeditious fashion.

In a recent Wisconsin divorce case, the court dealt with this kind of an issue in reviewing a divorce appeal. In In Re Marriage of Robert Corey Burgraff v. Amanda June Burgraff, the court reviewed a divorce decision for one Wisconsin family. They were married in 2012 and had one child. Less than two years after getting married, the wife decided she wanted to end the marriage and moved from Wisconsin to Kentucky. She stayed in Kentucky while her husband stayed in Wisconsin. In January 2015, the husband filed for divorce. The lower court decided to award joint custody to the two parties, with the child to live with the husband during the school year and then with the wife during the summers because the child would begin kindergarten in Wisconsin the next year. Additionally, the court awarded the parents joint legal custody over their child’s education, but decided that the husband would have impasse authority over educational decisions, which meant that if the two parents could not decide about educational opportunities or decision, the husband had the right to the final say. After this ruling was finalized, the wife appealed.

On appeal, the wife argued that awarding the husband impasse authority as to educational decisions was tantamount to awarding him sole legal custody over their child as to educational issues and, under Wisconsin law, in order to do so, the court had to make specific findings to this effect, which it did not actually do. Thus, the wife argued that the court’s ruling was improper.

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The Court of Appeals of Wisconsin, District II has affirmed a trial court’s order to suppress drug evidence obtained following an illegal police search of a Kenosha man’s residence. In an unpublished case, a woman apparently called local police to report the smell of marijuana emanating from her upstairs neighbor’s residence. She also told police the unit was accessed from the rear of the converted single family home.

When law enforcement officials arrived, they reportedly smelled a strong odor of marijuana. At the back of the building, police found an open door behind an unlocked but closed screen door. There was also a doorbell that stated “up” located nearby. After entering the unlocked doors, police apparently came to two closed doors and a staircase. Law enforcement officials climbed the staircase and knocked on the closed door at the top. A man opened the door, and the officers allegedly saw drug paraphernalia in the room behind him. When the man tried to close the door, the officers apparently handcuffed and arrested him. After obtaining a search warrant for the premises, police discovered a variety of drug evidence.

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The Court of Appeals of Wisconsin, District IV has ruled that a man’s motion to suppress drug and other evidence found on his property should have been granted. In an unpublished opinion, a police officer sought a search warrant to examine a 38.8-acre rural property for evidence of marijuana cultivation. Based on the officer’s sworn statement, a circuit court issued the warrant. When law enforcement officials executed the instrument, they allegedly uncovered guns, marijuana, and evidence related to a grow operation. As a result, the owner of the property was accused of manufacturing marijuana, illegally possessing a firearm, drug trafficking, and other charges.

Following his arrest, the defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence uncovered as a result of the search warrant. According to the defendant, the officer made several untrue statements in order to secure the warrant. Following a hearing, the trial court ruled that the defendant met his burden of proving the police officer demonstrated a reckless disregard for the truth in his application for the search warrant.

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In the aftermath of same-sex marriage cases in the Supreme Court, and the legalization of same-sex marriage across the country, domestic partnerships have taken a bit of a back seat to legal marriage in most states. While the ability of couples of all sexual orientations to be married is certainly an accomplishment to be celebrated, a domestic partnership offers many unique benefits that should not be overlooked.

While Wisconsin has offered domestic partnership benefits to same-sex couples since the adoption of a domestic partnership registry in 2009, the legal benefits of this status have recently come to a close. Under legislation passed in 2017, Wisconsin ended its domestic partnership registration in April 2018, changing the landscape of benefits available to same-sex couples.

Same-sex marriage and a Wisconsin domestic partnership have the same goal of allowing recognized legal status for same-sex couples and conferring upon them many of the benefits held by couples in heterosexual marriages, but the status differed in several key ways, and the loss of domestic partnership registration will have important effects down the road.

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In a recent Wisconsin family law appellate decision, a husband appealed a divorce judgment on the grounds that he was not awarded enough maintenance at the time he and his wife divorced. He also appealed an order that came post-judgment and terminated the maintenance.

The couple married in 1999 and got divorced in 2016. Later in their marriage, they got income from a business founded by the wife in 2008. The income varied from year to year, peaking at $656,393 in 2012 and dropping in 2014 and 2015. The husband claimed he’d worked there full time, but after his wife filed for divorce, she stopped him from working there.

When the couple divorced in 2016, the court found the wife’s income had dropped and that the husband was able to earn $85,000. He was awarded limited-term maintenance in the amount of $4,000 each month for four years. A year after the couple divorced, the wife asked to reduce this maintenance on the basis that her business income had gone down more and would keep decreasing. The court found there was a substantial change in circumstances to form a basis for ending maintenance payments.

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It comes as no surprise to say that divorce and family issues can be very stressful and emotional for any individual.  Divorce can completely change an individual’s life, put their finances in peril, and leave them questioning where they are going to live. Dividing up things and time with kids can take parents away from the things they most value.  All of this can create an environment in which tensions are high and family members are prone to saying and doing things they might not otherwise. Relationships can become further eroded when loved ones lash out in the midst of stress and confusion.

Wisconsin family law attorneys are often inadvertently swept up in these emotions and passions because they represent family members, advocate for their best interests, and, often, have to advocate against the interests of others. Whether petitioning for sole custody or trying to force a spouse to hand over the keys to the house, family law attorneys can quickly become the “bad guys” who are ruining another individual’s life in the process.

Each family law attorney endeavors to represent their clients in the most effective and compassionate way possible, and to minimize lingering damage to relationships or to children. It is never the intention to bring harm to any other party, but the reality is that a divorce is rarely easy, and one side will often feel like they have lost.

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In a recent Wisconsin child custody appellate decision, the court considered a father’s appeal of a divorce judgment based on the parties’ stipulation about the support, placement and custody of their three minor kids. The father argued that the lower court had made a mistake in adopting the parents’ stipulation and incorporating those terms without the court making findings.

The case arose when a couple married in 2004. The mother petitioned for divorce in 2015, at which time the couple had three minor kids. The commissioner temporarily awarded the mother primary placement and custody of the minor kids. The temporary order also required that the father have periods of time with the kids.

The mother was concerned about the father’s contact with the kids and moved to amend the temporary order. The couple stipulated that she would have exclusive placement of the kids with a weekly period of visitation for one of the kids with the father. About a month later the commissioner entered an order stating that the visitation wasn’t taking place as required. The parents agreed that a guardian ad litem was needed and an attorney was appointed for the children.

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In a recent decision, a father appealed from an order affirming the family court commissioner’s decision to impute about $13,400 in monthly income to him so that it could modify his Wisconsin child support obligation. The father appealed, arguing that the income had been imputed to him without enough evidence and that the court had mistakenly frustrated his efforts to give evidence about his and his former spouse’s incomes.

The couple petitioned for a legal separation in 2003. They entered a settlement agreement and the court adjudicated a legal separation. The couple had two minor children. The legal separation judgment was changed into a divorce judgment.

Multiple orders were made about the kids’ physical custody and placement. The state was worried that their basic needs weren’t met without public assistance and tried to modify the child support order. It asked that the lower court decide matters connected to their health care and insurance. The father stipulated to give them health insurance.

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In a recent appellate decision, a wife appealed the Wisconsin divorce judge’s provisions related to child custody, placement and property distribution. She argued that the lower court had improperly used its discretion in awarding sole legal custody to the father with regard to educational decisions, made a prospective child physical placement decision, divided the value of the marital home, and refused to award her half of his possible future military pension payments.

The couple was married in 2012 and lived together in a home bought by the father 6 years prior to the marriage. The couple had a child born in 2012. Once she decided to divorce the mother relocated to Kentucky. Meanwhile, the father kept his residence in Wisconsin and deployed as a member of the Air Forces Reserve.

The father sued for divorce. The court awarded the parties joint legal custody of the child, except that the father was given impasse authority over the child’s education decisions, under which he was entitled to a final decision on educational decisions if the parties couldn’t agree on those decisions. The court ordered that the couple would have equal physical placement of their child until the child was going to start kindergarten. The court ordered that at that point, the father would have primary physical placement for the school year. A holiday schedule alternating between parents was also created.

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