Articles Posted in Child Custody

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courtroomOne of the fundamental tenets of the legal system is that you must show up to assert your legal rights if you want to have those rights enforced. Parties to a legal dispute cannot simply refuse to take part in legal proceedings and expect to have their position upheld, or even considered, by the court. Indeed, when an individual does not show up or respond to a legal proceeding or complaint, a court may enter a default judgment against the person. This means that the opposing party wins not necessarily on the merits of their argument but simply by default, since the other party didn’t show up. In a recent case before the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, this type of default judgment had significant consequences for a father seeking to keep his parental rights.

In In Re The Termination of Parental Rights to A.P. and J.P., proceedings were initiated against K.P., the father of A.P. and J.P., after he failed to abide by state orders obligating him to maintain contact with his children. K.P. was incarcerated at the time that A.P. and J.P. were removed from their mother, and he did not initially have regular contact with them while in jail. In July 2014, temporary custody of J.P. and A.P. was awarded to the Milwaukee Bureau of Child Welfare, and, in order to prevent the termination of his parental rights, K.P. was instructed to maintain monthly written contact with his children from jail. K.P. failed to do so. In October 2015, a petition to terminate K.P.’s parental rights was filed, stating that K.P. had abandoned his children. K.P. was ordered to show up for the termination proceedings and was released from custody in order to do so. K.P. was appointed counsel, who attended the first hearing, but K.P. did not show up. His counsel did not know where he was. The court went ahead and ordered the remaining hearing and trial dates and warned K.P.’s counsel that if K.P. did not appear, a default judgment could be entered against him. While K.P. later attended the two pretrial hearings, he did not show up on the day of the jury trial, despite repeated attempts by the court to reach him. A default judgment was entered against him, and his rights were terminated. K.P. appealed.

On appeal, K.P. argued that his behavior was not so egregious as to justify a default judgment because he had attended the prior hearings, and he had telephoned his counsel on the day of the trial to say that he would be late. Under Wisconsin law, however, a trial court’s determination of a default judgment may be overturned only if the trial court did not follow the law or had no reasonable basis for the default judgment. Here, the Court of Appeals noted that K.P. had received multiple warnings regarding the possibility of default findings if he did not appear, and he had acknowledged these warnings. Moreover, although he initially telephoned his counsel on the morning of the trial to let him know that he would be a few minutes late, his counsel and the court were unable to reach him for the next two hours, even after delaying the trial in an attempt to allow K.P. to attend. Under these circumstances, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court was not out of line in determining that egregious conduct had occurred, and there was a reasonable basis for the decision. Moreover, the Court of Appeals noted that K.P. had never made any significant attempts to contact or support his children and had not been a consistent presence in their lives.

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sonIn Wisconsin, courts may consider a wide range of factors when determining custody between two divorcing parents. Among these factors, Wisconsin courts are statutorily required to consider evidence of past domestic abuse. Wisconsin’s statutes do not require that a past history of abuse be dispositive, but it must be one of the factors that a court considers. A recent case before the Wisconsin Court of Appeals illustrates how this factor may be weighed against others in evaluating custody arrangements.

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money-wallet-1535232-1280x960-300x225When a couple divorces and reaches an agreement on issues such as child support and spousal maintenance, the terms of that agreement are considered final. They can only be changed through a petition to the court arguing that there has been a substantial change in circumstances that warrants a change in financial arrangements. What constitutes a substantial change in circumstances is largely up to the discretion of the court considering the case, and many different factors may be considered. A recent Wisconsin case looks at whether changes in income by one or both parties can justify a change in child support amounts.

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courtroom-1-1236725-1278x855-3-300x201When dealing with family law matters, it can be difficult to ascertain the true interests of the parties and all those affected, without conducting an evidentiary hearing. While briefs and motions can be carefully crafted in order to present the story from a party’s particular perspective, hearings are often necessary to understand the full details of a situation and the true impact that any changes to a custody order, or maintenance plan, are likely to have on those involved. At the same time, courts are often constrained by time and resources from conducting hearings on every occasion, and may opt instead to hold hearings only in those cases where they are most necessary. A recent case before the Wisconsin Court of Appeals looks at whether courts are required to hold hearings in some circumstances and whether that is a basis for appeal.

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familyChild custody and placement can be one of the most contentious aspects of any divorce. Parents feel strongly about spending time with their kids and having a long-lasting and healthy relationship with them. Splitting time between both spouses can make that difficult and can lead to anger and resentment between ex-spouses. In a recent case before the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, the court considered what to do when one spouse asks to modify the child custody arrangement to which she previously agreed.

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babyIn Wisconsin, when a parent is unwilling or unfit to take care of his or her child, the parental rights of the individual may be terminated through special proceedings. The termination of parental rights is governed by statute and is taken very seriously, since it can have a huge impact on both the life of the child and the life of the parents. A recent case before the Wisconsin Court of Appeals considers the question of what to do when lower courts deviate from termination of parental rights procedures.

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