When 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.
This case arises from the divorce proceedings of K.P. and R.P. The two former spouses divorced in 2007. They had two children from their marriage, C and M, and both children were initially placed with their mother, K.P., to attend school where she lived in Madison. In 2014, R.P. moved to revise their placement so that both children would be placed with R.P. and attend school in Lodi, Wisconsin. R.P. alleged that the two boys were not getting along with their mother and wanted to live with him. The court modified the placement arrangements so that C would live with R.P. for most of the year and attend school in Lodi, while M would continue to live with K.P and attend school in Madison. Seven months later, R.P. again moved to revise placement so that M would be placed primarily with him as well. K.P. objected to this revision and filed a motion to dismiss it, as well as an affidavit supporting her claims. The Court heard argument on the issues and decided to deny R.P.’s motion and keep the placement the same. R.P appealed, arguing that the court should have conducted an evidentiary hearing on the issue.
On appeal, R.P. argued that there were substantial changes justifying revision of the placement order, and that the court should have held an evidentiary hearing to look into these substantial changes. As an initial matter, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals noted that a change in placement requires the movant to prove that there has in fact been a substantial change in circumstances. Without evidence to suggest a substantial change, a hearing is unwarranted and a waste of the court’s time. As the Court of Appeals acknowledged, even R.P. agreed with these initial assertions. Rather, R.P. argued that there was significant evidence of a substantial change that justified his request. The Court of Appeals then turned to evaluate the evidence presented by R.P., but found that the evidence he presented in late 2014, while requesting the second revision to placement, was substantively similar to the evidence presented in March 2014 when he requested his first placement revision. Thus, the court determined that there was not a substantial change between the first revised placement order and R.P’s request for a second revised placement order. Because Richard did not show a substantial change in circumstances, the Court of Appeals held he was not entitled to the evidentiary hearing that he requested and denied his appeal.
This case makes clear that when dealing with requests to change custody arrangements or child placement orders, the requesting party must be able to show that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred before the court will entertain an evidentiary hearing on the issue. For this reason, it is important to pay close attention to the changes that you believe support your modification request, and whether they are actually substantially different from any prior hearings or requests. At Reddin & Singer, LLP, our experienced Milwaukee child placement lawyers can assist you in developing the evidentiary record necessary to establish that substantial changes have occurred. To find out more about how to effectively advocate for the change of child placement and child custody orders pertaining to your children, do not hesitate to contact the law offices of Reddin & Singer, LLP online or give us a call at 414-271-6400.