Family Law Blog | Family Law Section

This blog discusses topics important to attorneys who work with families involved in separations, divorce, and post-divorce issues. Topics include changes in the statutes, important appellate and Supreme Court decisions, practice tips and pointers, procedural issues, evidentiary issues, and trials. Published by the State Bar of Wisconsin's Family Law Section.

This section is made up of attorneys, guardians ad litem, family court commissioners, and judges with a special interest in family law. The section monitors and proposes legislation, monitors case law, sponsors CLE seminars, has an email list, organizes the annual Family Law Workshop, and publishes the Wisconsin Journal of Family Law.

Members of the State Bar of Wisconsin may join the section by visiting (login required).


Counting an item as an asset (usually a pension) to be divided in property division, then also as income available for maintenance, is generally prohibited as “double counting.”1 However, this rule is not absolute. “When analyzing whether there has been double counting, the focus should be on fairness, not rigid double-counting rules.”2 In the last 60 years, courts have carved out various exceptions:
Income from a pension. In a case involving property, maintenance, and child support, income
Continue Reading Property Division: Exceptions to the Double Counting Rule

Wisconsin families, like those across the country, can be made up of many different arrangements – the result of active decisions or convenience.

For unmarried couples in Wisconsin, navigating breakups poses unique legal challenges. Every so often, this results in ideas around “palimony” – the marriage of the words “pal” and “alimony” – to address financial support or property division between unmarried adults separating after a period of cohabitation.

While this circumstance may be covered by protections of common
Continue Reading Navigating Breakups for Unmarried Couples in Wisconsin

There is disagreement among family law practitioners as to whether modification of custody or placement orders is an appropriate remedy for remedial contempt. The scenario is one that we often see: one party is willfully and intentionally violating a custody and placement order, and as a sanction for their conduct, a request is made for the court to change the underlying order. Purpose of Remedial Contempt It’s important to remember the purpose of a remedial contempt sanction: to coerce
Continue Reading Is Modification of Custody or Placement a Remedy for Contempt?

The State Bar of Wisconsin Family Law Section is moving forward with seeking an amendment to Wis. Stat. chapter 767 to permit divorces to be granted without a final hearing. The proposed amendment language has been approved by the section board and circulated with key stakeholders in family law matters. We are in the process of seeking a bill sponsor and hope to have the bill introduced at some time in the next session. The Family Law Section Legislation
Continue Reading Amending Chapter 767: Divorce by Affidavit

Can the court order a parent to submit to a drug test at the request of the other parent in a contested child-related issue?

Substance abuse issues, or allegations of substance abuse, are often at the forefront of family court cases, and can play significant roles in determining the custody and placement arrangements that are in the best interests of the children.

Wis. Stat. section 804.10 arguably grants the court the authority to make such an order:

When the
Continue Reading On the Family Court’s Authority to Order Parental Drug Tests

It doesn’t come up often, but when it does, it’s a problem.

If, through the course of litigation, you come to believe that a self-represented opposing party is incompetent, there is a fairly simple procedure outlined in the Wisconsin statutes to both protect the party’s interest and keep the case moving.

Wis. Stat. section 803.01(3)(a) is mostly used for minors, but it applies to potentially incompetent parties as well. It reads, in part:

If a party to an action
Continue Reading What To Do If You Believe a Pro Se Party May Be Incompetent

Shakespeare may query “What’s in a name?” but for Wisconsin parents, the question requires a little more consideration. Wisconsin’s name change procedures, housed in Wis. Stat. chapter 786.36, make certain provisions when the petition to change a name is for a child under the age of 14.1

Amanda R.R. Mayer
, Marquette 2012, is the legal projects director at
Wisconsin Judicare in Wausau, where she works with victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault and supervises the Family Law Unit,
Continue Reading Big Revision for Child Name Changes

Known generally as “Motions to Enforce,” Wis. Stat. section 767.471 provides a fast track to a hearing to enforce the physical placement order in effect in a family law action. Section 767.471 – formerly Wis. Stat. section 767.242 – was enacted as part of the Appropriations and Executive Budget Bill of 1999.

It is helpful to understand that motions to enforce are extraordinary motions. They carry with them specific procedural rules that are unique in family law, and, when
Continue Reading Are Motions to Enforce Physical Placement the Best Remedy For Your Client?

For some people, pets1 are equally, if not slightly less, important than children,2​ when it comes to divorce.

In Wisconsin, pets are property and treated no different from the TV, car, or lawn mower. Some states have started to consider pets in a separate regard than simply property. There are laws that address custody and shared placement of pets. For example, an Alaska law requires the judge to consider the “well-being” of the pet in addressing the
Continue Reading Fighting For (and Like) Cats and Dogs in Divorce

On March 11, 2022, Governor Evers signed SB 104, now 2021 WI Act 160. It was published on March 12 and became effective March 13, 2022.

2021 WI Act 160 modifies
DCF 150.02(13)(a)(8) to exclude “area variable housing costs” from a service member’s income for purposes of child support. Area variable housing costs refers to Variable Housing Allowances (VHA).

VHA is one component of the Basic Housing Allowance (BAH) and reflects the local area rental market. BAH rates are
Continue Reading Variable Housing Costs Now Removed from Military Gross Income: Calculating Child Support

As of March 11, 2022, Wisconsin parents who receive notice of deployment have new options available regarding custodial responsibilities for their children during deployment. The Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act (UDPCVA) creates Wis. Stat. chapter 324, specifically addressing custody and visitation issues for deployed parents. The Act expands the ability of both parents to delegate the custodial responsibilities for a child when a parent is deployed. Following is an overview of the most notable aspects of the
Continue Reading Newly Adopted Bill Addresses Custodial Questions for Deployed Parents

​Two years on, the COVID-19 pandemic is a daily reality that the millions of single, divorced, and separated parents across the country are struggling to navigate, and things are only getting more complicated. Parents are increasingly fighting over children’s vaccines, masks, remote schooling, and travel due to the differing views on COVID-19 safety.

With society slowly reopening, parents are frantically asking themselves whether their child should be socializing with their peers or staying at home. Are indoor activities safe?
Continue Reading Alternative Ways to Resolve Child Custody Disputes During the Pandemic

If you have a multi-county practice or accept a case in a county where you do not routinely practice, you should immediately become familiar with the local court rules in that county.

Court rules vary from county to county and cover many diverse issues, such as the timelines for filing exhibits and filing briefs, due dates for filing financial disclosure statements and parenting plans, and the duty to confer with opposing counsel prior to having a motion heard.

Continue Reading Pro Tip: Know Your Local Court Rules – Here’s How

Under Wisconsin law, a parent’s duty to support their child continues until the child turns 18, or age 19 if the child is still enrolled in high school or working on a high school equivalency course (GED).1

When multiple children are involved, as each child reaches the age of majority, the paying parent can seek modification to reduce ongoing payments to the remaining minor children, based on the reduced applicable percentage.

However, it was not clear until recently
Continue Reading ‘Be Proactive:’ Wisconsin Appeals Court Sends Message to Child Support Payers

Family law actions are expensive to maintain, both for the client who is seeking a favorable outcome, and for the attorney who may not be timely paid. When one of the parties to a case is uncooperative, highly adversarial, or less than forthright, the costs of the case may escalate – to the detriment of both client and counsel.Four Wisconsin statutes authorize the recovery of attorney’s fees for clients (and sometimes their attorneys) in family law cases. Two apply
Continue Reading Pursuing Attorney's Fees in Family Law Cases

As represented by several recently introduced bills, there are some interesting proposed changes to family law in Wisconsin. These proposed changes would allow for a more efficient handling of certain processes and events among parties who seek or are divorced or separated.
Financial Exchange: 2021 Senate Bill 604
Senate Bill 604 was introduced Oct. 8, 2021. This bill expands Wis. Stat. section 767.54, regarding the requirement of parties to exchange financial information each year when there is an
Continue Reading Update: Proposed Changes to Family Law in Wisconsin