How Can I Help My Children Through the Stress of Parent Separation, Divorce and School?

How Can I Help My Children Through the Stress of Parent Separation, Divorce and School?

It’s that time of year again, back to school!  For many families, the new school year is full of excitement and anticipation of new opportunities.  For others, it brings sadness and anxiety as relaxed summer schedules are replaced with earlier bedtimes, routine, homework and more structure.  For children of divorced and separated families, the stress and anxiety can be even greater, but it doesn’t have to be.  Here’s how you can help your children with a smooth transition into and throughout the school year.

Parents who still live together but have decided to separate can take the following actions to help reduce the stress and anxiety children may have.

  • Discuss ahead of time what you will tell your children and tell them together that one of their parents will be moving out.
  • Reassure your children that the divorce or separation is not their fault and that both parents love them very much.
  • Share with them what they need to know: Where will each parent be living?  When and how often will they see each parent?  Discuss plans for school (especially if a change in school will occur), extra-curricular activities, and how you plan to help them maintain friendships.
  • Don’t share with them what they should not know: Don’t blame the other parent for the divorce or separation.  Don’t talk badly about the other parent.  Don’t discuss court, financial issues or points of parent conflict.

 In addition to the points above, parents who are already divorced or separated can take the following steps to help their children through this period.

  • If both parents have placement on school nights, work together to develop a school night routine that you can both agree to. This may require compromise, but the more consistent both parents can be with homework, evening activities, bedtime, expectations, discipline, etc., the easier it will be on your children.
  • Encourage positive communication between your child and the non-placement parent. Don’t make your child feel guilty for wanting to talk to the other parent.  On the other hand, if you are the non-placement parent, don’t demand that your children speak to you on your terms.  Children should never be made to feel torn between two parents.  They should be made to know that they can love both parents without hurting the feelings of the other.
  • Don’t obsess about “who’s day it is.” Ideally, both parents should be able to attend your child’s school and extra-curricular activities regardless of who has placement and the child should know it’s alright to interact with both parents.

The tips above may seem idealistic in many cases, and I recognize that these recommendations require respectful and meaningful communication and cooperation between parents.  This may not be possible if one or both parents are high conflict, controlling, angry, etc., but to the extent you can follow these tips and remind your children, again and again, that the separation is not their fault and that both parents love them very much, your children will benefit tremendously.


Grandparent Visitation Rights Awaiting Wisconsin Supreme Court Decision

Grandparent Visitation Rights Awaiting Wisconsin Supreme Court Decision

In 2000, the United States Supreme Court found in Troxel v. Granville that parents have a constitutionally protected interest in the care, custody, and control of their children. The Supreme Court concluded that a trial court must give some special weight or consideration to a parent’s decision regarding who their child spends time with. The Court did not go so far, however, to decide whether or not the constitutional right required non-parent visitation statutes to require a showing of harm or potential harm to a child before the Court could award third parties, such as grandparents, visitation rights over the objection of the child’s parents.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court case was entered, most states have required that a Court find harm to a child before it can interfere with a fit parent’s decision regarding grandparent visitation. To date, Wisconsin has not applied that same standard and has adopted a less restrictive standard of proof. The question of whether or not grandparents should have to show harm to a child when a fit parent decides that their child should not spend time with them is currently before the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a case entitled Michels v. Lyons. Also, at issue in this case is to determine whether or not the presumption that a fit parent acts in their child’s best interest when deciding who should spend time with their children must be overcome by clear and convincing evidence or a lower standard.

In certifying the issue to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals District III concluded that “we anticipate numerous cases involving grandparent visitation rights. We believe Circuit Courts, parents, and grandparents would greatly benefit from the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s definitive clarification of the standard of proof on this issue involving a fundamental right.”

I could not agree more with the Court of Appeals about the necessity for the Supreme Court to offer clarification on these issues. As an attorney who has represented both grandparents seeking visitation with their grandchild, as well parents opposing grandparent visitation petitions, clarity on these issues is critical. Whatever decision the Wisconsin Supreme Court reaches, it will certainly impact the rights of grandparents and parents in this type of litigation, and it will provide a framework for consistent application of the law across the state by various family courts.

At this time, the Michels v. Lyons case has been argued and briefed before the Wisconsin Supreme Court and is waiting a decision by the Court. An update to this article will be provided after the Supreme Court issues its decision. In the meantime, if you are considering petitioning the Court as a non-parent seeking visitation rights with a child, or if you are a parent who has been sued for third-party visitation, the law firm encourages you to speak with a family law attorney who has experience in the area of grandparent or other third-party visitation.


Social Media and Family Law #askingfortrouble

Social Media and Family Law #askingfortrouble

Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat provide an abundance of opportunities to undermine your family law case. For many, social media has become a type of semi-public journal of their day-to-day life. Whether your relationship is in a rocky state, or you are already involved in family law litigation, your social media sites can be a gold mine of information that your significant other and/or their attorney can use against you in court.

Through your social media posts, one can track your daily activities, uncover the negative views you have of your significant other, and discover issues or characteristics that may reflect negatively on your parenting—all of which can be used as ammunition against you in a family law proceeding. Posting on social media every time you are out at a bar is not going to make you seem like a responsible parent when negotiating child custody and placement. Likewise, social media posts may impact your family law proceeding with respect to financial issues, such as property division, child support, and spousal support.

The following is a list of recommendations we encourage everyone to follow whether or not they are in the midst of, or think they may be heading toward, legal proceedings in a family law matter.

1. Do not post about every weekend outing, vacation, luxurious meal, concert, etc. that you take, eat, or attend without your partner.

2. Do not update your relationship status to publicize a new relationship while you are still going through legal proceedings in family court.

3. Do not post pictures of you with a new significant other.

4. Do not disparage your partner on social media.

5. Do not post statements or pictures about consuming too much alcohol or using illegal substances.

6. Do not brag about excessive spending or luxury purchases.

7. If you are not already social media “friends” with your children, do not “friend” them now.

8. Make sure your privacy settings are set as you want them.

9. Do not complain online about the judge, the family law court process, or anyone involved in the judicial system.

10. Do not write and post statements made while you are angry, hurt, or after you have consumed too much alcohol.

It can be tempting to vent to friends and family, or on a social media support group site. You may think that your privacy settings prohibit your information from being discovered by your significant other or their attorney, but you can never be certain that your trusted social media “friends” will not share information they obtained from your social media posts with the adverse party in your case. It is important to follow these recommendations to be careful about what you post on social media even when you think it is safe to do so because there is always a chance that it can be used against you in a legal manner.


Legal Separation or Divorce?

Legal Separation or Divorce?

A physical separation of spouses is not a “legal separation” regardless of how long it has been since the parties have lived together. A “legal separation” occurs through a court proceeding that is almost identical to a divorce proceeding. There are two main differences between a legal separation and a divorce.

1)    Residency requirements: To file an action for legal separation, you only need to be a resident of the state of Wisconsin (and of the county you file in) for 30 days. To bring an action for divorce, you must be a resident of the county you file in for at least 30 days AND a resident of the state of Wisconsin for at least 6 months.

2)    A legal separation does not dissolve or terminate the marriage, and therefore, neither party can remarry if their previous marriage ended only with a Judgment of Legal Separation and not a Judgment of Divorce. However, the parties can agree to convert the legal separation to a divorce after the Judgment of Legal Separation is entered, and either party to the legal separation can bring a Motion to convert the Judgment of Legal Separation to a Judgment of Divorce if more than one year has passed since the Judgment of Legal Separation was entered.

How Job Loss Can Affect Child Support

How Job Loss Can Affect Child Support

Child support is calculated based on a percentage of the payor’s income (generally 17% for one child, 25% for two children, 29% for three children, and up). After the calculation is established, a fixed dollar amount is determined based on the payor’s average gross monthly income at the time the support order is entered. In other words, the obligation does not automatically change from week to week or month to month based on a payor’s actual earnings where those earnings either fluctuate or the payor experiences a significant and sudden change in his or her income.

Wisconsin law allows a party to ask the court to modify the payor’s child support obligation if there is a substantial change in circumstances that warrants the modification. Generally speaking, a loss of employment and/or a significant reduction in a payor’s income would result in a reduction in the payor’s support obligation if the issue is properly brought before the court.

The court cannot retroactively back date a modification of a child support obligation to a date any earlier than the day in which the motion to modify the support obligation is filed and served on the other parent. Because of this, it is critical that a parent with a support obligation act quickly to bring an appropriate motion before the court for modification of his or her child support when the payor has a loss of employment or a sudden decrease in his or her income. If the payor finds new employment between the time that the motion was filed and served and the day that the motion is scheduled to be heard in court, the payor can always withdraw the motion. Failure to bring a motion in a timely manner could result in the payor accumulating significant arrears plus interest for unpaid child support and, in some cases, could result in the payor being found in contempt of court for his or her failure to pay.

If you have experienced a sudden loss of employment or a significant decrease in your earnings and believe you have a legal basis to modify your child support, we recommend that you speak to an experienced attorney who specializes in family law and encourage you to contact our firm with any questions that you may have.