Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Wisconsin Supreme Court
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Petitioner and Respondent were divorced according to a judgment of divorce filed on July 20, 1989. The judgment awarded Petitioner half the value of Respondent's pension accrued during the span of the marriage and stated that a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) was required to be submitted to secure those rights. On September 13, 2010, Petitioner filed a motion seeking to compel Respondent to provide pension information so that the necessary QDRO could be prepared and his Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) pension could be divided in accordance with the judgment of divorce. The circuit court denied Petitioner's motion for the entry of a QDRO on the grounds that the motion was barred by Wis. Stat. 893.40, a statute of repose, which states that an action upon a judgment or decree "shall be commenced within 20 years after the judgment or decree is entered or be barred." The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Petitioner's motion was not barred by the operation of section 893.40 because (1) it was not until 1998 that legislation required WRS to accept QDROs for marriages that were terminated previously; and (2) therefore, the statute of repose will bar actions on such provisions after 2018. Remanded. View "Johnson v. Masters" on Justia Law

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Dane County filed amended petitions for the termination of Mable K.'s parental rights of her two children, alleging a continuing need of protection or services and abandonment. On the second day of a fact-finding hearing, Mable failed to personally appear. Following testimony, the circuit court found by default both grounds for termination. After a subsequent dispositional hearing, the district court terminated Mable's parental rights. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the circuit court erroneously exercised its discretion when it entered the default judgment finding after barring Mable's attorney from offering default evidence; (2) the court erred when it granted the default judgment before taking evidence sufficient to establish the grounds alleged in the amended petitions; and (3) the circuit court's remedy for correcting the errors was fundamentally unfair under the facts of this case. Remanded. View "Dane County Dep't of Human Servs. v. Mable K." on Justia Law

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Petitioner's child care license was revoked by the Department of Children and Families pursuant to Wis. Stat. 48.685(5)(br), the "caregiver law," which permanently bars those who have ever been convicted of specified predicate crimes from holding a child care license. An ALJ dismissed Petitioner's appeal of the revocation without a hearing based on her conviction on a guilty plea of violating Wis. Stat. 49.12(1) and (6) for a food stamp offense twenty years earlier. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that a remand for an administrative hearing was required to determine whether the facts underlying the conviction established it as a conviction barred under the caregiver law. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) due deference should be accorded the Department's interpretation and application of the caregiver law; (2) Petitioner had a right to a hearing; and (3) because genuine issues of material fact existed, the ALJ erred in dismissing Petitioner's appeal without a hearing for factual development. View "Jamerson v. Dep't of Children & Families" on Justia Law

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Michael May sought to reduce his child support payments to his former wife, Suzanne May, approximately one year after entry of an order by the circuit court establishing a thirty-three-month unmodifiable floor for child support payments pursuant to a stipulation entered into by the parties. The court of appeals certified the appeal to the Supreme Court. The Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court, holding that the Mays' stipulation and order for child support was enforceable, as (1) the parties freely and knowingly entered into the stipulation at issue, and the terms of the stipulation were fair and equitable to the parties; (2) the agreement was not contrary to public policy because the circuit court retained its equitable power to consider circumstances in existence when the stipulation was challenged that were unforeseen by the parties when they entered into the agreement if those circumstances adversely affected the best interests of the children; and (3) Michael did not demonstrate the existence of such circumstances.

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Tracy McReath filed a petition for divorce from Timothy McReath in circuit court. Upon entering the order of divorce, the circuit court divided the marital property and awarded maintenance to Tracy, ordering that Timothy pay Tracy $796,720 to equalize the property division as well as $16,000 per month for twenty years in maintenance. Timothy appealed, arguing that (1) the circuit court erred as a matter of law when it treated Timothy's personal goodwill in his orthodontic practice as divisible property, and (2) the circuit court improperly double counted his personal goodwill in the orthodontic practice when it based Tracy's maintenance award on Timothy's expected future earnings from the orthodontic practice. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that the personal goodwill was salable and that the circuit court did nor err in its approach in determining the property division and maintenance award. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the entire value of the salable professional goodwill was properly counted as divisible property in the marital estate, and (2) the circuit court did not double count the professional goodwill from the orthodontic practice in the maintenance award.

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Patrick and Ellen Topolski were divorced in 1995. Under a marital settlement agreement setting forth division of the parties' property, Patrick was awarded all retirement and pension benefits when received by him less the sum of $912 per month he was to pay Ellen. In 2001, when he was fifty-three years old, Patrick began receiving disability pension payments of $2,348 monthly under a pension plan. In 2008, Ellen brought a motion in the circuit court seeking a qualified domestic relations order for $912 per month pursuant to the relief provided in the agreement as well as payment from the time Patrick began receiving benefits. The circuit court interpreted the agreement as requiring Patrick to pay Ellen $912 per month from his disability benefits and awarded judgment in the amount of $83,072 to Ellen. The court of appeals reversed, finding Ellen was not entitled to receive payments from the disability pension benefit but was entitled to receive monthly payments when Patrick reached sixty-five, the normal retirement age under the pension plan. The Supreme Court modified the appellate court's decision and as modified, affirmed, holding Ellen was entitled to $912 per month from the disability pension when Patrick turned sixty-two years old.

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In a termination of a parental rights proceeding, the court of appeals certified questions to the court to resolve the ambiguities and uncertainties regarding the use of Wis. Stat. 48.415 as a ground to terminate parental rights. The court concluded that section 48.415 prescribed a totality of the circumstances test. The court also concluded that the circuit court did not err when it denied the father's motion, in this case, for a directed verdict and that he waived his argument that the jury instruction was improper. Accordingly, the court held that the father's parental rights were lawfully terminated and affirmed the judgment of the circuit court.