Articles Posted in Family Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the order of the circuit court granting a petition for grandparent visitation over the objection of two fit parents, holding that the Grandparent Visitation Statute, Wis. Stat. 767.43(3), as applied to the circuit court order, is unconstitutional because Grandmother did not overcome the presumption in favor of the Parents' visitation decision with clear and convincing evidence that their decision was not in the child's best interest. Despite finding that Parents were good and fit parents, the circuit court granted Grandmother's petition for visitation. The Supreme Court vacated the order, holding (1) The Grandparent Visitation Statute must withstand strict scrutiny; (2) the statute is facially constitutional and is narrowly tailored to further a compelling state interest; but (3) the statute is unconstitutional as applied, and the visitation order in this case violated the constitutional rights of Parents. View "Michels v. Lyons" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the termination of Father’s parental rights and remanded this case to the circuit court to conduct a new trial, holding that denying a defendant an opportunity to present his case-in-chief is a structural error, one that is so intrinsically harmful as to require automatic reversal. After the State petitioned the circuit court to terminate Father’s parental rights, the case went to trial. Immediately after the State rested and before giving Father an opportunity to present his case the circuit court decided that Father was an unfit parent. On appeal, the State admitted error but argued that the circuit court’s decision was subject to a harmless-error review. The court of appeals agreed with the State and concluded that the circuit court’s error was harmless. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the circuit court erred when it decided Father was an unfit parent before he had an opportunity to present his case; and (2) the error was structural, and the case must be remanded for a new trial. View "State v. C.L.K." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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St. Croix County petitioned to terminated Mother’s parental rights to her Son, alleging that Son was a child in continuing need of protection or services (CHIPS) and that Mother failed to assume parental responsibility. The circuit court terminated Mother’s parental rights to Son. Citing Waukesha County v. Steven H., the court of appeals reversed, ruling that because the last order Mother received did not contain written notice warning her about termination, the County failed to establish the notice element required under Wis. Stat. 48.415(2)(a)(1). The Supreme Court reversed after clarifying Steven H., holding that the notice Mother received satisfied the statutory notice requirement in a termination of parental rights action based on continuing CHIPS, and the evidence was sufficient to support the remaining elements of continuing CHIPS set forth in Wis. Stat. 48.415(2). View "St. Croix County Dep’t of Health & Human Servs. v. Michael D." on Justia Law

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After Mother and Father divorced, Grandmother filed a motion seeking to visit her four grandchildren. The circuit court ultimately denied the motion, concluding that Grandmother failed to prove that she maintained “a parent-like relationship” with the children pursuant to Wis. Stat. 767.43(1). The children appealed, and the the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) section 767.43(1) does not require a grandparent, great-grandparent, or stepparent who files a motion for visitation rights to prove that he or she has maintained a parent-like relationship with the child, as the parent-child relationship element applies only to a person seeking visitation rights who is not a grandparent, great-grandparent, or stepparent; and (2) the legislature’s decision to allow courts to grant visitation rights to grandparents, great-grandparents, and stepparents when visitation is in the best interest of the child does not infringe on parents’ constitutional rights. View "S. A. M. v. Meister" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether Wis. Stat. Chapter 770, by which the legislature created the legal status of domestic partnership for same-sex couples, violates the following constitutional provision: “Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state.” Those two sentences were added by Wisconsin voters in 2006 as an Amendment to the state constitution. The court of appeals concluded that Chapter 770 is constitutional. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Chapter 770 is constitutional based on the presumption of constitutionality, Plaintiffs’ failure to carry their burden of proof, and the evidence reviewed in accordance with caselaw establishing the framework used to interpret constitutional provisions. View "Appling v. Walker" on Justia Law

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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

Posted in: Family Law

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Joseph McLeod, Decedent's husband, filed a petition for formal administration of Decedent's estate and his appointment as personal representative. McLeod also asserted his right to a share of Decedent's estate. Patricia Mudlaff, Decedent's stepdaughter, also filed a petition for formal administrative and appointment as personal representative, contending that Decedent's marriage to McLeod was invalid because Decedent lacked the mental capacity to consent to the marriage and requesting that the circuit court declare Decedent's marriage void. The circuit court rejected Mudlaff's argument, concluding that annulment was the only method to void a marriage and that Wisconsin law prohibits annulment after the death of one of the parties to the marriage. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) annulment is not the exclusive remedy to challenge the validity of a marriage; and (2) in an estate action challenging a marriage, a court may use its declaratory judgment powers to declare that a marriage prohibited by law was void and incapable of validation by the parties to the marriage. Remanded. View "Mudlaff v. McLeod" on Justia Law

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David and Marcia Rosecky entered into a parentage agreement (agreement) with Monica and Cory Schissel under which the parties agreed that Monica would become pregnant and carry a child for the Roseckys. Through artificial insemination using Monica's egg and David's sperm, Monica became pregnant and later gave birth to a child. Shortly before the child's birth, Monica decided she did not want to give up her parental rights and sought custody and placement of the child. David, in response, sought enforcement of the agreement. The circuit court concluded that the agreement was not enforceable and awarded sole custody of the child to David, primary placement to David, and secondary placement to Monica. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) a parentage agreement is a valid, enforceable contract unless its enforcement is contrary to the best interests of the child; (2) none of the traditional defenses to the enforcement of a contact applied in this case to render the agreement unenforceable; and (3) the circuit court erred in rendering its custody and placement decision without consideration of the agreement. Remanded for a hearing on custody and placement. View "Rosecky v. Schissel" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family 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