Co-Parenting During COVID-19 in Wisconsin; Special Accommodations in Family Courts

The COVID-19 pandemic has made co-parenting incredibly challenging for many families. When efforts to compromise fail, there are legal processes in place to protect children, help parties resolve placement disagreements, and modify custody and placement orders. The courts have made changes to their processes to accommodate families during these unusual times. You can be assured that judges and commissioners are available to continue to hear cases, issue orders, and assist parties in resolving disputes.

Dealing with Wisconsin family courts during “Safer at Home” Orders

Since family legal issues are often complex, and court procedures can change quickly, it is best to consult an attorney before moving forward with any legal filing. 

The following are examples of common filings in family law and how the courts have modified procedures during COVID-19:

  • Stipulation to Change Custody, Placement, or Child Support
  • When co-parents agree to modify a current family court judgment or order, they can stipulate to the change by filing a stipulation. The stipulation should explain the current order and how it will change pursuant to the parties’ new agreement. The stipulation should also explain the basis for the change.

    During Wisconsin’s “Safer at Home” Order, many co-parents are agreeing to temporarily modify placement, especially if one or both parents are frontline or essential workers. The temporary placement is done to protect their children’s health or to facilitate alternative placement arrangements.

    Beginning on March 20, 2020, the Dane County Clerk of Court’s Office suspended in-person service on the first and second floors, and instead has implemented a drop box for in-person filings. Family court filings can also be submitted electronically through the Wisconsin Circuit Court e-filing system. It is important to note, however, that many cases may need to be converted to electronic files before e-filing is permitted.

  • Notice of Motion and Motion to Change Placement/Custody/Child Support
  • When co-parents fail to resolve a custody or placement dispute, filing an Order to Show Cause may be the next step for the party seeking the modification. The Order to Show Cause should be accompanied by an affidavit explaining the reasons for requesting the modification.

    It is important to note that the party seeking the modification also has the option to file an Order to Show Cause to Change Placement/Custody/Child Support instead. An Order to Show Cause that includes a request for contempt still requires personal service, despite “Safer at Home” Orders.

  • Notice of Hearing and Motion to Enforce Physical Placement Order
  • If a parent is refusing to comply with the current physical placement order, the aggrieved parent can file a Motion to Enforce Physical Placement Order.

    This motion will explain the substance of the current order, as well as the basis for the claimed non-compliance. The person who files the motion can request additional periods of placement to replace those interfered with by the other party, request a change in the current order to increase its specificity, and require the other party to reimburse the aggrieved parent for financial loss resulting from the non-compliance. The aggrieved party can also request that the court find the other party in contempt.

    For the duration of Wisconsin’s “Safer at Home” Order, contested hearings like these are taking place via Zoom video conferencing. They are also streamed live on the court’s YouTube channel to satisfy the public access requirement for remote hearings.

  • Motion for Ex Parte Order
  • If the situation in dispute is an emergency and there is evidence that a child is in danger of imminent harm, a party may file a Motion for Ex Parte Order.

    A Motion for Ex Parte Order is reviewed by a Court Commissioner as soon as possible, and if the Commissioner believes there is evidence of imminent harm to a child, he or she will enter an order temporarily suspending the other parent’s custody or placement rights. This order is temporary, and a hearing will be scheduled to give both parties the opportunity to be heard.

    Pursuant to the Dane County Circuit Court’s Temporary Emergency Procedures for Family Court, which were implemented on March 25, 2020, due to COVID-19, all requests for emergency hearings and ex parte relief must be accompanied by a sworn affidavit. It must include sufficient facts to demonstrate the need for extraordinary court intervention.

  • Petition for Appointment of a Guardian Ad Litem
  • In some cases, an appointment of a Guardian Ad Litem may be necessary to represent the interests of a child while a divorce, legal separation, or motion to change custody and placement is pending.

    Any party may file a Petition for Appointment of a Guardian Ad Litem, although these appointments are generally not made until the parties have attempted mediation and have failed to reach an agreement.

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, Guardians Ad Litem have been using virtual tools to meet with parties and their children. Similarly, Family Court Services referrals are still being made in some cases, and mediation and study appointments may still be arranged electronically, at the discretion of the director.

Family law attorneys helping Wisconsin families during COVID-19

The divorce and family lawyers at Murphy Desmond are available to assist you with your family legal matters despite the coronavirus pandemic. We have offices available in Madison, Janesville, Dodgeville, and Appleton, Wisconsin, but can meet via teleconferencing services. Contact us at 608.257.7181 or email@murphydesmond.com.

Published May 7, 2020

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