As a family law practitioner, Lindsay Renier believes in treating her clients like family. She is in this area of law because she knows it’s an opportunity to make a difference in peoples’ lives.
Described by clients as professional, insightful and honest, she believes in explaining to her clients the options available to them along with any risks, allowing them to decide the best course to take, then working diligently to advocate for that course. While understanding the expense and difficulty of going to trial, Lindsay is always prepared to do so if needed by organizing a thorough and vigorous strategic defense from the start.
Lindsay has been practicing law since 2007 and has extensive courtroom experience. She handles cases in Racine, Waukesha, Walworth, Kenosha and Milwaukee counties.
How Renier Hotopp Law Offices, LLC Can Help
There are many factors to consider in a divorce case, such as legal custody and placement of children if any; child support; division of property, assets and/or debts; maintenance/alimony, and more. Here’s an overview of the steps Lindsay can help with.
Filing a Petition
Divorce is initiated by a “Petition for Divorce” and can be filed jointly or by either party. It must be filed in the county where one party lives. After filing, Wisconsin law requires that at least four months pass before a divorce becomes final. Because each case is uniquely different, this time frame varies; contested divorce cases can take a year or more.
Wisconsin is a community property state, which means a couple’s assets and debts are assumed to be divided 50/50 in the event of a divorce, a legal separation or an annulment. A gift given to either spouse or a property inherited by either spouse is excluded from the 50/50 property division.
If both parties are able to negotiate property division with their attorneys’ assistance, the attorneys can draft a marital settlement agreement to be presented at the end of the case. However, when conflicts arise over division of property, the next steps are typically mediation and, if necessary, a trial.
- The mediator will take part in further negotiations with both spouses and their parties, working to make sure that negotiations are productive. If successful, the property division agreed to in these discussions will be outlined in the marital settlement agreement. If not successful, the next step is a trial.
- Each spouse’s attorney will present their cases before a trial judge, who will then render a decision.
Custody and Placement
Legal custody of a child is the right to make major decisions concerning the child, such as their physicians, schooling and religious upbringing. Placement determines where each child spends their time physically and the right of the person they are with to make routine daily decisions regarding their care during that placement.
- When ordering placement the court considers a number of factors, among them whether a parent has a drug or alcohol abuse issues; the mental and physical health of each parent; a child’s relationship with each parent; the wishes of each parent; the wishes of each child; evidence of any previous domestic violence or spousal battery; and the availability of childcare services.
- Wisconsin statutes presume that 50/50 custody — or joint legal custody — is in the best interests of the child. However, a court may award sole custody if both parties agree to this or if it is in the best interests of the child.
- Guardian ad litem. A guardian ad litem (GAL) is an attorney assigned to be a child’s legal advocate in cases when parents cannot agree on custody and/or placement. The GAL investigates the facts of a case and takes part in negotiations. Most importantly, the GAL suggests to the court what the custody and placement should be. The GAL can also have input on financial issues when those issues involve the children. Each spouse’s attorney will interact with the GAL and assist in the negotiations. Often, the GAL will meet with the children or child and interview the parents or guardians. A GAL can be assigned at different stages of a divorce case, depending on the county.
If periods of physical placement have been granted to more than one parent, a parent who intends to relocate and reside with the child 100 miles or more from the other parent must file a motion with the court seeking permission for the child’s relocation. The court is required to schedule an initial hearing within 30 days after the motion is filed, and the child must not be relocated pending the initial hearing. If there is an objection, the court must promptly refer the parents for mediation or other family court counseling services and may appoint a guardian ad litem. The court is to set the matter for a further hearing within 60 days.
Modifying a Custody and Placement Order
Once the court issues a Custody and Placement Order, the order cannot be modified until two years have passed. The same applies to any subsequent order. To make a change after two years, you must show a substantial change of circumstances and demonstrate that the modification would be in the best interests of the child.
- An exception to the two-year rule can be made if it’s demonstrated that the child is experiencing physical or emotional harm.
The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families has established a standard amount of child support based on the payer’s gross income:
- One child: 17% of gross income
- Two children: 25% of gross income
- Three children: 29% of gross income
- Four children: 31% of gross income
- Five children: 34% of gross income
Using these percentages, the total amount will be based on the number of overnights that the child has with each parent. This typically applies to both parents assuming they are employed. If one parent isn’t employed, the court might impute earnings if they are employable.
There are special formulas in low-income, high-income, serial-family, shared-placement and split-placement situations.
Maintenance or Alimony
Maintenance or alimony, sometimes called spousal support or spousal maintenance, usually comes into play in longer-term marriages — as a general trend 10 years or more, although there is no established formula in Wisconsin. Payments, if any, are calculated on a case-by-case basis.
- Factors the court considers. In addition to the length of the marriage, the courts consider many factors when deciding whether to award support and when calculating the amount. These include the age of each party; the physical and emotional health of each party; each party’s educational level at the beginning of the marriage and at the end; one party’s contribution to the other party’s earning power; the property division in the case; and the earning capacity of the party seeking support, among other factors. The court will also consider whether the party seeking maintenance can become self-supporting at a comparable standard of living compared to the party who is not seeking support.
- No-fault divorce state. In Wisconsin, which is a no-fault divorce state, the reason for divorce cannot be a factor.