This Blog is focused on divorce and family law practice in the Fox Cities of Wisconsin, but is generally applicable for the entire state of Wisconsin.
A divorce begins with the Summons, Petition, and Confidential Petition Addendum. Attorneys usually recommend that an Order to Show Cause with a supporting affidavit be filed at the same time as the Petition.
Therefore, the first hearing is normally a hearing to issue a temporary order (i.e., a Temporary Order hearing). As many counties have family court commissioners, these hearings would normally take place before these officials. When a temporary order is issued by a family court commissioner, a party has the right to ask for a new hearing before a judge, called a De Novo, if they do so within the time deadlines set by law.
If minor children are involved, mediation is normally ordered as part of the Temporary Order. Mediation is an opportunity for the parties to sit down with a third-person to see if they can reach an agreement on custody and placement issues. If mediation is not successful, then the next step is generally the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem (GAL), who is an attorney appointed to represent the best interest of the children. The GAL investigates the circumstances and issues a recommendation on custody and placement issues to the court. In some cases, there may also be a Custody Study conducted, which is another investigation, but done by individuals who are generally educated and trained in the field of social work.
Assuming that it is not a contentious divorce, normally the next hearing will be a Pre-Trial Conference, Scheduling Conference or Default Divorce. A Default Divorce is a hearing set with the intention of granting a divorce on the basis that the parties have reached an agreement on all the issues and thus a Trial (contested hearing in which a judge will decide disputes) is not necessary. Some counties automatically schedule a case for a Default Divorce to occur sometime after 120 days has passed since the filing and service of the Petition. If a Default Divorce is scheduled and the parties have not yet reached an agreement, the court will typically use the date/time of the Default Divorce hearing to conduct a Pre-Trial or Scheduling Conference. A Pre-Trial and Scheduling Conference are very similar, and the court uses these hearings to find out the status of the case and potentially schedule a Trial. Since these hearings are usually scheduling based, they are frequently handled by the attorneys without the attendance of the client. However, you should not make that assumption and should consult with your attorney to be sure.
A Trial is a contested hearing conducted by the Judge assigned to your case to decide any issues in which the parties have not agreed upon. Divorce Trials do not have juries, and the trier of fact is the Judge. These are evidentiary proceedings in which testimony and exhibits should be presented. At the conclusion of the Trial, the Judge will typically issue his decision verbally, and one of the attorneys (typically Petitioner’s) will be asked to later draft the written decision. Some judges, although not common in the Fox Cities, will refrain from issuing a verbal decision at the time of the Trial, think on the matter and review the evidence, and issue a written decision drafted by him/her.
There may certainly be many other types of proceedings along the way, which is why it is important that you speak with your attorney regarding what to expect and the issues involved. For example, there may be hearings to deal with contempt issues, discovery issues, or conflict of interest concerns, etc. Furthermore, there are various pleadings along the way which are not addressed above. Given the complexity of the law and the circumstances that vary in case from case, a general framework can only be given and this article is not a substitute for having your own legal counsel.
Stay tuned for additional helpful information.
Attorney Renee A. Read
Remley & Sensenbrenner, S.C., 219 E. Wisconsin Ave., Neenah, WI 54914
Disclaimer: The content on this site is intended to provide general information regarding the subject matters covered. The provision of this information is not intended by the author as legal advice. If you need or desire legal advice, you should consult an attorney for advice specific to your situation. Further, laws change over time so the information should be verified before relying on it.