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  • November 01, 2021

    Update: Proposed Changes to Family Law in Wisconsin

    Several proposed bills would significantly affect family law practice in Wisconsin. Emily Tercilla provides a brief overview of these legislative bills and their anticipated impact.

    Emily A. Tercilla

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    As represented by several recently introduced bills, there are some interesting proposed changes to family law in Wisconsin. These proposed changes would allow for a more efficient handling of certain processes and events among parties who seek or are divorced or separated.

    Financial Exchange: 2021 Senate Bill 604

    Senate Bill 604 was introduced Oct. 8, 2021. This bill expands Wis. Stat. section 767.54, regarding the requirement of parties to exchange financial information each year when there is an order for family support, child support, or maintenance.

    Emily Tercilla Emily A. Tercilla, Marquette 2017, is an associate at Becker, Hickey & Poster, S.C., in Milwaukee, where she concentrates her practice on family law, elder law, and estate planning.

    Parties often fail to comply with requirement to exchange financial information each year, forcing one party to bring an action for contempt. The proposed changes to section 767.54 would help solve this very common post-judgment issue.

    If the statute is amended as proposed, section 767.54 will specify the types of financial information that must be exchanged by the parties each year, including:

    • federal and state income tax returns from the prior calendar year, including all W-2 and 1099 forms;

    • year-end paycheck stub from all sources of employment;

    • the most recent paystub from all sources showing year-to-date gross and net income; and

    • other documentation of income from all sources for the past 12 months.

    The bill also allows the parties to redact some personal information from the documents listed above, including:

    • the party’s home and work address in certain circumstances;

    • information about the party’s spouse and about a minor child not related to the other party; any Social Security number;

    • an identification number assigned by an employer;

    • a taxpayer identification number;

    • any account number; a military identification number;

    • any other personally identifying information that is used to access services, funds or benefits; and

    • any information that is not required to determine the income or financial status of the party.

    The bill also proposes the information must be exchanged no later than May 1 of each year, unless a different date is agreed upon in writing by both of the parties.

    If the statute is amended, each party should have a clearer understanding of what documents need to be exchanged, and by when this must be completed. If a party fails to comply, an enforcement motion may still be needed.

    Legal Separation: 2021 Senate Bill 603

    On Oct. 8, 2021, Senate Bill 603 was introduced to give a court commissioner the authority to preside over a final hearing in an action for legal separation under certain circumstances.

    Under Wis. Stat. section 757.69(1)(p), a court commissioner may preside over a final hearing for divorce if the parties believe the marriage is irretrievably broken and the parties have resolved all material issues, or if one party has not participated in the divorce process.

    The intention of Senate Bill 603 is to expand a court commissioner’s authority over a final hearing for divorce to a final hearing for legal separation.

    If the bill becomes law, a court commissioner may preside over a final hearing for legal separation if both parties believe the marital relationship is broken and the parties have resolved all material issues, or if one party has not participated in the legal separation process.

    The proposed changes to section 757.69(1)(p) would likely allow parties to obtain a final hearing for legal separation more quickly if a court commissioner is also given the authority to enter a judgment for legal separation – making the legal process more efficient.

    Waiting Period for Marriage After Divorce: 2021 Assembly Bill 79

    On Feb. 18, 2021, Assembly Bill 79 was introduced to eliminate the six-month waiting period after a judgment of divorce before a person can remarry.

    Under current law, a person who was divorced in Wisconsin or another state cannot marry until six months after a judgment of divorce is granted. This bill proposes eliminating the six-month waiting period.

    Wisconsin is one of only seven states with a mandatory waiting period for remarriage post-divorce. The intent of this revision is to allow individuals to decide when it is appropriate to remarry, not the State of Wisconsin.

    Stipulation Orders: 2021 Senate Bill 116 and 2021 Assembly Bill 113

    Senate Bill 116 and Assembly Bill 113 were introduced on Feb. 18, 2021, to change the law governing stipulated agreements between parties in a family law action that modifies legal custody or physical placement of a child based upon future expected events.

    Wisconsin Act 20, passed on March 26, 2021, now allows a court to approve a stipulation that modifies legal custody or physical placement of a child based on later life events of the parties or child, or if developmental and educational needs of the child are reasonably certain to occur within two years of the date of the stipulation.

    However, the law prohibits stipulations based on anticipated behavior modifications by a party, such as completion of an anger management course, drug or alcohol therapy, or a term of imprisonment, parole, or probation.

    This new law will permit parties to change placement, for example, when a child begins regular school.

    Stay Tuned

    Although the bills relating to financial exchange, legal separation, and the waiting period post-divorce have not yet been adopted as law, the proposed bills would significantly affect family law practice.

    Family law practitioners should stay informed on the proposed changes and whether the bills are passed during the legislative session.

    This article was originally published on the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Family Law Section Blog. Visit the State Bar sections or the Family Law Section webpages to learn more about the benefits of section membership.

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    Family Law Blog is published by the Family Law Section and the State Bar of Wisconsin; blog posts are written by section members. To contribute to this blog, contact Donna Ginzl and review Author Submission Guidelines. Learn more about the Family Law Section or become a member.

    Disclaimer: Views presented in blog posts are those of the blog post authors, not necessarily those of the Section or the State Bar of Wisconsin. Due to the rapidly changing nature of law and our reliance on information provided by outside sources, the State Bar of Wisconsin makes no warranty or guarantee concerning the accuracy or completeness of this content.

    © 2024 State Bar of Wisconsin, P.O. Box 7158, Madison, WI 53707-7158.

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