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Preparing for an initial divorce hearing in Wisconsin

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You filed for divorce and have been waiting anxiously to get into court for your first divorce hearing before the court commissioner. You have no idea on how to prepare or what to expect in court, other than you have concerns on what orders the court may make pertaining to placement of your children, how much child support will be involved and how the court decides other issues, such as who pays what bills. Today’s blog will focus on what to expect and how to prepare for what will very well turn out to be for you, a very important court hearing and the stepping stone to ultimately getting a divorce from your spouse.

In preparing for the first divorce hearing, it is essential that you have all of your financial information in order; this includes a completed financial disclosure statement, 2 years of the most recent income tax returns, both federal and state, with W2s and 1099s, and current check stubs from your employment. Some counties may require you to complete in advance a form called “Findings and Order,” and if so, that document should be completed in advance as directed by the court clerk.

You should have a purpose in mind of why you are going to court. If you have no idea why you are there, the court hearing is not going to go very well for you. You should think critically of what it is you are asking the court to do that day and have specific goals and requests in mind. Also, you need to be reasonable and logical in what those requests are. The person who is most likely to prevail in court, is the litigant who sets forth the most reasonable and logical solutions to the problem. A person who advocates an unreasonable, emotional and illogical solution or request, is likely to find themselves very quickly, not doing to well in the courtroom.

One of the unique features of a temporary court hearing is that most counties hold them informally; there is no court reporter in the room, parties are not sworn under oath and testimony isn’t taken. Rather, the court takes arguments from the attorneys, or the parties if they are representing themselves and the court will make decisions based on the financial documents provided and the arguments presented.

Like any court hearing, you should arrive early and be ready to go when your case is called. The court may only give you 30-45 minutes of time for your initial hearing, so it is important to be punctual and orderly when your case is called. This is not your opportunity to tell your life story or prove to the court what a lying snake your spouse is. The court doesn’t have time to listen to it, and the court may lose interest in your advocacy if you don’t use your time wisely in a non-emotional logical way.

The purpose of the court hearing is not to divorce you nor to make final decisions about your children or property. This is a stop gap procedure (what one court commissioner recently quipped as “putting band aids on” and has a limited time to decide important issues that will result in court orders to take you through the pendency of the divorce. The court will decide on a temporary basis, the issues of custody, placement, visitation, child support, spousal support, health insurance coverage, uninsured expenses for the children, payment of debts, what vehicles you can drive, which bank accounts you can use, which party can stay in the family home, and what items of furniture and household goods both parties need on a temporary basis. The court will focus on other issues that may be unique to your case.

Where there are minor children involved and there is a dispute as to custody or placement, you can fully expect the court to order mediation to take place. The court will order you and your spouse to sit down with a trained mediator to try to resolve those issues on your own. The court may make some initial orders on it’s own when it comes to custody and placement, and may even require you come back for an adjourned court hearing once mediation is completed.

When the court hearing is concluded, you will leave court that day with a written order covering all the topics listed above. If you disagree with the decisions or orders of the court, there is an automatic statutory right in Wisconsin to file a request for a new (de novo) court hearing before the judge, as long as the appeal is taken pursuant to the time line established by local court rule.

You should remain respectful to your spouse, their attorney if they have one, and dress appropriately. Don’t call your spouse by their first name and don’t argue or fight with your spouse in front of the court. Be professional, be logical, be non-emotional, be organized, be on time, be reasonable, be courteous, be respectful of the other person’s position, and crossing your fingers, you will leave court that day with a court order that you can live with and will take you through the time, some 4-9 months later, where you will be able to be divorced from your spouse.

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