Preparing For Your Family Court Case

Family law is a unique area of the law, and it requires unique preparation. If you organize your documents and information, become familiar with the law, and work on addressing the emotional issues that inevitably arise, you will make a difference in your success throughout the process.

Preparing Emotionally

By its nature, family law involves emotional issues. Often one party feels betrayed while the other party has already begun to make an emotional break. For many people, counseling during these difficult times is extremely helpful – not only for your mental health, but also for your success in family court.

Other resources can be helpful in addition to or instead of counseling. To begin, you might want to read some thoughts of Dr. Kenneth Waldron by. Abigail Trafford, in her book Crazy Time: Surviving Divorce and Building a New Life (Revised Edition), provides substantial insight into the process of making an emotional break. She gives an overview of the many stages you are likely to go through when you separate. Understanding these stages will help you recognize them as you move through them, and may help you progress through them more quickly and easily. In Madison and many other cities throughout the country, Rebuilding classes are available. Based on the work of Bruce Fisher, these classes help people move through the various stages of a break-up.

If you have children, you will want to help them adjust to your separation. Isolina Ricci's book Mom's House, Dad's House is a good starting point. Among other things, it will provide you with a new vocabulary to help your children understand living in more than one home.

Organizing Your Information

Your ability to locate documents and access information will help determine both the success and the cost of your case. Many types of documents can be relevant to family court cases, including bank and credit card statements, real estate titles, school reports, retirement account information, and medical records. Maintaining a calendar, journal, or placement log may be helpful in child placement disputes. If you have these documents and information well organized and easily accessible, you will save money in attorney fees and help us present the evidence that is necessary to your case. Conversely, sometimes an essential element of a case cannot be proven because the necessary documents or information do not exist or cannot be located.

Wisconsin law requires the parties to a divorce to submit a financial disclosure statement to the court while the action is pending and at the time of the final divorce. This form is also required for hearings regarding child support and other financial matters. The state’s standardized financial disclosure statement requires disclosure of income, taxes, other withholdings, monthly budget, assets, and liabilities. Wessel, Lehker & Fumelle provides an electronic version of this form, which automatically calculates totals. We also provide a Quicken version of the form. With the Quicken file, you can download data from bank statements and credit cards, and run reports showing income and expenditures for different periods of time. This can be particularly helpful for determining your average monthly budget. Our electronic forms are available on our web page under Resources> Financial Spreadsheets.

Becoming Familiar With the Law

Sometimes litigants, especially in high-emotion family cases, have no desire to learn about the relevant law. Of course, it is your attorney’s job to understand the relevant law and apply it to the facts of your case. But your familiarity with the law can help us represent you most effectively. For example, a basic familiarity with the statute regarding division of property can help you know what information we need. We also find that people who are going through these difficult issues simply feel more comfortable when they have a general comprehension of the process and the relevant law.

We are not recommending that you help with the legal analysis of your case by studying statutes and reviewing caselaw. But we do recommend that you at least give a quick read to the laws that pertain to your issues. Throughout this website you will find an introduction to the law, as well as links to specific statutes.

Trial Evidence

When a case goes to trial rather than settling, the court must make decisions based on the facts presented and the applicable law. Often in family law cases the parties have strong opinions regarding the words or actions of the other party, and want the court to consider this evidence.  Evidentiary rules, however, limit what evidence may be presented for the court to consider. The rules of evidence are designed to help the court get accurate information, but they sometimes result in evidence being excluded at trial. 

Hearsay is generally a statement (oral or written) made by a person other than a witness at a hearing.  See Wis. Stats. Sec. 908.02.  While there are numerous exceptions, the general rule is that hearsay statements cannot be presented to the court as evidence. Related to hearsay is the foundation objection, which requires that witnesses have first-hand knowledge of what they are testifying about.  

Often in family law cases the parties want to testify about things other people have said. For that evidence to be considered, however, the person who made the statement usually must testify in court – something many people are reluctant to do.  As you review the evidence in your case, you can help your attorney by identifying who has first-hand knowledge of the facts.