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Family Law FAQs | DeWitt LLP Law Firm

Do I need an attorney?

You are not required to have an attorney to represent you, and where appropriate, our attorneys may advise you that your situation is one that may not benefit from hiring an attorney. However, most people find the assistance of an attorney helpful and in many cases, necessary. This is especially true in matters related to your family, your children, and your business. When issues hit that close to home, having experienced counsel can be invaluable.

Can my spouse and I jointly hire an attorney?

Attorneys are not permitted to represent both sides of a case—including both sides in a family law issue—even if you believe that you have agreed on most issues. However, both parties could hire one of our attorneys to act as a mediator or arbitrator in their family law matter. Also, many times our attorneys represent one party, and the other party chooses not to be represented as we negotiate the terms of an agreement. If that is the case, we encourage the unrepresented party to seek counsel to review the final agreement on their behalf to ensure that the agreement we have reached is reasonable.

What is Mediation and Arbitration?

Mediation and arbitration are dispute resolution procedures that help people negotiate resolutions without having a judge decide all or part of your case. Sometimes an entire case is mediated from start to finish, and other times we use mediation to resolve sticking points in a case. Our lawyers are skilled and experienced mediators who are frequently called on to help resolve disputes. Additionally, where appropriate, we use mediation as a tool to assist our clients. Mediation is a confidential process and communications during mediation may not be disclosed in future court proceedings. This level of confidentiality helps people make good faith offers to resolve cases, while still retaining the right to proceed in court if necessary.

The difference between mediation and arbitration is that if parties are unable to reach an agreement in mediation, they can continue to present the dispute to a judge or court commissioner for a decision. In arbitration, the parties agree that the arbitrator will be permitted to reach a decision and with extremely rare exceptions, that decision will be legally binding. Sometimes we combine the two concepts in what is referred to as “med-arb” which means we are agreeing to mediate a case, but if at the end of mediation there is no resolution, the process switches to arbitration, and the mediator will be permitted to make legally binding decisions.

What is Collaborative Divorce?

Collaborative Divorce is a specific process under which the parties and attorneys agree to forego the right to present issues of dispute to a court commissioner or judge for a decision and requires the attorneys to resign from representing their clients if the clients are unable to reach full agreement on all issues related to their divorce. Parties and counsel commit in writing to meet collaboratively and to hire other professionals (financial advisors, child specialists, etc.) jointly to try to resolve their disputes.

While our attorneys are trained in Collaborative Divorce and utilize this approach when requested and appropriate, we caution that not all cases benefit from this approach. If there are any issues of abuse (whether physical or verbal) or any issues of a significant power imbalance (e.g., substantial income disparity) then the collaborative approach is unlikely to be appropriate.

If you are interested in discussing whether your situation could benefit from using the Collaborative Divorce model, our attorneys are experienced in assessing the circumstances and advising you on this decision.

What is the difference between Legal Separation and Divorce?

The procedures for pursuing a legal separation and a divorce are almost identical, with limited exceptions. We address the same issues in a legal separation as we do in divorce (property division, support, issues regarding children). Some people choose legal separation rather than divorce for religious reasons. However, a key legal difference between legal separation and divorce is that in most cases, parties can retain their family health insurance coverage after a legal separation and cannot do so after a divorce. This can be an important issue if one party does not have health insurance available through employment. There are some additional benefits and drawbacks to legal separation versus a divorce, and your attorney will discuss those in detail during your initial consultation.

I don’t live near Madison, Milwaukee, Green Bay, or Minneapolis. Should I still hire an attorney from DeWitt?

Maybe. Our attorneys have an extensive network of trusted legal professionals throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota. We frequently refer potential clients to these trusted attorneys when we know they can represent you just as well as we can. However, our attorneys have state-wide practices and when appropriate, have taken on cases in almost every county in Wisconsin and many in Minnesota.

I want to appeal a decision a judge made. Do you do appeals?

Yes, we have represented clients in appeals to the court of appeals and to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. It is very important to know that appeals have very tight mandatory timelines that must be followed or your right to appeal will be dismissed. If you believe you received a bad decision or a judge made an error in a case, it is very important to contact us as soon as possible so that we may evaluate your case and if appropriate, file an appeal in time to meet those deadlines.

How much is this going to cost?

No one can predict with certainty how much a legal action is going to cost, though in some cases, such as adoption, we may offer a flat-fee agreement.

At DeWitt, we have several cost-saving measures such as paralegals who can provide many services at a substantially lower rate than attorneys. Unlike many firms, we do not charge an “office supplies” fee or charge you for stamps or long-distance phone calls.

When you consult with one of our attorneys, we will assess your situation and give you our best estimate of a reasonable range of potential costs for your case, with the caveat that sometimes-unpredictable issues may arise. One of the most unpredictable aspects of a case is how the other side is going to act. Our experience and reputation as tough litigators but reasonable negotiators often lead to fully negotiated resolutions of your case from start to finish. While we do try to resolve cases amicably and efficiently, if we do take your case to trial, rest assured you will receive excellent courtroom representation.

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Image Of Michele L. Perreault

Michele L. Perreault

Attorney| Madison Office Managing Partner | Executive Committee Member | Divorce & Family Law Group Chair Learn More

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