Who pays for college?

When parents are going through a divorce, they are likely to have several immediate concerns such as where their children will be living, who will be paying for child support, and how visitation and decision-making will work. Another important issue which is likely to come up is how the children’s college expenses will be covered.

Wisconsin law requires that both parents support their children.  When one parent is ordered to pay child support, this obligation will end when the child turns 18 or 19 if the child is still in high school or working on their GED.   With the increasing costs of a higher education, parents are doing more to help prepare for these expenses.  Although formal education can be considered a justifiable expenditure, Wisconsin law does not require that either parent be obligated to pay for their children’s college.

Although the law does not require parents to contribute to their children’s college funds, many want to do so.  During divorce, parents are free to enter into agreements concerning college expenses. When considering adding this kind of term parents should consider issues such the anticipated costs of tuition, room, and board as well the differences between private and public university expense.  Further, deciding in advance who will be responsible for paying for campus visits and entrance exams, and application fees can help parents avoid disagreements down the road.  It is also important to spell out clearly what the funds can be used for and any conditions which must be met to receive them.  There is also the matter of paying for extracurricular fees or for special programs such as study abroad. 

When developing this kind of obligation, it is important to be clear so that everyone understands what is required and how and when payments need to be made.  Additionally, you should consider how the obligation will be handled if the parents’ financial circumstances change in the future. 

Attorney Karyn Youso of First Look Family Law has extensive experience helping parents consider different aspects of their children’s future support.  Contact us today to schedule a consultation, and let us take a “first look” at your circumstances. 

Planning for Your Insurance Policy During Divorce

As a parent going through divorce, you will have to make countless decisions regarding how you will raise your kids. While you are negotiating matters such as child support and time-sharing, you may also be thinking about your children’s future if you or your ex were to pass away.  While before, you may have relied on a life insurance policy to provide for your kids, without careful planning, you could lose this security.  A recent case demonstrates some of the issues which can come up concerning life insurance and divorce. 

Joan Pulkkila v. James Pulkkila

In 2009, Joan Pulkkila and James Pulkkila entered into a binding agreement during their divorce that James would maintain a $250,000 life insurance policy which named the couple’s two children as the only beneficiaries until they became adults.  The agreement also said that if James failed to keep up this policy, the children would have a lien against his estate up to the insurance amount.  However, in 2014, James changed the policy and named his new wife as the sole beneficiary of the insurance proceeds.  When he died a year later, the new wife got all of the money.  At the time of their father’s death, the children were teenagers, and his estate was worth about $5600. 

Joan Pulkkila raised the issue in Waukesha County Circuit Court and asked the judge to order that the funds be given back to the children as the divorce agreement required.  The judge denied her request and ruled that the only remedy was to get the money from the estate.  Joan appealed this decision to the Court of Appeals and the 2:1 majority ruled in her favor noting “Wisconsin’s strong public policy in favor of properly supporting the children of a dissolving marriage.”  The court also indicated that if James had left $250,000 in his estate, rather than only $5600, the result might have been equitable.  As the change unjustly deprived the children of the funds meant for their care and the estate could not make up the difference, the court found in Joan’s favor.  

Although the ruling seems fair and compassionate, the dissenting judge thought that the original opinion was legally correct and that the appellate court should have held the parties to the original terms of their agreement even if it meant leaving little for the children.  Further, while Joan may have achieved a victory at the appellate level, the case may not be over as the opposing side has requested review with the Wisconsin Supreme Court. 

As this decision reveals, planning for your children’s future support can be complicated, and there can be unexpected issues down the road. At First Look Family Law, Attorney Karyn Youso has extensive experience helping clients evaluate their circumstances so they can plan for the future.   Contact us and let’s schedule an appointment take a “first look” at your situation and figure out your next steps.

Planning for Your Child’s Mental Health Care During Divorce

Parenting a child with a significant mental health issue can be stressful and trying.  Often, attending to their needs can mean seeing numerous specialists and even watching them endure multiple hospitalizations.   There can also be challenges which come with making sure that they get the right accommodations at school.  When the family is going through a divorce, parents will have to consider the right ways to make sure their child’s needs will be met today and in the future.

Child Custody and Placement

In Wisconsin, child custody means a parent’s ability to make decisions regarding their kids.  The law presumes that joint legal custody is in the best interest of a child.  The decision-making authority will include deciding about medical and mental health treatment for the child.  If parents are on the same page regarding their child’s care, this may not present a problem.  However, when they disagree, there could be problems ensuring that their child gets the treatment they need.  Further, one parent may be more informed and better equipped to make therapeutic choices. During divorce, it will be critical for parents to explore this issue and develop ways to resolve disputes efficiently.

Child placement refers to the parent’s right to have their child physically with them and make routine decisions about their care. Wisconsin law favors a placement schedule which allows a child to have frequent contact with both parents.  However, when a child has a mental health condition, their placement schedule may need to be planned to support their well-being.  For instance, if structure and routine are important to keep the child’s symptoms under control, the child may need to be in one parent’s home during the school week while seeing the other parent on the weekend.

Child Support

Wisconsin courts follow guidelines when establishing child support which takes numerous factors into consideration including a child’s health.  As parents are negotiating their divorce, they will need to be mindful of the expenses associated with their child’s mental health condition and treatment.  Child support in Wisconsin ends when a child turns 18 or is 19 if they are still in primary or high school.  The law does not obligate a parent to pay support after this point.  The fact that the child may not be able to live independently because of their condition does not impact the limit on child support.  However, parents can develop agreements between themselves to continue support into the child’s adulthood.

Making sure your child will have what they need to be healthy is vital.  Attorney Karyn Youso has experience helping families develop creative and comprehensive solutions for their children.  Contact us for a consultation so we can take a “first look” at your case and figure out what needs to happen next.

Planning for Your Child’s Mental Health Care During Divorce

Parenting a child with a significant mental health issue can be stressful and trying.  Often, attending to their needs can mean seeing numerous specialists and even watching them endure multiple hospitalizations.   There can also be challenges which come with making sure that they get the right accommodations at school.  When the family is going through a divorce, parents will have to consider the right ways to make sure their child’s needs will be met today and in the future.

Child Custody and Placement

In Wisconsin, child custody means a parent’s ability to make decisions regarding their kids.  The law presumes that joint legal custody is in the best interest of a child.  The decision-making authority will include deciding about medical and mental health treatment for the child.  If parents are on the same page regarding their child’s care, this may not present a problem.  However, when they disagree, there could be problems ensuring that their child gets the treatment they need.  Further, one parent may be more informed and better equipped to make therapeutic choices. During divorce, it will be critical for parents to explore this issue and develop ways to resolve disputes efficiently.

Child placement refers to the parent’s right to have their child physically with them and make routine decisions about their care. Wisconsin law favors a placement schedule which allows a child to have frequent contact with both parents.  However, when a child has a mental health condition, their placement schedule may need to be planned to support their well-being.  For instance, if structure and routine are important to keep the child’s symptoms under control, the child may need to be in one parent’s home during the school week while seeing the other parent on the weekend.

Child Support

Wisconsin courts follow guidelines when establishing child support which takes numerous factors into consideration including a child’s health.  As parents are negotiating their divorce, they will need to be mindful of the expenses associated with their child’s mental health condition and treatment.  Child support in Wisconsin ends when a child turns 18 or is 19 if they are still in primary or high school.  The law does not obligate a parent to pay support after this point.  The fact that the child may not be able to live independently because of their condition does not impact the limit on child support.  However, parents can develop agreements between themselves to continue support into the child’s adulthood.

Making sure your child will have what they need to be healthy is vital.  Attorney Karyn Youso has experience helping families develop creative and comprehensive solutions for their children.  Contact us for a consultation so we can take a “first look” at your case and figure out what needs to happen next.

 

 

 

 

Step-children and ending your relationship

Becoming a step-parent, especially to young children, can mean taking on an important role in their lives and having a special connection.  If your marriage to their parent ends in divorce, your future relationship with these children can be uncertain.

Legal Relationship

Step-parents do not have legal rights to their step-children which means they can’t ask for custody during divorce.  The only exception is when the step-parent has legally adopted their step-child.  Wisconsin law does, however, allow step-parents to petition for reasonable visitation with their step-children as long as it is in the child’s best interest.   When the step-parents can prove that they have a bond with the child and that the child would be harmed by losing contact with them, a court may be inclined to grant visitation.

Agreements with the Parent

Most divorces will end in a settlement between the parties.  Coming up with your own agreement means having the flexibility and freedom to include terms which a court would not put in its order.  When it comes to step-children, the parent and step-parent could include an agreement about visitation and even future step-parent support.  As long as the court is satisfied that these terms are in the children’s best interest, the parent and step-parent can agree to them.

The Step-parent Relationship

Transitioning into the role of former step-parent can be difficult for both you and your step-children.  While you were once a parent figure and shared a home, you now live somewhere else and may or may not have regular contact with the children.  If you are remaining in their lives, it is important to maintain boundaries when it comes to their parent.  For instance, you would not want to ask them questions about their parent’s new relationship.  Your connection with the children needs to be about you and them and not about keeping tabs on their mother or father.  If you do not expect to have ongoing contact, you and the other parent should work together to help the kids as they adjust to seeing you less.

Ideally, if you have a positive relationship with your step-children, their parent will see the importance of allowing them to continue to see you.  However, it may also be that the children and their parent need to move on with their lives without you.  By working with their parent, you can make decisions which support the children.

Attorney Karyn Youso has extensive family law experience and understands the impact that divorce can have on family relationships.  Contact us today to schedule a consultation to take a “first look” at your situation and go through your options.

Extended Family Relationships and Divorce

In many cases, being part of a family is not just about your spouse but will also involve their siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and even their grandparents.  Going through a divorce will mean ending your relationship with your partner, but when you have children, these extended family members can still be connected to you through your kids.

Extended family members can be part of precious childhood memories.  These people are often there for important moments and are central to celebrating family holidays.  When parents split up, the focus stays on their relationships with their children and not necessarily on other members of the family.  However, children need reassurance that their parent’s divorce does not have to mean losing their other family connections or traditions.

After the divorce, you may be saddened or even relieved that you will not be seeing certain members of your ex’s family often or at all.  However, part of making sure that your children do not lose their connection to cherished relatives is helping them attend significant events and maintain contact.   While your former partner will have the responsibility of making sure his or her family can see your kids, there will be times when you have child placement time and may need to coordinate visits.  You are your former partner could discuss family events and visits and come up with a plan for your children.

Another way in which you can help foster your children’s relationship with the family is to make sure you or your ex let them know about your child’s special events such as school activities, extracurricular performances, and awards ceremonies.  Making this gesture will help ensure that important people in your child’s life can be there for them.  It also shows your child that even though his or her parents are divorced, they have not lost their extended family.

Including extended family after divorce can be critical to your child’s well-being.  However, if your child’s extended family behaves negatively, you may have to take steps to limit their contact.  For instance, if your child’s aunt says unkind things about you to your child when they are at a family function, you may have to reconsider this relationship.  In that case, you may want to ask your former partner to address the issue with their relative and make clear that this kind of behavior is unacceptable.

For children, the need for family connection will not end when their parents’ divorce and in some cases, it may even make these relationships more important.  When you and your former partner can work together to make sure your children have the benefit of relationships with their extended family, you can help create a more secure and loving environment for them.

Ending a marriage and maintaining healthy and appropriate family relationships can be complex Attorney Karyn Youso has extensive experience as a family law attorney and can help you examine your situation and consider your next steps.  Contact us today to schedule a consultation, and let us take a “first look” at your circumstances.

Creating a Workable Parenting Agreement

Communication and cooperation between parents are essential to effective parenting.  When everyone lives in the same home, parents often regularly relay information and coordinate responses to issues concerning his or her children.  After a divorce, parents have to adjust to communicating and parenting from separate residences.   Fortunately, there are ways to move past the negative emotions connected to divorce and engender a positive co-parenting relationship through your parenting agreement.

Establish Ground Rules

After your divorce, you and your former spouse will be required to observe the terms of the parenting plan.  This plan will have set rules regarding decision-making, who will have time with the child according to a specific schedule, and other matters.  While having these terms memorialize in a tangible document is an excellent way to resolve ambiguities and understand how issues will be decided, the plan cannot create a cooperative atmosphere without assistance from you and your former partner.  Taking time to develop concrete rules for how you will communicate with one another and maintain a functional and collaborative atmosphere for your children will benefit everyone.

Choose a Collaborative Divorce Model

The way in which you choose to manage your divorce will affect your children today and in the future.  When parents opt to divorce using a non-adversarial model which allows the parties to be cooperative, the process can be less stressful for both parents and children.  A Collaborative divorce is a process in which the parties can work together amicably with the assistance of trained professionals to find solutions in divorce which benefit everyone while staying out of court.  When you choose to divorce using a Collaborative approach, it sets the tone for a future co-parenting relationship and a parenting plan which is based on cooperation rather than conflict.

Show Respect for One Another

While it may seem that being respectful is a basic co-parenting premise, parents sometimes struggle to remain civil with one another when it comes to parenting issues.  Divorce is an intensely emotional process which impacts almost every aspect of a person’s life.  After it is over, strong emotions will still be present and may cause parents to have justifiable animosity towards one another.  These feelings will not change the fact that they are responsible for parenting their children together.  Remember, children are ever-watchful of their parents’ conduct towards each other and can interpret negative behavior between parents as being their fault.  It is incumbent upon the parents to find a way to set these feelings aside for the good of their children and future relationship with each other.  By showing mutual respect while implementing your parenting plan terms, you both will provide reassurance to your children and build a more positive co-parenting dynamic.

Utilize Family-Centered Resources

It is emotionally jarring to go from being a unified family to living separate lives.  As such, it can be difficult to create a dynamic which supports everyone’s well-being and fosters positive co-parenting.  The family may benefit from going through counseling together during this transition to your plan terms.  There are also support groups for divorced parents and children of divorced parents which could assist in providing support during this time.  Emotional healing is necessary for everyone after divorce.  By using family-centered therapeutic resources, the family can work towards achieving a positive relationship with one another as they implement their parenting plan.

Positive co-parenting begins with creating a parenting plan which is mindful of the needs of the children and parents.  We have knowledge and experience is helping families collaboratively develop plans which support the parent-child relationship and effective co-parenting.  We are here to take a “first look” to help you figure out where to start.  Please, contact us to schedule a consultation.

Child Support and Special Needs Children

Parents of children with special needs have the dual responsibilities of caring for their child’s basic requirements and providing for their specialized conditions.  Often, looking after their children means becoming an expert on the available medical care, education, and therapeutic services as well as spending countless hours advocating for their well-being.  When families in this situation divorce, their child’s future support will be a critical issue.

Child Support

Wisconsin law allows courts to consider numerous elements in calculating child support.  The court’s central focus is making sure that the child’s best interest is served by having the resources they require for their care and needs. When deciding the appropriate support amount for a child with special needs, the court could set a support total which is beyond the usual calculation.  The law provides that upon the request of a party, the court may consider deviating from the standard child support percentage. If, after considering several factors, the court finds that use of the standard percentage is unfair to the child or to any of the parties, it may order a different amount.  Some of the issues which the court may examine include the child’s physical, mental, and emotional health needs; their educational requirements; what the child’s standard of living would have been if the parents not divorced; and the desirability of the custodian remaining in the home to parent on a full-time basis.

Age of Majority

Wisconsin law requires that an obligated parent pay court-ordered child support for their child until they turn 18 or 19 if the child is still working on completing high school or its equivalent.  The law does not currently require a parent to pay child support beyond the age of majority even when the child will most assuredly need financial support into adulthood.   However, when a child has a significant physical or mental disability which is anticipated to prevent them from being self-sustaining, parents can enter into a voluntary support agreement which extends beyond the statutory limit.

Spousal Maintenance

The divorce court has the discretion to award a party spousal maintenance (alimony).   One issue the court can examine is whether a parent will need to remain at home full-time to provide for their children’s custodial responsibilities.  When a custodial parent is devoted to their child’s special needs, the court could take this into consideration and award a higher or longer support amount to the parent so that they will be better equipped to provide for their child’s requirements.

Going through a divorce while trying to anticipate and provide for your child’s special needs can be overwhelming.  Ideally, you and your former partner will both be able to put your differences aside and come to agreements which support your child’s well-being and long-term care needs.   A good place to begin is by consulting with a knowledgeable family law attorney who is well-prepared to help you examine the situation thoroughly and work towards finding the right solutions.

Attorney and mediator Karyn Youso has the knowledge and experience you need to help you understand your options, plan for your child’s future, and make informed choices for your family.  If you need advice concerning child support and how to prepare for your child’s need please contact us today.

Child Support Calculation Basics – Primary, Shared, Split, and Serial Placement

Every parent knows that raising a child is expensive.  Clothing, diapers, school fees, extracurricular activities, daycare, and a myriad of other costs mount up quickly.  After a divorce or custody action, the parents will have to divide parenting time as well as the expenses associated with raising the child.  Child support is designed to help the custodial parent be able to continue to provide for the child’s daily needs.  Wisconsin has specific laws providing how child support is to be calculated, and several factors are taken into account.  There are four basic ways support is calculated, depending on whether the placement order is classified as primary, shared, split, or serial.

If a parent has 75% or more of the overnight placement with the child, that parent is considered “primary.”  In such a case, the other parent’s income alone will be considered for support.    Income is not defined as solely the money a parent receives from a regular job.  Income from many different sources can and will be taken into account, such as annuity payments, rental income, or funds from a side job, just to name a few examples.  However, funds received from certain sources will not be included, such as child support received for other children, or public assistance funds.  Once the parent’s gross income has been determined, the court will then look to the guidelines as established by Wisconsin statute.  According to the guidelines, particular percentages are applied to the paying parent’s income, depending on how many children are subject to the order, ranging from 17% (one child) to 34% (5 children or more). A person receiving maximum support in a primary placement scenario will then be fully responsible for 100% of the child’s “variable” expenses (out of pocket expenses for school, daycare, extra curriculars, etc.).

If both parents have at least 25% of the overnight placements with the child, the placement is considered “shared,” and support will be calculated differently.   This method takes both parents’ incomes into account, and the child’s variable costs will be shared in accordance with the percentage of time each parent has placement with the child. Split placement means that the parents share at least two children.  In split-placement situations, one parent is the primary parent for one child while the other parent is the primary parent for the other child.  As with shared parenting, each parent’s income must be calculated.  However, as in primary placement, there is a percentage to be applied to each parent’s income depending on the number of children placed with each respective parent.  The resulting support order for each parent will then be offset, with the parent who would have been ordered to pay the higher amount to pay the difference to the other parent.

Finally, if a parent has children with more than one family for whom he or she pays support, the child support order will be adjusted due to the paying parent having “serial families.”  In such a case, the court can adjust the paying parent’s existing child support orders to take into account that he or she now has the legal obligation to provide financial support for another child.  Generally, his/her income is reduced by the first child support obligation before the second obligation is calculated.

Child support can be a complicated inquiry.  We have extensive experience in helping our clients understand the process and help set them on the right path to reach their goals. Contact us today for a consultation.