Frequent Questions

Why do I need a family law attorney?

Divorce, custody, parenting time, and support actions are filled with many decisions that affect your rights in relation to your children, finances, and property. Each of these can have a profound emotional impact, and it is important that these life altering decisions are carefully thought out with the guidance of sound legal advice and based upon a reasonable judgment of what is best for you, not based solely upon emotion. A family law attorney can advise you of your rights and help you to obtain a separation that protects your welfare and interests, as well as those of your children and family, while delicately balancing the emotions involved.

What are the grounds for a divorce?

In Wisconsin, there is no need to show wrongful behavior on the part of either spouse in order for a couple to obtain a divorce. The only requirement is that there has been an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage. While Wisconsin is a "no-fault" divorce state and marital misconduct will not be considered in awarding spousal support, child support, or child custody, in certain situations the fault of one party leading to the breakdown of the marriage can be considered, for example, if it affects the children or involved economic waste. Therefore, it is important to have dependable legal representation during divorce.

How long does the process take?

The amount of time it takes to finalize a divorce varies widely depending on the circumstances of the parties. Uncontested divorce proceedings can be resolved in a matter of several months, while highly contested cases may take up to a year or more. Whether there are children born to the marriage and the amount of property that the couple owned are factors that may affect the length and complexity of the divorce proceeding. The more parties are willing to work together to reconcile their differences, the less time and money will be expended resolving such disagreements in court.

How much will it cost me to be represented by an attorney?

Because each case has a unique set of circumstances and facts, legal fees for representing you in your family court action will be discussed during your consultation with our office. However, the overall cost of legal fees will largely depend upon the ability of the parties to work together to resolve the divorce action in the best interests of all involved. If reconciliation is ruled out as an option, then it is important that both parties stay focused on obtaining an equitable separation, which will drastically reduce the length of the process and overall fees involved.

How is child support determined?

Child support means payment of money for the support of a child, including payment of medical, dental, and other health care expenses; child care expenses; and educational expenses. It is determined according to the guidelines established under Wisconsin law. The amount of child support owed is based on a percentage of the non-custodial parent's income and other relevant factors such as parental overnights, needs of the child, and expenses, such as insurance or day care. Based upon the accuracy of the information that you provide regarding the incomes and parenting arrangements of the parties, an estimated calculation of child support can usually be given at your consultation.

Can I get spousal support?

Spousal support is awarded by the court in certain situations or by agreement of the parties. Many factors affect the likelihood of whether a person will be awarded spousal support. Wisconsin courts consider ten factors in determining a spousal support award, including:

  • The length of the marriage.
  • The age and physical and emotional health of the parties.
  • The division of property made in the divorce.
  • The educational level of each party at the time of marriage and at the time the action is commenced.
  • The earning capacity of the party seeking maintenance, including educational background, training, employment skills, work experience, length of absence from the job market, custodial responsibilities for children and the time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party to find appropriate employment.
  • The feasibility that the party seeking maintenance can become self-supporting at a standard of living reasonably comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage, and, if so, the length of time necessary to achieve this goal.
  • The tax consequences to each party.
  • Any mutual agreement made by the parties before or during the marriage, according to the terms of which one party has made financial or service contributions to the other with the expectation of reciprocation or other compensation in the future, where such repayment has not been made, or any mutual agreement made by the parties before or during the marriage concerning any arrangement for the financial support of the parties.
  • The contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other.

These factors will be considered on a case-by-case basis to determine your likelihood of an award of spousal support due to the wide range of circumstances and factors that impact such an award. Please contact us to schedule a consultation.

What is Credit Counseling? How much does Credit Counseling cost?

Muter Law Office, LLC, uses Access for Debt Counseling. The cost for the first course is $25 and the second course is $15.

What is a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

A Chapter 7 bankruptcy is commonly referred to as a liquidation. In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, all assets a debtor owns, including legal or equitable rights, are put into a bankruptcy estate. A court-appointed trustee is then assigned to see if any of those assets can be sold to partially satisfy the debts the consumer has incurred. Many of the assets in the bankruptcy estate, however, can be protected by applying what are called "exemptions." Exemptions vary from state to state, and in Wisconsin, Chapter 7 debtors are entitled to keep, for example, $75,000 ($150,000 for joint debtors) of equity in a homestead, $4,000 of equity in a car, and $12,000 in consumer goods.

What is a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

Chapter 13 bankruptcy involves reorganization or a repayment plan for individuals or small proprietary business owners (not corporations or partnerships) who meet certain income and debt criteria. Chapter 13 bankruptcy allows a debtor to reduce the amount of debt through a payment plan while retaining certain assets which would otherwise be liquidated in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In addition, for debtors who have fallen into arrears on their mortgages, real estate taxes, or car loans, Chapter 13 is an attractive choice as it allows them to force a repayment plan on creditors to repay those arrearages over time. Income tax debt may also be repaid similarly. Many consumers choose this type of bankruptcy if they are trying in good faith to pay back the majority of their debts, or if they are trying to save their house or restructure a car loan. Some typical reasons for filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy are listed below:

  • Stop a home foreclosure and give the consumer up to five years to become current on their mortgage.
  • Restructure a car loan to either reduce interest, principal, or in some instances, reduce both principal and interest on the car loan.
  • Pay back income taxes without having to pay back all of the accrued penalties and interest.
  • Pay back general unsecured creditors (credit cards or personal loans) without paying back all of the future interest accruing on the account.

Will my creditors stop harassing me?

During a bankruptcy proceeding, the bankruptcy court issues an order preventing creditors from continuing their collection efforts outside of bankruptcy court, including efforts to garnish wages, foreclose on a home, repossess a vehicle, and call or send letters to debtors. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for these aggressive collection practices to continue, even after the debt is discharged in bankruptcy. You do not, however, have to live with the threats and harassment from debt collectors. There are state and federal laws designed to protect you from such abuse. If you have been the victim of threats, abuse, or harassment by a creditor or debt collector, contact our office today.

Who will know that I file Bankruptcy?

There are certain categories of people that will be involved in the bankruptcy proceeding and will, therefore, learn about your bankruptcy filing, including creditors. In addition to creditors, your spouse and others in your household, even if not included in your filing, must be made aware of the bankruptcy proceeding. Further, if you owe money to any friends or family members, they will be notified as well. Employers may also become aware of your bankruptcy filing under certain specific circumstances.

Moreover, while bankruptcy proceedings are not published in newspapers, such as foreclosure notices are, bankruptcy proceedings are a matter of public record. Because accessing court records is a cumbersome process, however, it is unlikely, except in a handful of situations, that others will find out about your bankruptcy proceeding, unless you choose to tell them. As a practical matter, it is of course possible that you will run into someone you know at a hearing in bankruptcy court. However, experience has shown that when others do find out, they are generally accepting and understanding and can even serve as a source of support during this difficult time.

Can I keep my house?

In the state of Wisconsin, like most other states, there is a provision that exempts equity in the family home. While in some states, there is no limit to the amount of the exemption, in Wisconsin, the maximum amount of equity which is protected in bankruptcy is $75,000 ($150,000 for a married couple filing jointly). In addition, if you sell your home and intend to purchase another home with the proceeds of the sale, you may use the exemption to protect that money for up to two years after the sale. It is important, however, to consult with a qualified bankruptcy attorney as there are certain conditions that have to be met in order to be able to claim the homestead exemption. Contact our office to learn more.

How will bankruptcy affect my credit score?

While bankruptcy serves to prevent creditors from collecting on debts owed, it does not erase negative information, such as history of late or missed payments, from your credit report. That information will stay on your report typically for 10-11 years, depending on the information being reported. In addition, filing for bankruptcy itself will appear on your credit report and will negatively affect your credit score. A Chapter 7 Bankruptcy filing will generally stay on your report for ten years and a Chapter 13 bankruptcy will appear for seven years from the time repayment is complete.

Attorney Misty Muter works with individuals and families to consolidate debt and seek other solutions that will not negatively impact an individual's credit rating. In addition, Attorney Muter counsels individuals who have poor credit scores on ways to build credit and improve credit ratings by, for example, making voluntary repayments.

What debts are erased by Bankruptcy?

Chapter 7 is generally available to consumers to eliminate all unsecured debt, such as credit cards and medical bills. Chapter 7 does not eliminate secured debt, and the Chapter 7 debtor must continue to keep current on all secured accounts, including home mortgages and car loans. Certain debts are non-dischargeable in a Chapter 7, such as recent taxes due, certain student loans, child support and alimony, and any debt procured by fraud.

Can I re-pay some debts, but not others?

The bankruptcy code mandates that all creditors must be included in the bankruptcy case, and, if they are in the same class, must be treated equally during bankruptcy. Following the bankruptcy proceeding, however, you may make voluntary repayments to any creditor you choose without reaffirming the entire debt. Voluntary repayments, in fact, will help you to improve your credit score following bankruptcy.

Can filing bankruptcy stop a garnishment?

In most cases, when a bankruptcy case is filed, the bankruptcy court issues an order preventing creditors from continuing their collection efforts outside of bankruptcy court. Therefore, in most cases once a bankruptcy case is filed, creditors must suspend any wage garnishments, and in fact, it may be possible to recover any wages garnished 90 days prior to filing for bankruptcy.

Does my spouse have to file with me?

No. However, both spouses' income and expense information may be relevant to your case. In addition, because Wisconsin is a community property state, all of the debt incurred during the marriage is owed by both spouses equally. If only one spouse files, the other is not protected by the discharge, and the creditor may be able to go after the assets or property of the non-filing spouse. As such, filing jointly may offer certain advantages including protection for both spouses as well as the ability to claim a larger amount for the homestead exemption. At Muter Law Office, we can advise you on the best means to proceed. Contact us today.

I filed bankruptcy before, can I file again?

There is no limit to the number of times a person can file for bankruptcy. However, to avoid abuse, the bankruptcy laws only allow debt to be discharged once every eight years under Chapter 7 and once every six years under Chapter 13.

Difference between felony and misdemeanor?

A misdemeanor is a minor offense generally punishable by paying a fine, although more serious misdemeanors may carry a prison sentence. Examples of misdemeanors include possession of marijuana, disorderly conduct, and driving under the influence. A felony, on the other hand, is a more serious conviction punishable by imprisonment of one year or more. Felony convictions include such things as murder, embezzlement, sexual assault, and more serious drug-related charges. A conviction in either case can have significant implications, and it is important to be represented by a qualified legal professional.

What should I do if I get arrested?

If you are arrested, do not resist. Be polite and cooperate with law enforcement personnel. Also, remember that you are entitled to certain rights. For example, you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney, even if you cannot afford one. If you are questioned, you must provide basic information to identify yourself, including your name, address, and date of birth. However, if you are asked additional questions, respond by saying that you would like to speak to an attorney, and do not answer any further questions. Do not speak to anyone, unless it is your own attorney.

What happens if the police failed to read me my rights?

If you were taken into custody or deprived of freedom in a significant way, you are entitled to have your rights read to you, including the right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney present. If your rights were not read in such a situation, then any information that you gave during the subsequent questioning cannot be used against you. In addition, if information that was obtained during that interrogation led the officers to discover further information, the subsequent "fruit of the poisonous tree" is also not admissible as evidence to prove your guilt.

Do I need a lawyer if my offense is minor?

Even minor offenses will go on your record and can have serious consequences that may affect you for the rest of your life whether they be personal, financial, or professional. Therefore, it is important to be represented by an attorney who can give you an honest assessment of your case and help you to explore the possible options to reduce or minimize the severity of the outcome.

Do I need a lawyer if I am guilty and I want to just get my case over with?

If you are willing to plead guilty you may be able to enter into a "plea bargain" or "plea agreement" with the prosecutor which will expedite your case and result in a less severe punishment, such as probation or paying a fine. Prosecutors rarely enter into a plea agreement with an individual who is not represented by an attorney. An experienced attorney can help negotiate a plea agreement to bring about the best possible outcome for your case.

My girlfriend/boyfriend and I got into a fight. Can he/she just drop the charges?

Unlike civil disputes, criminal charges are filed and prosecuted by the state. Once this process has been set in motion, the county or state prosecutor is in charge of the case and the ability to drop the charges no longer rests with the victim. In addition, if the case goes to trial, the victim may be subpoenaed to testify in court and has a legal obligation to appear and tell the truth or risk facing criminal charges or being held in contempt of court.

The police want to talk to me to get my side of the story. Should I talk to them?

First and foremost, you have the right to remain silent. That means that aside from providing basic identification information such as your name, address, and date of birth, you do not have to answer questions unless you choose to. Before you talk to the police, it is best to consult with an attorney to explore your options and determine the best way forward. If you do decide to talk to the police to tell your side of the story, it is highly advised that you have an attorney present during questioning to ensure that your rights are not violated.

How much does it cost to hire Muter Law Office, LLC?

The initial consultation is free. If you decide to hire Muter Law Office, LLC, it will be necessary to pay an Advanced Minimum Fee. The amount will depend upon the seriousness of the offense and the amount of time the lawyer estimates it will take to achieve the client's goals. In an effort to keep the initial attorney's fees affordable, Muter Law Office, LLC and the client may agree to limit the scope of the representation, such as through the negotiations stage. If such a limited scope agreement is entered, the client can still decide to retain Muter Law Office, LLC, for services beyond the negotiations stage. However, a new fee agreement would be entered into along with a deposit for another Advanced Minimum Fee. If, at the end of the case, there is money left over from the Advanced Minimum Fee, Muter Law Office, LLC, will return any unused portion of the Advanced Minimum Fee.

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