What does a typical interstate child custody enforcement case look like?
The goal of most interstate custody enforcement cases is either to compel court-ordered visitation or custody across state lines or to recover children abducted by another parent from another state. A parent seeking such enforcement is called the "Petitioner," while the parent opposing that enforcement is called the "Respondent." The Law Office of David A. Blumberg can and does represent both petitioners and respondents in these cases, but we can represent only one side in any specific case.
Does the Petitioner have to be a parent?
No. Anyone who has a court-ordered right to visitation, physical custody, physical placement, or other right to have the child with them (even temporarily) can be a petitioner in an interstate custody enforcement case. A petitioner can be a parent, a grandparent, aunt, uncle, step-parent, adult sibling, or even a non-related guardian or legal custodian.
Does the Respondent have to be a parent?
No. Though the respondent is typically a parent, anybody who has physical possession or control of a child, in violation or alleged violation of a court order can be a respondent. Thus, a respondent can be a parent, a grandparent, adult sibling, extended family member, step-parent or even a non-related person.
What information will I need to give you if you are going to represent me?
We'll need some basic information about yourself, the child(ren), the other parent or other party, the court orders you are seeking to enforce (or defend against), and the present location of the child(ren). In addition, we will often (though not always) ask you to complete as much of our New Client Intake Questionnaire or our Victim's Questionnaire as you can. Those questionnaires are available in this web site's Resources section, and both can be filled out on line.
If I show my out-of-state custody or visitation order to the police in Wisconsin, will they help me pick up my child(ren)?
Sometimes yes, but not usually. Some police officers have been known to help parents enforce custody or visitation orders issued by courts in other states, but those officers are the exceptions. Most police officers and most police departments have a policy not to become actively involved in the enforcement of custody or visitation orders issued outside of Wisconsin, unless a Wisconsin Court directly orders them to do so. Therefore, the first step in most enforcement cases is to present your out-of-state order to a Wisconsin Court and to ask that Wisconsin court to issue an enforcement order.
What does it take to get a Wisconsin Court to issue that sort of order?
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act ("UCCJEA") provides surprisingly speedy procedures for recovering abducted children and for compelling court-ordered visitation or placement. In fact, if the location of the child and the withholding parent is known, we can often have a court hearing and obtain a court order to take your child from Wisconsin back to your home in another state in as little as a day or two after your petition to enforce the sister-state order has been filed a court in Wisconsin. Unlike in-state cases, where the time between petition, hearings and orders is typically measured in weeks or months, the lifespan of interstate custody enforcement cases is seldom more than two or three days. To be sure, those days are packed full of legal activity and emotional intensity. Once the enforcement case itself has ended, there will often be lengthy and complex legal proceedings devoted to tying up loose ends, preventing reoccurrences, or seeking modification of the underlying orders. Those later proceedings usually take place in courts outside of Wisconsin and are not directly connected with the interstate custody enforcement case. For that reason, this office is generally not involved in handling them.
Will you handle interstate custody enforcement cases alone or will you need to work with another Wisconsin Attorney?
Although we do not become involved with custody jurisdiction cases without the participation of another Wisconsin attorney to handle all non-jurisdictional aspects of those cases, this office typically handles enforcement cases without the involvement of other attorneys. That is because the case typically takes less than a week to complete and there is little chance that the Wisconsin court will have jurisdiction to consider any modifications or changes to the out-of-state order that is being enforced through the Wisconsin courts. If it turns out that the Wisconsin court does undertake to consider modifications to the underlying custody orders, you will need to retain another Wisconsin attorney to handle those proceedings.
Can you give me an example of a typical enforcement case?
Yes. Although every case will be different, here's one typical example:
John and Jennifer were married in Ohio. Their child (Emily) was born in Ohio. They were divorced in Ohio. Their Ohio divorce judgment granted Jennifer primary custody of Emily, with visitation for John, including the right to have Emily with him from Christmas Day to New Years Day, for Emily's entire Spring vacation, and for the first half of Emily's summer vacation. A few years later, Jennifer moved with Emily to Wisconsin, while John stayed in Ohio. When John calls Jennifer to arrange the details for Emily's spring visitation, Jennifer tells him that she's decided to keep Emily in Wisconsin for the entire spring vacation.
John then retains this office to seek enforcement of his Ohio court order in Wisconsin. After assembling the necessary information and documents, we file John's petition for expedited enforcement with the Wisconsin Circuit Court. The Wisconsin court issues an order for Jennifer to appear in court with Emily the very next afternoon to show why John should not be allowed to take Emily to Ohio for his visitation. The Sheriff delivers that order to Jennifer that afternoon. In court the next day, when Jennifer cannot disprove the validity of the Ohio order or show that it wasn't legally issued, the Wisconsin judge orders the Sheriff to assist John to leave the courthouse [and the state] with Emily. The court will likely also order Jennifer to pay all of John's travel expenses, his court costs, and his legal fees.
How Is a parental abduction case different from a typical enforcement case?
In a typical enforcement case, the parent with the child is violating an existing court order by refusing to turn the child over to the other parent. However, the withholding parent is not usually trying to hide or to keep the child's whereabouts secret. Neither is there any serious threat that the withholding parent will pull up stakes or take the child to another state if court action is attempted. By contrast, a parent who has abducted a child typically has made some effort to hide or to keep the child's whereabouts secret. Often, there is a serious risk that the abducting parent will take the child to another state if that parent learns that the child's location has been discovered or that an enforcement effort is underway.
Because of these differences, Wisconsin's Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act ("UCCJEA") authorizes the court to order the police or sheriff to take immediate physical custody of the child (without advance notice) if the court believes that the child is imminently likely to suffer serious physical harm or be removed from this state. Whenever such an immediate custody order is issued, the court must provide for a hearing on the very next day after the child has been taken into custody. If the abduction has lasted much more than half a year, we will also try to enlist mental health professionals to help the child through what would otherwise be a difficult and highly stressful transition. Although a typical abduction case seldom takes longer than other enforcement cases, the two or three day life span of the case is usually packed with even more legal activity, logistical complications, and emotional intensity.
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