The term family law encompasses a wide array of legal issues from divorce and child custody and visitation, to adoption, pre-marital agreements, guardianships, annulments, and paternity. These legal issues are not just issues to those going through them and the attorneys at Steinhilber, Swanson, Mares, Marone, & McDermott know this and understand the emotional turmoil that goes hand in hand with their representation of you. We will help you through the rocky path and help you find the light at the end of the tunnel.

You need good legal representation to guide you in these difficult and life changing issues. Our attorneys offer a broad scope of knowledge and experience in family law. If you have an impending legal issue in your family call Steinhilber, Swanson, Mares, Marone, & McDermott for an appointment to explore your legal options.

What You Can Expect in Your Divorce

  • In Wisconsin you do not need a legal reason to get a divorce. Wisconsin is a “no fault” divorce state and the only reason you need is that you and your spouse cannot get along and the marriage is irretrievable broken.
  • You must have lived in Wisconsin for at least six months prior to filing for divorce and your divorce must be filed in the county in which one of you live.
  • To start the divorce process you will need to file a petition for divorce and typically request a temporary order which will put in place a schedule of visitation, set support amounts, determine who stays in the marital home and who goes, and divide the obligation to pay bills between the spouses while the divorce is ongoing.
  • The non-filing spouse must be personally served with the divorce papers. This is not something that you need to do yourself. We will hire a process server to do this for you.
  • Once the petition and other initial documents have been served on your spouse they will have a specific period to respond and need to appear in court for the temporary hearing.
  • If there are children involved the court will usually appoint a guardian ad litem (or “GAL”) whose role is to represent the best interests of the children, as determined by the GAL through investigation, in the court proceedings.
  • After the petition is filed the court will set the date for a default judgment. This is the first date that you could get a final judgment of divorce. The date will be at least 120 days from the date you filed. If things proceed smoothly then you will be divorced by that date. Divorces typically take longer than 120 days to go to final hearing.


Child Custody, Visitation, & Support

In determining child custody, visitation, and support the court will take into consideration your job, the hours you work, your ability to work with the other parent to make decisions and co-parent, as well as the best interests of the child for the safest most stable environment for them to grow up in.


Adoption is a judicial proceeding that transfers all rights and responsibilities of a natural parent, if known, to an adoptive parent. The procedures as set out by law are intended to protect the best interest of the children and the rights of parents or guardians. The court will generally not grant an adoption unless the child's parents and guardian, if there is one, consent to the adoption. However, there are instances in which consent is not necessary.

Premarital Agreements

A premarital or often referred to as a prenuptial agreement, typically addresses many of the issues that arise in the divorce process. These agreements are crafted to resolve ahead of time many questions that are difficult to answer during the emotionally charged period of divorce.


A guardianship can be necessary when an elderly person is no longer able to safely make their own decisions or when a child is in need of a guardian either on a temporary or permanent basis. Guardianships may be "of the person" (for decisions relating to the person's well being) or "of the estate" (for decisions relating to the person's finances) or both.

In the case of an adult guardianship, a court must make the decision that a person is no longer competent to manage his or her own affairs and then must appoint a guardian for him or her. Often the person appointed will be an adult child of the person in need of guardianship. A medical examination and physician testimony is required to establish mental or physical incompetency.

Guardianship proceedings are initiated through a petition. Once guardianship is established, the appointee will be responsible for making medical and financial decisions for the ward. Guardians must make annual reports to the court.


A determination of paternity is used to establish custody and visitation rights as well as to set child support.

Frequently Asked Questions
What if I am served with divorce papers?
If you agree with all the terms of the divorce as listed in the petition, you do not need to respond. If you want to challenge the terms listed in the petition, you must file a written answer, (also called a “response”) with the court within the time stated on the petition and appear in court for the temporary order hearing date.

How much does a divorce cost?

Court costs and filing fees range from $100-$400. If you hire a lawyer, you will need more money. The more complex the divorce is, the more it will cost. The more issues you and your spouse disagree about, the more work your lawyer will have and the more expenses you will have. Your attorney will explain the fee and billing procedures at your first conference.

Can I take back my former name?
Yes. The judge must give you back a former name if you ask for it in a divorce.

What is mediation?
Mediation is one or more private counseling sessions in which a trained person tries to help you and your spouse reach an agreement. The judge might order both of you to go to mediation in an attempt to agree on divorce issues such as child custody, support, parenting time and property division.

All mediation proceedings are private and confidential. Neither party is required to agree to any solutions proposed by the mediator. If you are able to reach agreement on some or all of the issues, a written summary of that agreement is usually sent to the lawyers by the mediator.

If you and your spouse cannot agree and one of you will challenge the divorce issues in court, a judge will have to make a decision about the issues.

What is a legal separation?
A legal separation is a court order that states who gets the children, who pays support for the children, whether spousal support is ordered, and who gets what property. You might want a legal separation if your religious beliefs prohibit divorce, if you or your spouse have not lived in Wisconsin long enough to file for divorce, or if one of you needs to be covered by the other’s medical insurance. A legal separation costs about the same as a divorce. Filing for legal separation does not prevent a divorce from being filed. The main difference between a legal separation and a divorce is that you are still married after a legal separation. Therefore, you still have the right to inherit property from your spouse if you are legally separated. If you are divorced, you lose that right.

Our Attorneys Who Practice Family Law

  • Brian L. Mares