Family Court Commissioner
Rock County Courthouse
51 South Main Street
Janesville, WI 53545
Monday - Friday Hours
8:00 AM - 12:00 PM
1:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Judges Assigned to Family Matters
Family Court is part of the Civil Division. However, your case may be assigned to any of the judges listed above.
In family law cases, all final hearings are conducted and all final orders are issued, by the Judges. Until the matter is ready for a final hearing (scheduled at a pretrial conference by the Judge) temporary orders in Family court are entered by Family Court Commissioners.
While it would be impossible to provide all the necessary information to address every family legal matter, we’ve tried to include key facts and resources to answer your general questions. Please contact the Family Court Commissioner if you need further assistance.
- Information provided at this site is not a substitute for legal advice.
- By law, the Family Court Commissioner and staff cannot give you legal advice.
- If you need legal advice, please consult an attorney.
- We make no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to this web site.
- While you can appear in Family Court without an attorney, an attorney's help may:
- Increase your chances of getting what you want in your case.
- Prevent future misunderstandings.
- Save you time and money by making sure things are done right the first time.
How do we set up Mediation?
If you are having problems with custody and placement and would like to meet with a mediator, send a written request to the Family Court Commissioner and to the other party. Your request should specifically state the problems you are experiencing. If you have a Family Court Case in Rock County, the Circuit Court Judge or the Commissioner will refer you to Mediation and Family Court Services (MFCS). If this is your first mediation in the case and you are only mediating child custody and placement issues, Rock County will pay for the initial session. If this is not your first mediation or if you want to mediate other issues, you will have to make a deposit against the mediator's fees. For more information, please refer to Rock County's Mediation and Family Court Services..
What will the Family Court do if the other party isn't following the court order?
With very limited exceptions, the Family Court does not monitor the parties to be sure they are following court orders. If you believe the other party is not following the order, you can file a motion or an order to show cause to get the matter in front of the Family Court for a decision.
How do I get a hearing scheduled?
You will need to file a motion or an order to show cause to get a hearing. These are formal requests that you make to the court to have the matter heard. Once you have the paperwork ready, you should call the Court Commissioner's office to request a hearing. See the Judges/Commissioners page for contact information.
He/She isn't letting me see the kids. What can I do?
Child custody and placement issues are very complicated, and it is strongly recommended that you talk to a lawyer about this. If you choose to try to deal with these issues without a lawyer, you can send a request to the Family Court Commissioner requesting that mediation, or you may prepare an Order to Show Cause Packet to get a hearing on the issue.
I want to move the kids out of Wisconsin. What do I need to do?
The requirements for moving children out of the state are set out in Section 767.327 of the Wisconsin Statutes. There may be additional requirements in your temporary order or divorce judgment. To be sure you are doing things correctly, consult your lawyer.
He/She isn't paying the child support ordered. Can I stop him/her from seeing the kids?
No. Issues of child support and periods of placement are separate. Withholding periods of placement because the other parent isn't paying support is not allowed.
He/She smelled like liquor when he/she came to pick up the kids. Do I have to send them?
If the children will be in physical or emotional danger, you do not have to allow the other parent to have the children. WARNING: This is a complicated area and you withhold placement at your own risk. If you withhold placement the court may find you in contempt! It is vitally important to seek the help of a lawyer immediately.
How old does a child have to be before he/she can decide which parent he/she wants to live with?
A minor child does not have the right to decide which parent he or she will live with. The wishes of the child are just one factor to be considered by the court in deciding placement.
Can I give up my rights to the child so I can stop paying child support?
Terminating parental rights is a complicated area and a competent lawyer should be consulted before making any decisions. Most of the time, unless there is another person ready, willing, and able to adopt the child, termination of parental rights is not an option.
How do I make an appointment to speak with the Family Court Commissioner? (How do I talk with the Family Court Commissioner?)
The Commissioner cannot meet with you to discuss your case unless the other side is present. This is because ex parte communication by the court is forbidden under the law. If you would like to present facts to the Commissioner and ask for a ruling on some matter, you will need to schedule a hearing before the Family Court Commissioner. To schedule a hearing, you will need to file a motion or order to show cause.
Will you recommend a lawyer?
No. To find a lawyer, try the yellow pages, talk to people you know, or try the Wisconsin Bar Association website.
Under Wisconsin law, a married couple can begin a divorce or legal separation by filing a Summons and Petition or by filing a Joint Petition. When a Summons and Petitioner or Joint Petition is filed it is assigned to a Circuit Court Judge.
If the husband and wife can cooperate, they file a joint petition. When using a joint petition, neither spouse has to be served with papers and neither spouse has to file a response. The parties to the case are referred to as the "Joint-Petitioner Husband" and the "Joint-Petitioner Wife."
If the parties cannot cooperate to file a joint petition, either one may start a divorce or legal separation by filing a summons and petition with the Clerk of Court and having these documents served on their spouse. The summons and petition must be served within 60 days after they are filed. Serving the documents usually requires that a process server or law enforcement officer serving the documents to the spouse. The spouse can also sign an admission of service if he or she wants to do so. The parties to the case are referred to as the Petitioner and the Respondent.
A person who is served with a summons and petition for divorce or legal separation must file a written response, which may include a counterclaim. This response must be filed within 20 days from the date that person is served or accepts service. The original response is filed with the Clerk of Court, and a copy is sent to the person who started the action or to their attorney. If the response is not filed, the Court can enter a default judgment after the minimum waiting period has passed.
After the service of the petition and summons, or the filing of a joint petition, there is a minimum waiting period of 120 days before a final judgment of divorce or legal separation can be granted.
During this waiting period, the Wisconsin Statutes create some automatic restrictions on what parties can do. The parties are automatically restricted from:
- Harassing, intimidating, physically abusing or imposing any restraint on the personal liberty of the other party or a minor child of either of the parties.
- Encumbering, concealing, damaging, destroying, transferring or otherwise disposing of property owned by either or both of the parties, without the consent of the other party or an order of the court or family court commissioner, except ◦
- n the usual course of business,
- In order to secure necessities, or
- In order to pay reasonable costs and expenses of the action, including attorney fees.
- Without the consent of the other party or an order of the Judge or Family Court Commissioner, establishing a residence with a minor child of the parties outside the state or more than 150 miles from the residence of the other party within the state, removing a minor child of the parties from the state for more than 90 consecutive days or concealing a minor child of the parties from the other party.
These restrictions apply until the action is dismissed, until a final judgment in the action is entered or until the Judge or Family Court Commissioner orders otherwise.
Violation of any of these restrictions may result in a finding of contempt, unless the Court decides that:
- the action was taken to protect a party or a minor child of the parties from physical abuse by the other party, and
- that there was no reasonable opportunity under the circumstances for the party to obtain an order authorizing the action.
In addition to the automatic restrictions, during the waiting period either party can ask the Family Court Commissioner to make temporary orders to control how things happen until the final divorce hearing. Temporary orders usually deal with legal custody and physical placement, child support and health insurance coverage.
Temporary orders may also include orders related to spousal maintenance (alimony), family support, use of the marital residence, use of personal property and payment of debts. No division of property is made at the temporary hearing; only the issue of using the property is decided.
If there is disagreement as to issues of custody or placement of minor children, the Commissioner must refer the parties to mediation. If mediation is unsuccessful, the Judge or Family Court Commissioner may appoint a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to represent the best interests of the children. Typically, each party is required to pay a $250 deposit to Rock County as advance payment of fees. The Guardian ad Litem will investigate the case and make a recommendation to the court and the parties on the issues of legal custody and physical placement.
Once the 120-day waiting period has expired the judge can grant a divorce or legal separation. If the parties do not have an agreement, the judge will schedule the matter for a pre-trial conference. At the conference the judge will schedule the final divorce trial. At the trial the parties will have to present all the information needed for the judge to decide all the issues. If the parties have reached an agreement on all the issues, the judge will schedule the matter for a stipulated divorce.
Once the judge has granted the divorce, the petitioner must submit Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Judgment of Divorce for the judge to sign.
Paternity is used when two unmarried people have child together. It determines who a child's father is and creates rights and responsibilities for that person. There are two ways to establish paternity:
- A paternity acknowledgment
- A paternity action
If public funds (Medicaid, Badgercare, etc.) paid for the child's birth or if the child's parent receives public assistance after the birth, the Rock County Child Support Office will commence an action for paternity or support of the child. If there is no public assistance involved, either parent may start an action.
Wisconsin hospitals have a form that the unmarried parents can sign to establish paternity without having to go to court. Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment is the easiest way for an unmarried father to put his name on his baby's birth certificate. The other ways involve the courts.
By signing the Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment form, both parents agree that the man signing the form is the father.
Signing this form legally establishes paternity. This means the court may make orders for child support, legal custody, physical placement or tax exemption regarding the child. This form does not give the father legal custody or physical placement. It does not require either parent to provide financial support for the child. If the father and mother cannot agree on these issues, they will need to get a court order.
To cancel the Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment, either the mother or the father may file a Request to Withdraw Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment form within 60 days of filing the Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment form and before a court orders child support. If the parent is under 18 when signing the Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment form and a court has not yet ordered child support, the parent may file the Request to Withdraw Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment form within 60 days after turning 18. The Request to Withdraw Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment form is available from the birth hospital, child support agency and the state Office of Vital Records. Check the Request to Withdraw Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment form for fee information.
Once there is a valid Paternity Acknowledgment on file, an action for support, legal custody and placement of the child may be started. In this action, the court will make orders regarding legal custody and periods of placement, child support, tax dependency exemption and issues relating to repayment of governmental agencies for medical, care, or other costs advanced for the child. If the Rock County Child Support Office started the action, the initial hearing will take place on Friday afternoon the Courtroom L of the Rock County Courthouse. If one of the parties started the action, that person will have to schedule a temporary hearing with the Family Court Commissioner's office.
If there is disagreement as to issues of custody or placement of minor children, the commissioner may refer the parties to mediation. If mediation is unsuccessful, the judge may appoint a Guardian ad Litem to represent the best interests of the children. Typically, each party is required to pay a $250 deposit to Rock County as advance payment of fees. The Guardian ad Litem will investigate the case and make a recommendation to the judge and the parties on the issues of legal custody and physical placement. A final hearing will need to be scheduled with the judge.
Commencing a Paternity Action
A paternity action is commenced by filing a summons and petition with the court. Often, the mother, the father, or the Rock County Child Support Office starts the paternity action.
After a paternity action is started, the parties will attend an initial appearance. If the Rock County Child Support Office started the action, the initial appearance will be on Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. in the Jury Assembly Room of the Rock County Courthouse. If one of the parties started the paternity action, that person will have to schedule an initial appearance with the Family Court Commissioner's office.
At the initial appearance the parties may request genetic testing to determine if the child is the alleged father's child. Genetic tests are usually DNA tests and often do not involve drawing blood from anyone. Instead, cells are taken from the inside of the cheek and compared. You must have a court order for genetic testing. The samples are taken on Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. in the Jury Assembly Room of the Rock County Courthouse. There is a fee associated with the tests.
Once the genetic testing is complete, the judge will schedule the matter for a hearing to implement judgment. At this hearing the court will make orders regarding legal custody and periods of placement, child support, tax dependency exemption and issues relating to repayment of governmental agencies for medical, care, or other costs advanced for the child.
If there is disagreement as to issues of custody or placement of minor children, the judge may refer the parties to mediation. If mediation is unsuccessful, the judge may appoint a Guardian ad Litem to represent the best interests of the children. Typically, each party is required to pay a $250 deposit to Rock County as advance payment of fees. The Guardian ad Litem will investigate the case and make a recommendation to the judge and the parties on the issues of legal custody and physical placement.
Going to Court Without an Attorney
If you are trying to represent yourself, please keep the following in mind:
- You must follow all the rules that apply to lawyers. If you fail to follow the rules, you may be subject to penalties such as your case being postponed or dismissed entirely.
- Judges and Court Commissioners must remain objective. They cannot discuss a case with only one of the parties.
- Never send anything to a Judge or Court Commissioner unless a complete copy is sent to all parties with proof that all parties received a copy. Failure to do so will result in your mail either being returned unread or a copy being sent to the other party.
- A Judge or Court Commissioner cannot change your existing order based upon a letter. Do not send the Judge or Court Commissioner letters asking them to change the existing order because the other side has done something awful or the court made a bad decision.
- Letters advising the Court or Child Support Agency of a change in your income, job loss or employment change will not change your child support obligation.
- If you want your existing order changed or enforced, you must file a motion, have the other parties properly served and give the other parties proper notice of the hearing. The legal process is complex and sometimes difficult to understand. Family law matters are often very emotional and you may lose your objectivity. For those reasons we suggest you hire a lawyer. If you want to represent yourself, basic forms to modify and enforce existing orders are available at the Family Court Commissioner's Office. Using the forms is a way to get back into court, but it does not guarantee that you will succeed in your request.
- The clerk in the Family Court Commissioner's Office and the clerks in the Clerk of Circuit Court Office cannot give you legal advice.
- The Guardian ad Litem is a party and must receive copies of everything sent to the Court.
- Private meetings or conversations with a Judge or Court Commissioner regarding your case are never allowed.
- Keep a complete copy of everything you send to or file with the Court.
This is not a complete set of procedural rules.
- State of Wisconsin Forms Bank
- State of Wisconsin Pro Se Divorce Forms
- Rock County Child Support
- Rock County Mediation
- Court Rules (Wisconsin Bar)