The study is a thorough process. The length of the study is related to the complexity of issues in the family. Your timeliness and cooperation will help us compelte the study as quickly as possible.
After receiving notification of an unsuccessful mediation from either FCS or a Court Commissioner, the assigned judge will set a status conference. At the status conference, the Court will determine whether a GAL should be appointed or a study should be ordered. If the case is to be referred for a study, the judge may choose a full study or a Brief Focused Assessment (BFA), depending on the issues brought forth. If the referral is unclear, the Court Counselor may request clarification from the FCS Director or the assigned judge. These requests will be copied to all parties. If during the course of a BFA the counselor identifies significant concerns outside of the referral, they will promptly inform the judge, who may choose to modify the referral.
When the study is assigned, the FCS director will notify the branch by email and the parties by mail noting the date FCS recommendations are due. Counselors will include in their recommendations the dates of the case referral, assignment, and completion of the report. Studies are to be completed within 90 days (120 days in families with domestic violence that has been identified by the Court), unless the counselor has received an extension. Brief Focused Assessment should be completed in 60 days from the day of assignment, unless there is domestic violence or the court extends the time. All study referrals will be accompanied by a motion.
The following matters will not be referred for a study: guardianship disputes, contempt and enforcement issues, monitoring of Court Orders, disputes regarding transportation or time and place of transitions, minimal changes to the schedules, vacation and holiday schedules, disputes regarding choice of schools or extracurricular activities, cases where the parents continue to reside in the same residence, and cases where parties have jointly retained a private practitioner to conduct a study concerning the pending motion petition. Cases in which both parents live outside of Dane County will be closely evaluated by the judge, commissioner, and Director of FCS to determine whether it is appropriate for a study referral to FCS. Recommendations to the Court should be in letter format using statutory criteria as a guideline and should explain the reasons for the recommendation. The counselor will not be expected to prepare any further report or updated recommendation, except when directed to do so by the assigned judge upon good cause shown.
Inquiries and comments between counselors and judges/commissioners about the merits of a case shall be in writing with copies to all interested parties. Parties, attorneys, the Guardians ad Litem and Family Court Counselors may communicate with each other for the purpose of exchanging information and explaining their respective positions regarding the issues involved in the case. All written materials sent by parties and attorneys must be copied by the sender to all other parties and attorneys, with the exception of the Family Study Questionnaire and other initial paperwork sent out by the FCS office. Other substantive information received by the counselor will be available for review in the file. Communication between counselors and outside evaluators should be in writing with copies provided to all parties or orally with all the parties and counsel.
Once all steps are completed, the counselor will make recommendations to the parents and the Court. The factors which the counselor must consider are set forth in section 767.41(5) of the Wisconsin Statutes. When you receive recommendations, you will be asked to indicate whether you accept them or reject them.
If during the course of the study process, the parties reach an agreement on the outstanding issues, the counselor will prepare a document reflecting that agreement. The document will be forwarded to the court for review and further order. No waiting period or certification form will accompany the document as is done in mediated agreements.
If agreement is not reached by the parents and a guardian ad litem, a trial will be scheduled by the judge. A trial will be preceded by either a status conference or pretrial conference. At the trial, the judge will listen t the testimony and the evidence in order to make a decision related to the best interest of the child(ren) regarding custody and placement.
Please reach out to Dane County Family Court Services for more information.