Terese J. Singer

Effect of Marital Settlement Agreement on a Wisconsin Child Support Modification Request

It can be important to hire an attorney to negotiate a marital settlement agreement in Milwaukee. The agreement will need to be approved by the court, and provisions about issues like child support need to be carefully considered in light of Wisconsin family law.

In a recent case, a couple was married in 1997 and divorced several years after. They had a two-year-old daughter when they divorced and their marital settlement agreement included child support provisions as well as Section 71 payments from the husband to the wife.

The marital settlement agreement asked that the court hold child support open and the couple agreed that if the court ordered child support, the recipient would need to return the whole amount of child support to the payer. The only payments that were supposed to be made between the couple were Section 71 payments and $200,000. Maintenance was otherwise waived.

The settlement agreement also included a custody and placement agreement between the parties, in which the couple agreed to joint legal custody and shared placement based on the daughter’s age and development. The father moved to enforce his placement rights, and this resulted in litigation.

The mother asked for dismissal of one of the motions and also asked for child support. She argued that the provision of the settlement agreement that prevented her from asking for this support was not in the child’s best interest and violated public policy. The lower court dismissed the case, and the mother tried to get the issue of child support reopened. She argued that the father’s income increase should be considered a substantial change in circumstances and the commissioner agreed with her, but the father moved for another hearing, and this time, the court agreed with him, finding that the repayment provision of the settlement agreement was enforceable and clear.

The mother raised several issues on appeal. However, the court found that her child support motion was precluded by the doctrine of claim preclusion. She was therefore not able to raise public policy arguments. She also didn’t present enough evidence to show her daughter’s needs were going unmet.

Under the doctrine of claim preclusion, a party can’t pursue a claim that was the basis of a prior action if there is (1) identity between parties or their privies, (2) identity between the causes of action in the claims, and (3) final judgment by a competent court. In this case, the mother had brought a child support motion based on the notion that the father’s income could provide for the daughter’s substantial expenses. However, the parties in the appeal were identical to those in the motion. The causes of action were the same, as were the arguments related to child support and the settlement agreement. The mother had stipulated to dismiss her motion with prejudice, which was a judgment on the merits. The family court had confirmed her agreement and stipulation multiple times. The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision.

At Reddin & Singer, LLP, our Milwaukee child support attorneys understand the impact of a martial settlement agreement on child support. We can help you seek a modification of child support or fight a requested modification as appropriate. To speak with a knowledgeable divorce lawyer today, do not hesitate to contact the law offices of Reddin & Singer, LLP online or give us a call at 414-271-6400.

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