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What is a Wisconsin De Novo Review?

What is a Wisconsin De Novo Review?

When someone files a Wisconsin family law case, they often expect to have the matter heard by a circuit court judge. However, some or all of their case may be heard by a circuit court commissioner. Under Wisconsin law, circuit court commissioners have the authority to issue decisions on various family law case issues. If a party disagrees with these rulings, they can request something called a de novo review. If you have a case before a Wisconsin circuit court commissioner, you need to know: What is a Wisconsin de novo review?

What is a Circuit Court Commissioner?

According to the Wisconsin Court System website, a court commissioner is “[a] lawyer appointed by the circuit judges of a county who, as a judicial officer, exercises many of the functions of a judge, by conducting hearings and making findings and recommendations.”  Commissioner duties vary from county to county, and those who hear family cases such as divorce, paternity, and child support are sometimes referred to as family court commissioners.

Wisconsin De Novo Review

Generally, when a Wisconsin family law matter is assigned to the family court commissioner, the procedures and hearing will occur in the same manner as with a circuit court judge. Afterward, the family court commissioner will issue their findings and recommendations. If either party disagrees with the findings and recommendations, they can request a “de novo review.”

Wisconsin law provides that “any decision of a circuit court commissioner shall be reviewed by the judge of the branch of court to which the case has been assigned, upon motion of any party. Any determination, order, or ruling by a circuit court commissioner may be certified to the branch of court to which the case has been assigned, upon a motion of any party for a hearing de novo.”

What Happens During a De Novo Review Hearing?

During a de novo review hearing, the circuit court will consider the case as if the circuit court commissioner's hearing never took place. In other words, the circuit court judge will consider the evidence, testimony, and information anew.

De Novo Local Rules

Every Wisconsin county has its own unique rules regarding de novo review. Therefore, de novo request time limits are established according to each county circuit court’s local rules. However, some rules are usually the same for all courts. For instance, Wisconsin de novo review requests usually must be made in writing.

Some Wisconsin counties require that de novo requests be made 15 days from the hearing date. However, counties may calculate the days differently (e.g., counting holidays and weekends). In most cases, if a party or parties misses the de novo deadline, they won’t be able to seek review.

Wisconsin courts may also vary by county regarding the cases they will consider. In Milwaukee County, “[i]n general, divorce hearings, other than final hearings, are heard in the family court commissioner's office. Family court judges hear final divorce hearings when there is a dispute on an issue. Family court commissioners may hear final divorce hearings when the parties have a written agreement on all issues. Hearings to enforce a court order or modify an order after a judgment is issued are heard by family court commissioners.”

In Waukesha County, “[i]f you are not satisfied with a decision (judgment or order) made by a Circuit Court Commissioner, you are entitled to appeal that decision to a Circuit Court Judge. Parties can request a Trial De Novo in two types of Civil Matters: Restraining Orders and Small Claims actions.”

It's essential to be aware of the county circuit court rules and deadlines for requesting a de novo review hearing. Further, additional documents may be needed to complete your request.

If you have a family law matter before a Wisconsin family court commissioner, it's important that you have the advice of an experienced Wisconsin family law attorney. Your lawyer can help you prepare and present your case under de novo review.

Contact an Experienced Wisconsin Family Law Attorney

Wisconsin Attorney and Mediator Karyn Youso of First Look Family Law is an attorney and Mediator with the experience you need to help you with your Wisconsin de novo review. If you have a family law case in Metro Milwaukee, Waukesha, or Brookfield, please contact us today and let us take a “first look” at your situation.