Let’s face it: divorce is always difficult. Even in cases of stipulated divorces, agreement does not always account for – or excuse – emotional distress. Understanding the differences between the two may not help you when it comes to the emotional stress or your personal feelings, but it may help you when it comes right down to the divorce process itself.

First, let’s cover the grounds for divorce. According to Wisconsin law, the only grounds for a divorce is the decision that the marriage is “irretrievably broken”. This does not need to be an agreement between the couple. It can be a decision made by only one party. Even if one were to contest the grounds for divorce, that individual cannot “block” a divorce from taking place. This is also considered the first contestation of a divorce. However, unless stipulated, all divorce cases are considered by the courts to be “contested”.Contested-Divorce-Two

The proceedings begin by filing two documents; a petition for divorce, and a summons. The petition must state the history of the marriage and further states the wanted outcome of the divorce. The summons says that a response within 20 days must be made. In the case of contested divorces, temporary orders are usually issued. These orders essentially state a set of temporary rules set forth by the court that both parties must adhere to until the court renders a final decision. In these cases, two more documents have to be filed. They are an affidavit of temporary relief, and an order to show cause. These orders request temporary support, temporary custody, etc. The order to show cause states the date and time of the hearing where the temporary orders will be issued.

After an individual properly files the two documents, the petition and summons, the documents are then served to the family court commissioner and/or the responding spouse. The individual requesting the divorce is the petitioner, the other is called the respondent. Both are parties in the divorce action.

Unless the court makes a very rare exception in light of an emergency, a contested divorce takes at least four months. A full 120 days from the serving of the initial papers, to the final hearing. Most divorces, however, take longer than the standard four months. This is due to several factors. The complexity of the case at hand, whether or not the spouses can agree on most of the issues, and any other things that must be taken care of before the trial. A divorce is not effective – or complete – until the final hearing. There then, of course, is the 6 month waiting period before either spouse can get remarried.

Trisha Festerling, J.D.

Family Law Attorney

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