How Much Does a Divorce Cost in Wisconsin?

The average cost of a divorce in Wisconsin in 2021 is $9,900 which includes attorney and filing fees. Costs can decrease if uncontested or increase up to $25,000 if contested. Divorce involving children, spousal support disputes, or property and assets increases costs. Divorce mediation in Wisconsin is the most affordable starting at $3,500 per couple.

What Impacts the Cost of Divorce in Wisconsin?

During a divorce, there are many complications that can arise which could cause your divorce to be more expensive. If the case is highly contested, with many disagreements on several issues, it could result in a higher charge for your divorce case.

Overview of Uncontested Divorces in Wisconsin

An uncontested divorce is one where both parties agree on all aspects of the divorce. You have worked out an agreement that is acceptable to both parties and are prepared to move forward with those decisions. Uncontested divorces are often more affordable and end up being a much quicker process because there is no need to collect evidence, consult experts, or prepare any kind of testimony regarding disputed issues. 

Overview of Contested Divorces in Wisconsin

A contested divorce means that the parties have issues that they cannot come to an agreement on. Contested divorce cases begin with a temporary hearing. At this hearing, the judge makes some preliminary orders concerning child custody, child support, and property preservation. Aggressive representation is very important at this early stage, because the temporary orders often serve as the blueprint for the final orders.

Next, there's the discovery phase. The parties exchange financial disclosure statements and proposed marital settlement agreements, along with any other information necessary to resolve the case. Like the divorce itself, sometimes discovery is almost conflict-free. Other times, especially if the spouses mistrust each other, disputes are commonplace. These disputes often require expensive court hearings to resolve.

If the contested issues include minor children, mediation may be required by the courts. Mediation means that a neutral mediator would conduct supervised negotiations between the spouses in order to move them closer to settlement. Many cases (about 75 percent[1] if the mediation is voluntary) settle at this point. The rest move on to the next stage.

How Disputes and Trial Affect the Cost of Divorce in Wisconsin

Simply put, the more contested a divorce is, the more costly it will be to both parties. Some divorces are not much more involved than a corporate tax return; others take years and cost millions. Furthermore, circumstances can change very quickly. The most agreeable soon-to-be-ex-spouses often suddenly become bitter opponents for little or no reason. On the flip side, the most contentious couples sometimes have a change of heart and work things out almost overnight.

Type of Billing Structure

Attorney’s charge for their services in a variety of ways, but the two main options are hourly billing and fixed fee. Most attorneys work off of a retainer and an hourly billing structure where they charge you an upfront fee. When that runs out, they can charge you hourly for any time they work on your case.

Then, there is the way we here at Sterling Law Offices bill which is called a fixed fee. This is where we tell you what it will cost you for the entirety of your divorce before you actually begin working with us. The fixed fee option gives you clarity from the start so you have one less thing to stress about.

Spousal Support and Alimony Disputes

Spousal support, commonly referred to as alimony, is an issue that frequently comes up in divorce proceedings. This is court-ordered financial support, from one party to another, in order to maintain the lifestyle that both spouses had during their marriage. 

The courts would determine whether or not to order spousal support, how much should be ordered, and how long this support will continue on a case-by-case basis. These determinations are made based on the time length of the marriage, the age and health of both parties, the division of property, and the earning abilities of both parties. 

In the event that one party disagrees with the findings of the court commissioner for any support ordered, they have the ability to file for a De Novo review. This would mean that a trial judge would hear arguments and review any evidence as if it was the original hearing. 

The deadline for requesting a De Novo review is typically 10-15 days, however that time limit, as well as the rules dictating how a review can be requested, changes depending on the county.  

Child Custody

Child custody is often confused with child placement and is one of the main issues that is disputed during a divorce. Child custody is the legal right to take responsibility for the child and make decisions on their behalf regarding their health and wellbeing, residence, education, and religious upbringing, while child placement is where the child is living at any given time.

Whenever minor children are involved in a divorce, the courts will require that both parties participate in mediation as a way to peacefully come to a resolution on subjects such as child custody. While mediation is often very helpful in the decision making progress, it can contribute to the overall cost of the divorce. 

Child Support

Child support is another issue that can cause disputes during a divorce. Child support is calculated based on the parents income, the amount of time the child spends with each parent, and whether or not a parent is supporting another child. Under Wis. Statute 49.22(9)[2], the noncustodial parent would be responsible for paying the custodial parent child support. This is based on a percentage of noncustodial parents' base income. 

Considerations

While there is a clear distinction between contested and uncontested divorces, they are different avenues to take to the same destination. The following are details that will be included in either type of divorce.

Other Expenses Associated with Divorce

During a divorce, there are other expenses that should be budgeted for besides the cost of hiring an attorney. The following will be included in any divorce, unless there are no marital assets or properties to divide.

Filing Fees

The upfront cost of a divorce comes in the form of filing fees. These fees are implemented in all Wisconsin court systems, though there will be some variation from county to county. Then filing for divorce, it is important to make sure you are selecting the correct forms from the Wisconsin Court System[3]. You can reasonably expect to pay at least $150 for filing fees.

Property and Asset Division

Part of the divorce process is dividing any marital assets and property and distributing them to both parties equitably. Unless the parties divide to value the property themselves and a judge approves of their findings, they will most likely need to have their marital property valued. This will require the work of an appraiser, who can value the property objectively in order to determine the property’s current market value and its future market value. This will help determine how assets should be divided. 

Documents You Will Need To File

There are many documents that will need to be filed in order to start divorce proceedings, all of which have specific documents for families with minor children involved. If there are children, you will also need to include a proposed parenting plan when a party is being served. 

Summons and Petition for Divorce

The summons and petition for divorce is the first document that must be filed with the court. The ‘summons’ notifies the court and your spouse that a divorce has been filed, while the “petition” states the information for the marriage. Your spouse must be served no more than 90 days after this document has been filed. 

Confidential Petition Addendum

The confidential petition addendum is another document that must be filed. It is a one page document that contains basic information about the parties and children, such as contact information, social security numbers, and birth dates. 

Motion for Temporary Orders

If a temporary hearing is needed due to issues on which you and your spouse cannot agree, then you will need to file a motion for temporary orders. This order will cover day to day issues until the 120-day waiting period has concluded. These orders are often used as a framework for the final divorce ruling. 

Divorce Takes an Emotional and Financial Toll

It's also important to note that divorce has an emotional cost in addition to a financial one. In many cases, the anxiety, depression, sadness, anger, and other feelings that usually accompany divorce cost much more than the legal and other fees. 

In order to secure the best results for your divorce and ensure your ability to move forward from this swiftly, it is important to try and keep negotiations with your spouse as calm as possible, especially if there are children involved. 

Timeline for Divorce

In Wisconsin, there is a mandatory 120-day “cooling off” period between when you file and when a divorce can be finalized. Typically, this means that most divorces can take between 6 months to one year in order to finalize. If a divorce is highly contested, meaning that many issues come up during negotiations, this timeline will be longer, and naturally more expensive. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to file for divorce in Wisconsin?

Each county in Wisconsin has different filing fees associated with the forms that must be filed during divorce. There may also be additional forms depending on that county. Generally speaking, spouses can expect to pay at least $150 to file for divorce.

How much does a divorce cost without a lawyer?

Many spouses may decide to carry out their divorce without hiring any legal defense. This works best when the parties do not have minor children, have not been married for a long time, and have little to no marital assets or property. In situations like this, the cost could be between $175-$190, but an exact cost can be provided by calling the clerk of courts in the county you choose to file.

How much does mediation cost in Wisconsin?

The price for divorce mediation is reflective of the circumstances surrounding your divorce, such as child and spousal support, or shared debts and property ownership. The price typically ranges from $3,500-$6,500 per couple at Sterling Law Offices, with the Wisconsin state average being between $800-$3,500. 

What is the average cost for an uncontested divorce?

An uncontested divorce means that there are no disputed issues that need to be resolved over the course of a divorce. This could run anywhere from $3,000-$25,000, depending on the length of the divorce and attorney’s fees. 

What is the average cost for a contested divorce? 

The cost of a WI divorce will vary depending on how difficult it is for the two parties to reach an agreement, typically falling between $3,500-$25,000. A divorce will be more expensive if it involves any of the following:

  • Minor Children
  • Spousal Support Dispute
  • Property & Assets

Each of these issue types have specific additional fees associated with them that must be paid to third parties, meaning in addition to legal fees for those who choose to be represented. A highly contested case can be more than ten thousand and take close to two years.

How much does it cost to get a mutual divorce?

There are some objective financial costs that are usually the same in almost all Wisconsin divorces. As of February 2018, the filing fee is usually a little less than $200. Other common costs include the mediation fee ($200) and social services investigation fee ($300).

Judges almost always order contested cases to mediation, and if that contested case involves children, judges nearly always order social studies as well.

The cost of a WI divorce will vary depending on how difficult it is for the two parties to reach an agreement, typically falling between $3,500-$25,000. A divorce will be more expensive if it involves any of the following:

  • Minor Children
  • Spousal Support Dispute
  • Property & Assets

If custody, support, or property issues cannot be easily resolved, and the divorce goes to trial, the total cost will likely double. It follows that a simple divorce will be cheaper.

How difficult is it to get a divorce in Wisconsin?

As a no-fault divorce state, spouses in Wisconsin do not need a legal reason in order to file for divorce. The only reasoning that is required in order to file is that one or both spouses have determined that the marriage is irreparably broken and there is no chance of reconciliation. 

In that aspect, it is not difficult to file for and finalize a divorce. 

However the process of dividing assets, property, and various other negotiations that must take place can be a difficult task, depending on whether or not the divorce is contested. 

How long does it take to get a divorce in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin has established a mandatory 120-day waiting period between when both parties are notified of a divorce action and when the divorce is finalized. However, most divorces are finalized between six months and one year, depending on the county they are filed in and the issues surrounding the divorce.


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