Divorce Laws in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, divorce laws and divorce cases are considered under family law. There are specific laws that dictate filing, property division, child custody, and alimony. To begin a divorce, the law states the marriage must be irretrievably broken.

Ways To End a Marriage | The Divorce Process | Property Division | Children | Alimony

The Wisconsin Laws That Impact Divorces

There are many, many laws that impact divorce in Wisconsin. For this reason, the sections below give you a brief overview and link to more in-depth articles. The five categories of this article are:

  • Ways To End a Marriage – A look at the differences between divorce, annulment, and legal separation.
  • The Divorce Process – Filing for a divorce is the first step, and there is even more paperwork along the way.
  • Property Division – Understand how money, property, and debts are divided in divorce.
  • Children – Between custody, placement, and child support, having minor children adds several steps to a divorce.
  • Alimony – In some cases, one party has to financially support their soon-to-be ex.

Ways To End a Marriage

In most cases, couples end their marriage through divorce. Within divorce, parties can either work together in mediation or go against each other in litigation.

Some people prefer to get an annulment, but that can only happen in special cases. Instead, parties can get a legal separation if they do not want a full divorce.

Mediation vs Litigation

Mediation is a great option when both parties can work together to come to a conclusion. In mediation, a third-party mediator helps parties decide on all issues from child custody to property division. Mediation isn’t right for everyone though. When parties cannot work together, the divorce goes through the litigation process.

In litigation, parties work through the court system to get divorced. With the help of their attorneys, they work out all the necessary issues. If they cannot come to an agreement on one or more issues, the court decides for them. The court is always involved in some way no matter how a marriage ends.

Annulment vs Divorce

An annulment not only ends a marriage but also cancels it, legally erasing it. An annulment can only happen in specific cases when the marriage shouldn’t have happened. For example, a marriage could get annulled if one party was mentally impaired at the time of the marriage. Most people are ineligible for an annulment.

These rules are not the same for religious annulments. Religious annulments are done completely outside of the legal system, so each religion has its own rules. If someone doesn’t want a divorce and can’t get an annulment, another option is a legal separation.

Legal Separation vs Divorce

After a couple goes through legal separation, they are still technically married. This has advantages because it allows the parties to keep the financial incentives of marriage. Legally separated couples can still share health insurance and file taxes jointly.

Legal separation only works if both parties are amicable and are willing to stay somewhat involved in each other's lives. Most often couples get a legal separation for religious or financial reasons.

The Divorce Process

The divorce process includes the initial filing, a temporary hearing, a pretrial conference, the trial, and finalization. After filing for divorce, there is a 120-day minimum waiting period before it can be finalized.

Many divorces last longer than this because it’s hard to agree on important issues. For example, when parties cannot agree on issues surrounding the children, one party could ask for a guardian ad litem. Most stages like this require additional paperwork.

Before Filing

The petitioner, the person filing, needs to make sure they are allowed to get a divorce in Wisconsin.

Residency Requirements

In Wisconsin, the petitioner must meet the residency requirements. First, they must have lived in Wisconsin for at least 6 months. Then, to file in their county, they must have lived in that county for at least 30 days. The opposing party does not have to meet these requirements.

No-Fault Divorce State

When it comes to grounds for divorce, Wisconsin is a no-fault divorce state. This means that neither party has to prove any specific reason for wanting the divorce. Instead, it is enough to say that the marriage is irretrievably broken.

The Impact of Adultery

A spouse cheating has very little legal impact in divorce cases. This is because, in Wisconsin, the courts view adultery as a decision of morals, not laws. That being said, a spouse cheating often deeply harms a relationship and can cause a divorce.

Divorce Papers

Anyone can download Wisconsin’s divorce forms for free on our Divorce Forms page. There are different forms necessary for different stages in a divorce. Once someone starts the divorce process, the other party has to be told soon after.

Serving the Other Party

After filing the initial paperwork, the person who filed must serve the other party. Essentially, this is legally letting them know the divorce is happening. The petitioner serves the other party in person, by mail, by a process server, or by an officer from the local sheriff’s department.

Property Division

One of the biggest concerns for people looking to divorce is how money and property will get split. Wisconsin is a community property state which means parties divide all property down the middle, 50/50.

Property division is a big part of a divorce, so for more detailed information visit our Property Division in Divorce article. People are usually most worried about things that significantly affect their financial future.

Marital Debts

Marital debts are any debts incurred during a divorce. In most cases, the court also considers debts incurred before the marriage as marital debts. This means each party is equally accountable for the debts, and they will be split the same as property.

401ks and Retirement Accounts

Retirement accounts are split just like any other property in a divorce. But, most people try to avoid cashing them out early. To do this, a party could give up another equally valuable asset in exchange. If someone cashes out their retirement before property division, it’s split in half just like any other savings accounts.

Inheritance

Inheritance is one of the only forms of property that is usually kept separate in a divorce. However, it will be split if the inheritance was left to both parties or if the assets were commingled. For example, if the inheritance was a house and both parties lived in it, it is now commingled.

Marital Home

The marital home is split like any other piece of property, but it's often a complicated process. Like many other things, it cannot just be split down the middle. So, either the house is sold or one party takes it and buys out the other party. Another complication with the marital home is if kids live there too.

Children

Whether there is one child or five, it’s rarely easy to figure out custody, placement, and child support. Parents first try to find a compromise together. If the parents can't agree, the court decides based on the child's best interests.

Legal Custody

The Wisconsin child custody laws outline how the court determines child custody. The court assumes that both parents will share custody unless one parent is a danger to the child. In most cases, parents share custody 50/50.

Physical Placement

There are many options for placement schedules. Placement schedules are decided based on everyone's calendars, needs, and preferences. Some parents switch off having the child every week, some switch off every day. Sometimes one parent has more placement than the other if it’s in the child’s best interest.

Child Support

One parent pays child support when there is an imbalance in income or in placement time. Child support is meant to support the child and create positive living situations with both parents. How much child support a party pays can be calculated using our child support calculator.

Alimony

The court uses Wisconsin’s list of alimony factors when deciding if a party needs financial support. Some of the key factors include marriage length, property division, and earning capacity. The Wisconsin courts call alimony, spousal support.

Calculating Spousal Support

Wisconsin law doesn’t have a set equation to calculate alimony. So, our alimony calculator estimates using equations used by attorneys. For a personal estimate that takes all factors of your situation into account, contact Sterling Law Offices to speak with an attorney.

Considerations

Do I Really Need To Hire an Attorney?

In Wisconsin, you do not need an attorney to file or complete a divorce. But divorce is complicated, so it is in your best interest to at least discuss your case with an attorney. There is also the option to use an attorney for only part or parts of your case. For example, we have a DIY Divorce option.

How Much Does It Cost To Get a Divorce in Wisconsin?

The filing fees for a divorce are usually around $175. But, the full cost of divorce can be much more. The full cost analysis includes other charges such as fees for a parenting class, a guardian ad litem, and/or an attorney.

At What Point During the Process Can a Spouse Remarry?

You cannot remarry during the divorce process at all. Furthermore, you cannot remarry for at least 6 months after the divorce.

Can You Date While Separated in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin doesn't restrict dating during separation, divorce, or even marriage. However, who you choose to date could impact child custody/placement decisions–especially if you choose to live with them.

Can the Final Divorce Judgment Be Changed in the Future?

It is rare for a court to reopen or reverse a divorce settlement in Wisconsin. One of the only reasons this would happen is if there was evidence of coercion, threats, or false documents.

Frequently Asked Questions

How are assets divided in a divorce in Wisconsin?

Divorcing parties first have the option to split assets and come to an agreement on their own. If they cannot agree, the court will decide for them. When the court decides, property is split 50/50, but they do take other factors into account.

How long do you have to be separated before divorce in Wisconsin?

Some states require couples to be separated before they can file for divorce. In Wisconsin, there are no requirements of separation before divorce papers can be filed. Once papers are filed though, the divorce cannot be finalized until the 120-day waiting period is up.

Is Wisconsin an alimony state?

Wisconsin does have alimony as an option in divorce cases. But, in most cases, neither party pays alimony. Alimony is most common in long-term marriages where one spouse makes significantly more than the other.

Does length of marriage affect divorce settlement?

The length of marriage does impact a few things in a divorce. For example, in short-term marriages, the court orders alimony less often. Also in short-term marriages, the court may be more willing to view property from before the marriage as separate property.


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