How to Get a Divorce without a Lawyer in Wisconsin

You do not need a lawyer to file a divorce in Wisconsin. Filing a divorce without lawyer is called a ProSe Divorce. If you have the time and emotional bandwidth to understand the court rules and procedures a DIY will save you money.

What is a DIY or Do-It-Yourself Divorce?

Also know in the legal community as a pro se divorce, DIY divorce is when you represent yourself and work through the court procedures without the guidance of an attorney. The court expects the same legal work product and adherence to court procedure from a pro se litigant as they would from an attorney. This means a pro se litigant must file the necessary paperwork[1] with a judge and come to an agreement with your spouse without the help of an attorney. The pro se litigant must also follow the county-specific court procedures.

A divorce can be filed either jointly (meaning both parties agree to end the marriage) or as an individual. In the case where you file for a divorce alone, you will have to arrange for the papers to be served to your spouse in an official capacity. This may seem arbitrary, but improper service will force the court to enforce proper service statues. This means in nearly all instances restarting the process from the beginning.

Depending on how long you've been married and if you have children, the process can be relatively simple or very, very complex.

Is a DIY Divorce Right for You?

Our reasoned, biased opinion is many pro se litigants deal with frustrations within the court system due to a lack of knowledge of the procedures. Many times when divorcing spouses have limited acrimony, no children, and or limited assets/debts to divide they are more than capable of coming up with an acceptable marital settlement agreement. However, limited knowledge of the process forces many divorcing spouses to start, stop and restart wasting months of time as well as several hundred dollars in court filing fees.

From our perspective unless you are familiar with the court system and local county procedural rules you should at a minimum hire an attorney to coach you through the process. We believe this will save you months of time and frustration as well as becoming properly informed you of your rights as it relates to any agreement you sign. Sterling Law Offices offers many low-cost options to facilitate this process for those with limited resources and or agreed-upon divorce issues.

What are the benefits of do-it-yourself divorce?

  1. Lowest cost option 
  2. Great if no kids, no assets, no debt, similar income, less than 3 year marriage
  3. Great if county court procedures are clear and understood

Download Free Divorce Forms

Get started with a DIY divorce and download your divorce forms here.

DIY Considerations

Do-It-Yourself Divorce Defined

First, you will file whatever your necessary paperwork in the appropriate county courthouse. You'll either do this with your spouse if you're filing jointly or alone. If you file alone you will also need to serve your spouse the papers. Your spouse must know about the divorce before any action can be taken (delaying this will also delay a final judgment).

You'll then decide if you need a temporary hearing. This would be done if you feel the court needs to make any rules regarding you and your spouse in regards to property, money, children or anything else before the divorce is final.

Once you both file your petition, or once your spouse receives their summons there's a mandatory 120 waiting period. After that, you will make an appointment with the judge to finalize the divorce. In the instance where you don't agree you might be required to attend mediation to hash out your differences.

Cost of a Do It Yourself Divorce

Once you fill out all of the necessary paperwork to file for your divorce the court will charge a filing fee. The fee varies depending on what specific forms you end up filing but expect to pay at least $150.

Risks of DIY Divorce

As in any case where you choose to represent yourself there are significant risks. The more complex your divorce, the more likely you are to make a mistake. Should you find yourself in that situation, you may end up hiring an attorney to help you fix those problems.

Moreover, if your divorce is contested, meaning one side doesn't agree to several of the key issues, you may find it hard to get a fair deal in the resulting judgment. Ideally, if you're considering doing a divorce yourself, you and your spouse would go in having a rough agreement on the major points such as: how you're going to divide your property and debts, child custody and visitation schedules, and child support and alimony if it's necessary.

Divorce can get extremely complicated very quickly, so when in doubt it may be best to consult with an attorney.

Frequently Asked Questions

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

Wisconsin has a mandatory 120-day waiting period which begins once the other party is made aware of the divorce filing, which is generally done by personal service.

During this waiting period it is not possible to finalize the divorce, instead, this time period is often used to draft other required documents in order to prepare for the finalization of the divorce. The first court appearance after the 120-day waiting period passes is the party's first opportunity to finalize the divorce if there is an agreement in place on all of the outstanding issues.

The average case length in Wisconsin is 6-12 months but can vary widely depending on the county it is filed and the facts involved with the case.

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

The costs associated with the filing of a divorce action can vary by county. Generally, the cost can range between $175 and $190, the exact cost can be confirmed by calling the clerk of courts at the courthouse in your county of residence. Many county's fees will vary from case to case based on whether the petitioner is requesting child support or spousal support.

For those individuals that may not be able to satisfy the filing fee, Wisconsin has a process for those to apply for indigent status. This requires the petitioner to complete the Affidavit of Indigency (form CV-410A) at the time of filing the initial divorce documents and provide supporting documentation to provide indigency. The Court will subsequently make a determination and notify the applicant whether their indigent status has been approved.

Does it matter who files for divorce first in Wisconsin?

There is no real benefit to filing first in Wisconsin because it is a no-fault state. However, for those parties that may need financial assistance from their spouse during the pendency of the divorce, they may benefit from filing sooner in order to request a Temporary Orders Hearing which can assist them in getting temporary support and other orders in place while the divorce is ongoing.

The Petitioner is responsible for paying filing fees and service fees which can be as much as $200 as well as additional attorney costs because the Petitioner is normally required to submit more paperwork than the respondent.

Legal Options that Work for You

There are three basic legal paths. The first step in executing a legal action is deciding which process is right for you.

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