How to File for Divorce in Wisconsin

You must be a resident for a minimum of 6 months to file for divorce in Wisconsin. You file a summons, petition, and confidential petition addendum with your county court, pay a divorce filing fee, and serve your spouse papers. After this, there's a 120 day waiting period before any final court hearing.

Considerations Before Filing For Divorce

When you get a divorce in Wisconsin, there are certain issues to consider before moving forward. If you have children, you'll need to decide on how much time each parent spends with the child, and you'll need a parenting plan. You'll also need to agree on child support payments and possible spousal support. You will need to consider how to divide debt, savings, retirement, assets, and property division. Alimony, or spousal support could also be considered. If you're not in agreement, the court could order mediation or make the final decisions themselves.

Overview of Filing For divorce in WI

  • You must reside in Wisconsin for at least 6 months
  • You must also reside in the county where you'll file for at least 30 days.
  • File a petition to divorce either jointly together with your spouse or alone
  • In the case you file alone, you will also need to serve your spouse papers and submit proof to the court.
  • Once filed, there's a 120 day waiting period before a final hearing can take place.
  • Prior to the final hearing, you can elect to have a hearing for temporary orders (temporary rules child custody and support, alimony, property and asset use, debts, etc, until the divorce is finalized).
  • The couple can finalize the agreement, or in cases where they can't agree, the court will order mediation extending the process.

Preparing Your Divorce Forms

The easiest solution is to hire a Family Law attorney for your divorce case. They'll draft all of your necessary documents and file them with the court for you. You won't need to worry about personal issues delaying your filing or errors in your paperwork.

When representing yourself, the first step to filing for divorce is to thoroughly complete the summons, petition, confidential petition addendum, and other required circuit court forms provided by the Wisconsin Court System.

Required forms depend on your situation and may differ from county to county. Forms needed depend on if you have children together, or if you're the one filing (petitioner) or the one being served with divorce papers (respondent). All forms can be found here. To help you find the correct forms, Wisconsin eCourt put together an online Family Law Forms Assistant.

To give you a better understanding of the divorce process, the Wisconsin Court System has created the Basic Guide to Divorce/Legal Separation document which covers:

  1. Basic Steps for Getting a Divorce or Legal Separation
  2. Important Court Related Offices and Services
  3. Legal Issues to Consider
  4. County Checklist

What Information do I need to provide to get the right forms?

Before filling out any personal information, you will need to answer the following questions in order to access the correct forms:

  1. Are you filing jointly?
  2. Do you have any children?
  3. Will you need to schedule a temporary hearing?

Filing Wisconsin Divorce Papers

If you have a divorce lawyer, they'll file everything for you after drafting all documents and give you updates on how to move forward.

If you're filing on your own using Wisconsin divorce forms, make two copies of the paperwork because you'll be giving one to the court, keeping one, and serving a copy of paperwork to the other spouse if you're the one filing. Next, go to your local county courthouse, or the county where your spouse lives, and ask to file your summons, petition, and confidential petition addendum. You can also inquire to see if anything else is needed. Once filed, you'll pay a filing fee and will have to wait for 120 days after successfully serving the other spouse until a final court hearing.

Serving Your Spouse Divorce Papers

After filing for divorce, the other party needs to be served divorce papers. If you're a client of Sterling Law Offices, we'll normally give you 3 flexible options on serving the opposing party.

  1. The other spouse could be served by a process server or sheriff's department.
  2. We could serve the other party by mail along with Admission of Service to sign & return to us. We give them a deadline and include a self addressed stamped envelope to return to us.
  3. The other spouse could come to our office to pick up the divorce papers and sign an Admission of Service at that time.

If you're doing this on your own, you need to deliver or serve the other party with a copy of the summons, petition, confidential petition addendum, and proposed parenting plan (if you have children).

You can deliver these papers to your spouse by hand, or use a private process server or the sheriff's department to serve divorce papers on your behalf. The other party will need to sign an Admission of Service. Once you have this, you'll need to file it with the Clerk of Circuit Court as proof that the other party received copies of all divorce papers you filed and the 120 day waiting period for a final hearing begins.

If you serve the other party papers through mail, they will need to return a signed Admission of Service. If they don't, you'll need to complete an Affidavit of Mailing in front of a Notary as proof you sent it, or you'll need some type of receipt with proof you mailed it. You'll need to file this form with the court as soon as possible to start the final hearing waiting period.

Once the other party is served papers, they have 20 days to respond. If there's no response or they fail to appear in court, a default judgment may be awarded.

What Happens When a Spouse Avoids Service?

If the methods above were unsuccessful, the last resort is publishing in a major news paper that an action has been filed against them. This last resort usually must be approved by the court. You'll need proof that you tried all other methods..

Some Common Divorce Questions

Divorce can be emotionally draining, and people often have questions they never thought about. Some questions include:

  • What happens to the children, visitation, support, child care, etc?
  • What happens with the mortgage/rent, utility bills?
  • Who will get to live in the house or apartment?
  • What happens with the vehicles and auto loans?
  • What happens with the bank accounts?
  • What if one needs living expenses because of not working or lower income?
  • What happens to insurance and who pays for medical expenses?

These concerns can be addressed on a “temporary basis” before the final divorce hearing. In most cases, you don't know if your spouse will agree to any terms, so the best option is to express your concerns to the attorney during your initial consultation. Your attorney will consider all options in your best interest and draft and file a Temporary Order for you at the time they file for divorce. You'll then get a Temporary Orders trial date to put this plan in place. If you don't have an attorney, you can file this on your own when you file for divorce, or later at the same court after you file for divorce.

If you and your spouse can agree on reasonable terms, you both can sign a Stipulation for Temporary Order and file that with the court. This will cancel the hearing date.

Filing For a Temporary Order

A Temporary Order may be needed if you and your spouse disagree on the following issues any time before the final hearing:

  • Temporary maintenance
  • Temporary use of the primary residence
  • Temporary use of certain property such as bank accounts and vehicles
  • Temporary payment of debts (such as a mortgage) by one of the parties
  • Temporary child support, legal custody or physical placement
  • Other temporary issues that need court orders
  • A temporary hearing may be requested the same time you file for divorce or legal separation or at any other time before the divorce or legal separation is granted.

If you hired an attorney, they will take care of drafting all documents and will file it for you. You can obtain a Temporary Order at any time before the final divorce trial, but it's most common to submit this with the divorce papers. You'll then be giving a hearing date to appear in court.

If you're doing this yourself, you'll need to file a Order To Show Cause and Affidavit for Temporary Order and file it with the same court where you filed for divorce. If you filed this and later came to an agreement with the other spouse, you can complete and file a Stipulation for Temporary Order which says that both parties agree on how to temporarily handle the issues listed above. This would cancel the Temporary Order court hearing date.

How Long Does a Divorce Take in Wisconsin?

The entire divorce process in Wisconsin can take from 6 months to a year. The more complicated a the divorce is, the more likely you will benefit from hiring a lawyer. Especially if you and your spouse cannot agree on child custody, support payments, and/or property division. For many couples, going through mediation can reduce the stress of a divorce and it tends to yield the fairest outcome for both parties.

Is There a Waiting Period?

After a joint petition for divorce has been filed or after the other spouse has been served, there is a mandatory 120 waiting period before a judge will render a judgment. In that time, the two spouses will need to figure out the particulars of the divorce.

If there are points about the divorce such as child custody, or property division that can't be agreed on by both parties, then you may be ordered to complete counseling or mediation beforehand.

Divorce Options that Work for You

There are three basic types of divorce. The first step in obtaining a Wisconsin divorce is deciding which process is right for you.

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