How to File for Divorce in Wisconsin

To file for divorce in the Wisconsin court system, you must be a resident of Wisconsin for 6 months and the county you wish to file in for 30 days. After you file a petition for divorce with the clerk of courts, you must secure a process server to serve your spouse.

Divorce in Wisconsin

When you file for a divorce in Wisconsin, there are certain issues to consider before moving forward. For spouses with children, you will need to define child placement based on the legal custody agreement, which requires a parenting plan. You'll also need to agree on child support payments and possibly spousal support.

Often, the main focus of a divorce is property division where parties divide debt, savings, retirement, assets, and any other property. If spouses cannot come to an agreement on any of these issues, the court orders mediation or makes the final decisions themselves.

The Divorce Process in Wisconsin

  • 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.
  • You must file a petition to divorce either jointly together with your spouse or alone.
  • If you file separately, you will need to serve your spouse 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 in regards to child custody, child support, alimony, property division, asset use, debts, etc, until the divorce is finalized.
  • The couple can agree on custody, placement, support, and property division, the divorce can be finalized. or in cases where they can't agree, the court will order mediation extending the process.
  • If parties cannot agree even in mediation, the court process will proceed and the court rules on any outstanding issues.[1]

Preparing and Filing Forms and Paperwork

When preparing to file, you need the correct divorce forms for your situation. You will need to answer the following questions to choose the correct forms.

  • Are you filing jointly?
  • Do you have any children?
  • Will you need to schedule a temporary hearing?

To ensure that all paperwork is filed correctly and free of errors, it is beneficial to hire a family law attorney such as from Sterling Law Offices. An attorney drafts all necessary documents and files them with the court so that you wouldn't need to worry about dedicating nearly as much personal time to filing, collecting, and correcting paperwork. Some counties require different forms than others, and the forms you need depend on whether you are the one filing or the one responding.

If you choose to represent yourself (also known as pro se representation), the first step to filing for divorce is to fill out the necessary forms. You can also take advantage of the Do-It-Yourself Divorce with Sterling Law Offices. 

Serving the Other Party

If you are filing for divorce separately, you have to serve your spouse with copies of the summons, petition, confidential petition addendum, and a proposed parenting plan if there are children involved. This will need to be done no more than 90 days after you have filed, during that 120 day waiting period.

There are several options for serving a spouse. One of the most secure options is paying a fee to use a professional process server or officer with the sheriff's department. This professional would then fill out a “proof of service” form that gets filed with the court and sent to you for your records.

Another option would be to have a family member or friend over the age of 18, someone who is not involved in the divorce action, serve your spouse. This is not recommended, as this person would be opening themselves up to potentially testifying to their service in court if necessary.

An Admission of Service paper can be signed by your spouse if they accept service, which would negate the need for a process server. Your attorney could also serve the other party by mail along with Admission of Service to sign & return to us. They would be provided a deadline and a self-addressed stamped envelope would be included to return to us. Otherwise, the other spouse could go to the office of the attorney to pick up the divorce papers and sign an Admission of Service at that time.

What Happens When a Spouse Avoids Service?

If the other party avoids service, the divorce still takes place. You have to try to serve the other party first, but if they refuse to cooperate, there are other actions that can be taken. One option is to use a process server who can sign an Affidavit of Service. This can be used to prove to the court that you had attempted to fulfill your legal obligation.

As a last resort, there is also the option of service by publication. If you have exhausted all efforts to locate your spouse in order to serve them and have documentation to prove it, the court may allow you to announce the divorce petition in a local newspaper where your spouse is suspected of living. A copy of the publication and indication for how long the notice ran would need to be filed with the court.

Temporary Hearing

A temporary order hearing is usually the first appearance in court for both spouses. These hearings are necessary when there is some sort of dispute in the division of child custody/placement, property/asset division, or another matter that cannon wait.
These are meant to be a temporary solution for problems that may arise in the 120 day waiting period. In order to be prepared for this hearing, you will need to arrive with your income tax returns, a completed financial disclosure statement, and wage statements. If the correct documents are submitted, the commissioner will make an order that sets rules for the dispute in question for both spouses.

Pre-Trial Conference

The pre-trial conference is after the 120 day waiting period. Each county has different scheduling methods, but most require you to file and request a pre-trial conference with the judge. The purpose of the pre-trial is for the judge to get a good understanding of the case. 

If there are no disputes, it is possible for the divorce to be finalized at this time. To do this, you must have a signed and agreed-upon marriage settlement agreement, the completed and signed financial disclosure statements, and you must have completed any required parenting classes.

If the case is to continue, then the pre-trial is used to allow the judge to familiarize themselves with the case and learn about the contested issues from both spouses.

If mediation is needed, an appraisal of assets needs to take place, and a guardian ad litem​ needs to be appointed, this will be done at the pre-trial conference. It is possible that the judge will schedule another pre-trial date to take place for both spouses to return when all of the pre-trial orders have been completed, after which a final trial date would be set.

Trial and Finalization

Before the final hearing, all relevant documents should be completed by both spouses. This includes:

  • Marital Settlement Agreement (if you and your spouse can agree on everything)
  • Proposed Marital Settlement Order (if you don't agree)
  • Financial Disclosure Statements
  • Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Judgment of Divorce
  • Vital Statistics Form (from the Clerk of Circuit Court office)

The final trial is where the judge either issues the final orders setting the terms for the divorce if there are no outstanding issues or rules on the contested issues and then grants the divorce. After the final hearing, all other relevant documents should be completed, including transfer of car titles and real estate deeds, division of pension plans, changes to beneficiaries on life insurance policies, revisions of each party's will, and any other relevant matters.

Considerations

When filing for divorce, there are many important details to keep in mind. Errors that take place during the process could mean that your divorce case takes longer than you'd like.

Grounds for Filing for Divorce

Wisconsin is a no-fault divorce state, meaning that the only requirement for filing for a divorce is that the spouses consider the marriage to be “irretrievably broken” with no hopes of reconciliation. It also means that it does not matter who files for the divorce first, as there is no real advantage to filing first. If only one spouse wants a divorce, a judge would consider that marriage to be so broken.[2]

Filing For a Temporary Order

A temporary order can be ordered at the request of either party at any time before a divorce is finalized. After a temporary order is filed, both parties present their case in front of a court commissioner. Temporary orders can be requested for issues regarding child custody, placement, or support, as well as spousal support, property division, and issues regarding the payment of bills.

Financial Disclosures

A Financial Disclosure Statement is used to provide the court with comprehensive information regarding your financial situation on an annual basis. This would include assets, liabilities, income, and expenses for each spouse. A financial disclosure is required to be filled out within 90 days of filing, or at the direction of the court. It must also be updated prior to the date of the hearing.

As a Financial Disclosure Statement is signed under oath, it is illegal to deliberately hide assets from your spouse or the court. The omission of important details, depending on the extremity of the oversight, will result in consequences from the court.

Division of Assets

Wisconsin is a community property state, which means that all assets and marital property will be split equally between the two spouses. Assets such as the family home, cars, and retirement accounts are subject to this division, as well as marital debt sustained during the course of the marriage.

There are some exceptions made for separate property if it has been completely separate from the marriage and not maintained with marital funds. The spouse must be able to prove that the property has been kept completely separate. For marriages that are longer in length, it is less likely that the courts will recognize the existence of separate property in the marriage. 

Mediation

Divorce mediation is the process by which spouses meet with an impartial third party to discuss aspects of their case. The results of mediation must be voluntarily agreed upon by both parties. Many families choose to go through mediation instead of a hearing because it allows the couple to have more control over their decisions for the separation while still receiving legal guidance from the mediator.

Child Custody and Placement

When there are children involved in the divorce, some of the most difficult decisions occur when negotiating child custody and placement with the other parent. While custody refers to the legal, decision-making rights of the parents on behalf of the child, placement refers to where the child physically lives at any given time.

The court mandates that the child custody agreement is in the best interest of the child, and the placement schedule allows the child to maintain their normal relationships with both parents. 

Child Support Laws in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, both parents are responsible for financially supporting the child or children, which means that the court can order either parents to pay reasonable child support. Typically, the parent who has less than 50% placement time would be the one responsible for making child support payments, with the understanding that the parent who has more than 50% placement time pays and cares for the child while they are in their care

These payments are based on the income of the paying parent which could take the form of actual money earned, services, or property. Our child support calculator can assist you in determining what your approximate child support payment would be.

Frequently Asked Questions

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

The cost for filing a divorce is variable depending on the county that the divorce is filed in, as well as the specific situation of the parties filing. In general, a couple can expect to pay more than $150 to file the appropriate paperwork if they are filing independently, with additional fees possible depending on which forms are necessary.

What do I need to file for a divorce in Wisconsin?

In order to file for a divorce in Wisconsin, it is important to start off by filing the correct forms. This can be determined by three things: If you are filing jointly or separately, if you have minor children involved, and if you need a temporary order hearing.

Once you have determined which forms are appropriate for your situation, you will file a summons, petition, confidential petition addendum, and other required circuit court forms. Counties in Wisconsin may have different paperwork that is required, so it is important to look into the procedures for your local county courthouse.

Can I file for divorce online in Wisconsin?

You are able to file for divorce online in Wisconsin. This is called eFiling and makes the process easier for some people. You can eFile on the Wisconsin Courts System website under the eFiling tab. If you have an attorney, they can also help you through this process.

How long does a divorce take in Wisconsin?

A divorce can take anywhere from six months to one year or even longer, depending on the issues surrounding the divorce and the county that the case is filed in. There is a mandatory 120 day waiting period after a case is filed and both parties have been notified of the action.

This time frame is entirely subjective due to the circumstances of each family filing. There could also be delays in receiving a final judgment if there have been errors in filing or incorrect information on forms. This is why it is important to utilize the services of an experienced family attorney.

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

There is no amount of time parties need to be separated before getting a divorce. Wisconsin is a no-fault divorce state which means that one party only has to say the marriage is unable to be fixed and the divorce process can ensue.

Is it better to file for divorce or be served?

Wisconsin is a no-fault divorce state, which means that there is no legal advantage to being the first person to file for the divorce. Each party will have an equal claim to child custody and placement and asset division. The only stipulation to filing for divorce is that the marriage is irretrievably broken, with no hope for reconciliation. If only one spouse is filing for divorce, that would be considered by the courts to be a marriage that is irretrievably broken.

How do you get a divorce without a lawyer in Wisconsin?

A pro se divorce in Wisconsin is when someone represents themselves in a divorce. The individual is held to the same standard of legal work as another person who has a lawyer is. This means that the couple needs to file the necessary paperwork and come to an agreement on issues without the use of an attorney.

While it is entirely possible to accomplish a divorce successfully without an attorney, it is recommended that an attorney is consulted at some point in the process, to ensure that there is a fair distribution of assets, property, and child custody or placement.


References: Video by youtube.com/c/sterlinglawyers | 1.Basic Guide to Divorce/Legal Separation. Wisconsin Court System (n.d.) | 2. WI Statute, 767.315 § (1)(a). Annulment, Divorce, and Legal Separation.

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