Can I Buy a House During Divorce in Wisconsin?

Yes, it is possible to buy a house during a divorce in Wisconsin. However, you will most likely need your spouse's cooperation to make any large purchase, such as a new home, real estate, or even a car before the divorce is finalized in accordance with Wisconsin's community property laws.

It's Not Simple to Buy a House During a Divorce…

Wisconsin is a community property state, meaning both spouses have equal rights to all assets from a marriage. If you want to buy a house during a divorce, you will likely need the cooperation of your spouse to make sure that the new home is considered separate property from the shared assets that are divvied up during a divorce proceeding.

It's Still Community Property

Because Wisconsin is a “community property” state[1], divorce courts consider all property held or gained during a marriage to be shared marital property, regardless of whose name is on the deed or title. In Wisconsin divorce proceedings, shared property is generally divided equally among spouses. The goal is for both spouses to have equal assets from the marriage when the divorce is final.

When one spouse attempts the purchase of a new home while they are in the process of a divorce, they run the risk of the new home being considered part of the shared marital property. That is, the new home will not be considered “separate” from the rest of the marital property that is to be split equally unless specific steps are taken (often requiring the cooperation of the other spouse).

Another consideration is that of funding or financing the new home. The new home runs the risk of being considered shared property if any marital assets – including shared funds – are used for its purchase. Financing (debt) the new home makes it subject to the same risk.

Options when Working with Your Spouse Doesn't Work

The simplest option, by far, is to avoid buying a new home until a divorce is finalized. This may not always be possible, however, so there are some ways to attempt to establish the new home as “separate” from shared marital property.

One way is to file for legal separation. Legal separation in Wisconsin ends the financial partnership of a marriage. After a legal separation, property and debt are considered separate. Legal separation requires grounds, unlike divorce which is no-fault.
The process of legal separation includes the division of assets and debts as well as a determination of custody if there are any children from the marriage. Legal separation may not be faster than divorce, which is why it's useful to have the cooperation of your spouse if you need to buy a house before your divorce is finalized.

Filing a quitclaim deed may also be helpful in establishing the home as a separate property. Quitclaim deeds are documentation that one spouse has no interest in a property. They can be helpful in establishing that the other spouse has knowledge of the property but no stakes or interest in that property. Unlike legal separation, a quitclaim deed does not legally sever financial responsibility between married spouses. A quitclaim, by itself, can't transform a home from “shared” property to “separate” property.

References: [1]What is Community Property?

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