Wisconsin Divorce

Amy Pennza
Divorcing couple

Although ending a marriage is never an easy decision, the divorce process does not have to be difficult. Wisconsin couples can benefit from learning more about how the state handles divorce by visiting some of the many helpful websites provided by the Wisconsin Court System.

Residency Requirement and Grounds

Before filing for a divorce in Wisconsin, at least one of the spouses must live in the state for six months. Additionally, at least one party must live in the filing county for a minimum of 30 days.

Wisconsin is a "no-fault" divorce state, which means couples do not have to explain how a party's misconduct led to the divorce. Instead, they simply state that the marriage is "irretrievably broken."

How to File

To begin your case, you must file the required forms in the appropriate county. Parties who wish to represent themselves can take advantage of the form creation tool provided by the Wisconsin Court System on its website. This family law forms assistant prompts users to enter their county and other pertinent information. After you have answered a series of questions, the site will automatically generate forms on your behalf.

Couples who prefer to go forward with an attorney can still benefit from reviewing the court system's helpful flowchart, which explains the process and outlines the necessary forms. In brief, the process includes the following steps:

  • The petitioner must file a Petition for Divorce and Summons with the court. There are two types of petitions: with children or without children. The Summons is broken down the same way: a form for if you have children and one without children.
  • Along with your Petition and Summons, you must also file a Confidential Petition Addendum, which requires you to provide information about the parties and children.
  • After the paperwork is filed, the petitioning spouse must "serve" the documents on the other party within 90 days of filing. Wisconsin family law permits petitioners to serve divorce papers through a private process server or a sheriff's deputy. The opposing spouse can also sign a document called an Admission of Service acknowledging that he received the paperwork.
  • Once the responding spouse has received the divorce papers, he has 20 days to file a response with the court.

Uncontested Divorce

Couples who agree on all the issues and wish to avoid prolonged conflict can file a Joint Petition for Divorce.

  • Couples with children file a Joint Petition for Divorce with Minor Children, along with a Stipulation for Temporary Order form, which outlines their agreement on all the issues.
  • Couples without children file a Joint Petition for Divorce without Minor Children, along with a Stipulation for Temporary Order form for those without children.

Waiting Period

In Wisconsin, there is a 120-day waiting period between the filing of the divorce petition and the final divorce decree.

Property Division

Wisconsin is an equitable distribution state. When courts decide how to divide property, they consider the following factors:

  • Duration of the marriage
  • The property each spouse brought to the marriage
  • Whether one side has significant separate property
  • Each party's contributions to the marriage, including services as a homemaker
  • The age and physical health of both spouses
  • A party's contribution to the other person's education or increased earning potential
  • Each party's earning ability
  • Whether it is appropriate to award the family home to a party with primary custody of the children
  • The amount and duration of any spousal support order
  • The parties' pension and retirement benefits
  • The tax consequences of the distribution
  • Any prenuptial agreements

Alimony

In Wisconsin, the court may award spousal support or "maintenance" to either spouse. In determining the need, duration, and amount of maintenance, the judge will consider the following factors:

  • The length of the marriage
  • Each spouse's age and physical and emotional health
  • How property was divided
  • Each spouse's educational level
  • Each party's earning ability
  • The time needed to gain an education or training to help the spouse requesting support to find a job
  • The tax consequences of the distribution
  • The existence of any prenuptial agreements
  • The contribution of a party to the other person's education or increased earning ability

Child Custody and Support

An important concern for the Wisconsin divorce court is the welfare of the children involved in divorce cases. Sometimes, the court will issue a temporary order regarding child custody and child support providing for the children's needs while the parents deal with their divorce issues.

Child Custody

In any Wisconsin divorce case involving minor children, the court will determine who gains custody of the children. To determine custody, the court considers the following factors:

  • The parents' wishes
  • The child's wishes
  • The child's relationship with parents and siblings
  • The parents' past relationship with the child
  • The child's adjustment to community, home, school, and religious faith
  • The child's age and development and physical needs
  • Whether someone in the child's household has a mental or physical impairment that negatively impacts the child
  • The need for regular visits with the parents
  • Access to child care services
  • The level of cooperation between the parents
  • Whether each parent is capable of encouraging the child to have a relationship with the other parent
  • Any evidence of abuse
  • A parent's criminal record
  • Any evidence of spousal abuse
  • Whether a parent has a dependency on drugs or alcohol
  • Reports from experts, such as counselors and other professionals

Child Support

In Wisconsin, child support payments are calculated pursuant to the state's child support guidelines. The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families has a comprehensive list of child support calculators on its website.

Making a Decision

Fortunately, Wisconsin has made divorce relatively straightforward for couples who wish to end their marriage. Although it is possible to handle your own divorce, spouses with more complex issues should consult with an attorney before deciding to move forward with their case.

Wisconsin Divorce