The Marital Property Act became law in Wisconsin in 1986. This legislation was written to reflect the fact that both people who come into a marriage are equals. For information about how this law affects a couple's individual situation, please consult an attorney.
Wisconsin Marital Property Act
The concept of equality in marriage means that under Wisconsin law, each person is deemed to support the marriage, even if they are a full time parent or homemaker while their spouse works. Equality comes into play when one person earns more than the other.
Whatever the two people acquire during the course of their marriage is owned by both of them. This presumption means that the lower-earning spouse may find it easier to get credit, since the family income is considered when making a decision to extend it.
Marital Property Under the Act
The Marital Property Act treats property owned by the couple as equal. All assets they acquired either during their marriage or after the date they started residing in Wisconsin (after January 1, 1986) is considered marital property.
Deferred Marital Property
In a situation where the couple married in another jurisdiction and moved to Wisconsin, not all of their property may be considered marital property under the law. If they moved after the law took effect, the Court will have to consider at what point their assets became subject to the divorce laws of that state. For a couple who didn't marry in Wisconsin or who moved there after January 1, 1986, the best strategy is to consult a lawyer to find out how the law would be applied in their situation.
Generally speaking, property that a person owned before the date of their marriage is considered individual property. The person must have records to prove that the item belongs to them and was purchased before the date of the marriage. If proof of ownership before the marriage doesn't exist, then the law assumes that it is marital property.
It is very easy for individual property to get mixed in with marital property. The spouse who wants to keep it separate must take steps to make sure that it doesn't become mixed in with marital property. An example of this situation is where a person had a checking account before they were married. If, after the wedding, they continue to use the same account and pay household expenses out of it, the bank account is no longer individual property. The Court will consider that at least a portion of the funds in it should be considered marital property. The key to determining how to classify an asset is whether the person has a paper trail that they can use to trace the ownership of that asset.
Debts Incurred During Marriage
Under the provisions of the Act, debts incurred by either spouse are shared by both of them. If one person is unable to meet their financial obligations, his or her creditors can attempt to recover the money from the other spouse.
There is a way to deal with this situation before it happens, though. Spouses can enter into a marital property agreement that limits their legal responsibility for each other's debts. Under the law, the creditor must be presented with a copy of the signed agreement before the credit is issued for the other spouse to avoid being held liable for unpaid debts.
The Marital Property Act is designed to protect the rights of Wisconsin couples. The assumption of equality means that each person is entitled to a share of the marital assets. The Act can also make it easier for a person who earns less than their spouse to access credit.