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Divorce Procedures in Wisconsin

When you get a divorce, you legally separate your life from your spouse's. This process can be lengthy and get quite messy, especially if you disagree on terms. Wisconsin has certain rules you must follow to ensure both parties in a divorce are treated fairly.

Divorcing Without an Attorney

While it is legal to divorce without an attorney, it may not be a wise decision. A lawyer can help look out for your best interests and make sure you understand any legal implications of the terms you agree to. In addition, an attorney can help ensure you file the appropriate paperwork at each step and meet all deadlines.

Overview of the Divorce Process

Before you can file for divorce in Wisconsin, at least one of you must have lived in the state for at least six months and in the county where you file for at least 30 days.

Your initial filing should include a petition and a summons (if you file alone) or a joint petition (if you file with your spouse) plus a confidential petition addendum. You may also need to file forms regarding temporary orders. The correct forms to use will depend on whether you have children and whether you and your spouse agree on all issues.

If filing alone, you will also have to arrange to have your petition and a summons served on your spouse.

You cannot have a final hearing for at least 120 days after serving the summons or filing a joint petition. There may be a temporary hearing and/or a pre-trial conference where you may need to submit additional forms.

At your final hearing, the judge will issue the final order granting your divorce and outlining the terms.

Grounds for Divorce

You must declare grounds for your divorce in your petition, but Wisconsin is a no-fault state, so you do not need to allege wrongdoing. Instead, the state requires you prove an irretrievable breakdown of your marriage, generally in one of these ways:

  • You and your spouse both state under oath your marriage cannot be saved.
  • You have voluntarily lived apart for at least the past 12 months.

If you have not lived apart and your spouse does not agree you cannot fix your marriage, the court may order counseling.

Property Distribution Considerations

Wisconsin considers all property marital property and subject to distribution unless you prove otherwise. Separate property is that which you can show you owned before the marriage and never commingled or used to benefit both of you during the marriage. Gifts and inheritances given to only one spouse are also separate.

If you and your spouse can agree on a reasonable division of property, the court is likely to approve it. If not, the court will determine the division, starting with a presumption that you should each receive equal shares. However, it may consider a variety of factors in deciding if an unequal division would be more fair:

  • Length of the marriage
  • Each person's contribution to the marriage
  • Age and health of each spouse
  • Any substantial non-marital property held by one spouse

The courts do not consider misconduct during the marriage as a factor in distribution matters.

Laws Are Complex and Change Frequently

The information presented here is a brief overview of state divorce laws. It may not cover all the circumstances you may face. And some procedures may have changed. For specific questions about your case, it is a good idea to speak with a qualified divorce attorney in Wisconsin.

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