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How to File for Divorce in Wisconsin | LegalMatch Law Library

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What is the Difference Between a Divorce and Separation in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin recognizes a difference between a divorce and legal separation. Where a divorce is the final end of a marriage, a legal separation is not final. A legal separation, like a divorce, will allow a court to rule on issues such as:

  • child support and custody,
  • use personal property (such as a vehicle),
  • payment of bills, and
  • use of the family home.

A couple may choose to become legally separated where they believe that the marriage might be saved or where the parties are working towards a divorce. Often a legal separation will be used when a couple’s religious beliefs prohibit divorce.

What Paperwork Do You Need to File for Divorce?

There are many steps to the divorce process in Wisconsin and each step will have its own paperwork requirements.

  • Decide How You Will File. Filing jointly will greatly reduce or eliminate paperwork. A joint filing typically occurs where the divorce is relatively amicable and there few or no marital assets and no children are involved.
  • Decide If You Need a Temporary Hearing. A temporary hearing is used to make decisions (such as child placement) that will be in place throughout the divorce process.
  • File a Divorce Action. Filing an action for divorce or separation notifies the court of your intentions and officially begins the legal process.
  • Service. If you did not file jointly, you are required to put the other spouse on official notice that you are filing for divorce or separation – this a called “service of process”.
  • Complete Parenting Classes. If required, you and your spouse must attend parenting classes that will discuss how divorce impacts children and how to best handle these issues.
  • Attend Hearings. A court may require mediation or it may rule on the divorce or separation issues at hearings. You should always arrive early and prepared to any hearings.

After each side has presented their case to the judge a final ruling will be made and the divorce will be final. The court will issue a final order that will layout the rights and obligations of each party.

Community Property vs. Separate Property

Wisconsin is one of the few states that is considered a “community property” state (the others are: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, and Washington). This means that all property (cash, investments, real estate, etc.) that is brought into the marriage is split 50/50 between the separating parties. You should be aware that creditors of your former spouse might be able to reach all or part of the community property to satisfy debts incurred by either spouse.

There are exceptions to the community property 50/50 default rule and it is important to have an experienced divorce lawyer involved to ensure that your assets are properly protected.

What Should You Do If There are Children Involved?

The involvement of children will almost always complicate a divorce. Often the process is smoother if the parents can agree as to how to handle any issues of child custody and child support. But a judge must still decide if the agreement is fair or possible by examining it for the best interest of the child. 

But if the parents cannot agree on issues of custody or support, then they should be prepared to submit to any requirements of the court. This can include a parenting plan and/or mediation by a neutral third-party.

Do You Need to Pay Alimony?

You may need to pay alimony to your former spouse. Alimony payments are made to former spouses to ensure that he or she does not become dependent on the state and is allowed to live in a manner that he or she has become accustomed to. For example, alimony payments may be required to help a former spouse to obtain a degree and become gainfully employed.

Where Can You Find the Right Divorce Lawyer?

If you are thinking of filing for divorce or have been served with divorce papers, then contact an experienced Wisconsin family lawyer today to discuss your rights and options under Wisconsin divorce law.

Photo of page author Michael Rasmussen

, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 04-18-2017 03:20 PM PDT

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