Divorce Guide

Divorce Guide

Divorce Laws in Wisconsin

Residency Requirements for Divorce in Wisconsin
One of the spouses must have been a resident of Wisconsin for 6 months and of the county for 30 days immediately prior to filing where the divorce is filed. No hearing on the divorce will be scheduled until 120 days after the defendant is served the summons or after the filing of a joint petition.

Legal Grounds for Divorce in Wisconsin

  1. No Fault Divorce: Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. The irretrievable breakdown of the marriage may be shown by:
    1. a joint petition by both spouses requesting a divorce on these grounds
    2. living separate and apart for 12 months immediately prior to filing; or
    3. if the court finds an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage with no possible chance at reconciliation
  2. General Divorce: Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage is the only grounds for divorce in Wisconsin.
Legal Separation in Wisconsin
Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage is the only grounds for legal separation in Wisconsin. The residency requirements are the same as for divorce.

Simplified/Special Divorce Procedures in Wisconsin
The spouses may file a joint petition for divorce in which they both consent to personal jurisdiction of the court and waive service of process. A copy of a guide to Wisconsin Court procedures for obtaining a divorce is to be provided to the spouses upon filing for divorce. In all cases, a financial disclosure form must be filed. Also, if children are involved, an official child support form (which is available from the court clerk) must be filed with the petition. In addition, separation agreements are specifically authorized by law. Finally, in cases in which both spouses agree that the marriage is broken and have agreed on all material issues, the case may be held before a family court commissioner.

Divorce Mediation in Wisconsin
The court must inform the spouses of the availability of counseling services. Upon request or on the court's own initiative, the court may order counseling and delay the divorce proceedings for up to 90 days. If custody of a child is a contested issue, mediation is required. If joint custody is requested, mediation may be required. In addition, the court may order parents in any child custody situation to attend an educational program on the effects of divorce on children.

Divorce Property Distribution
Wisconsin is now a "community property" state. There is a presumption that all marital property should be divided equally. Marital property is all of the spouse's property except separate property consisting of:

  1. property inherited by either spouse
  2. property received as a gift by either spouse; or
  3. property paid for by funds acquired by inheritance or gift
The equal distribution may be altered by the court, without regard to marital misconduct, based on the following factors:
  1. the contribution of each spouse to the acquisition of the marital property, including the contribution of each spouse as homemaker
  2. the value of each spouse's separate property
  3. the length of the marriage
  4. the age and health of the spouses
  5. the occupation of the spouses
  6. the amount and sources of income of the spouses
  7. the vocational skills of the spouses
  8. the employability and earning capacity of the spouses
  9. the federal income tax consequences of the court's division of the property
  10. the standard of living established during the marriage
  11. the time necessary for a spouse to acquire sufficient education to enable the spouse to find appropriate employment
  12. any premarital or marital settlement agreements
  13. any retirement benefits
  14. whether the property award is instead of or in addition to maintenance
  15. any custodial provisions for the children
  16. any other relevant factor
The court may also divide any of the spouse's separate property in order to prevent a hardship on a spouse or on the children of the marriage.

Alimony and Spousal Support
Either spouse may be ordered to pay maintenance to the other spouse, without regard to marital misconduct. The factors for consideration are as follows:

  1. the time necessary to acquire sufficient education and training to enable the spouse to find appropriate employment and that spouse's future earning capacity
  2. the duration of the marriage
  3. the financial resources of the spouse seeking maintenance, including marital property apportioned to such spouse and such spouse's ability to meet his or her needs independently
  4. the comparative financial resources of the spouses, including their comparative earning abilities
  5. the contribution of each spouse to the marriage, including services rendered in homemaking, childcare, education, and career-building of the other spouse
  6. the tax consequences to each spouse
  7. the age of the spouses
  8. the physical and emotional conditions of the spouses
  9. the vocational skills and employability of the spouse seeking maintenance
  10. the length of absence from the job market of the spouse seeking maintenance
  11. the probable duration of the need of the spouse seeking maintenance
  12. any custodial and child support responsibilities
  13. the educational level of each spouse at the time of the marriage and at the time the divorce is filed for
  14. any mutual agreement between the spouses
  15. any other relevant factor
The court may combine maintenance and child support payments into a single "family support" payment. The maintenance payments may be required to be paid through the clerk of the court.

Spouse's Name After Divorce
Upon request, either spouse's former name may be restored.

Child Custody After Divorce
Joint or sole child custody, "legal custody and physical placement," may be awarded based on the best interests of the child and the following:

  1. the preference of the child
  2. the wishes of the parents
  3. the child's adjustment to his or her home, school, religion, and community
  4. the mental and physical health of all individuals involved
  5. the relationship of the child with parents, siblings, and other significant family members
  6. any findings or recommendations of a neutral mediator
  7. the availability of childcare
  8. any spouse or child abuse
  9. any significant drug or alcohol abuse
  10. whether 1 parent is likely to unreasonably interfere with the child's relationship with the other parent
  11. any parenting plan or other written agreement between the spouses regarding the child
  12. the amount of quality time that each parent has spent with the child in the past
  13. any changes that a parent proposes in order to spend more time with the child in the future
  14. the age of the child and the child's developmental and educational needs
  15. the cooperation and communication between the parents and whether either parent unreasonably refuses to cooperate with the other
  16. the need for regularly-occurring and meaningful periods of physical placement in order to provide predictability and stability for the child
  17. any other factors [except the sex and race of the parent]

Child Support After Divorce
Either or both parents may be ordered to pay child support and health care expenses. The factors to be considered are:

  1. the financial resources of the child
  2. the standard of living the child would have enjoyed if the marriage had not been dissolved
  3. the physical and emotional conditions and educational needs of the child
  4. the financial resources, earning capacity, needs, and obligations of the parents
  5. the age and health of the child, including the need for health insurance
  6. the desirability of the parent having custody remaining in the home as a full-time parent
  7. the cost of daycare to the parent having custody if that parent works outside the home or the value of the childcare services performed by that parent
  8. the tax consequences to each parent
  9. the award of substantial periods of physical placement to both parents [joint custody]
  10. any extraordinary travel expenses incurred in exercising the right to periods of physical placement
  11. the best interests of the child
  12. any other relevant factors
There are official guidelines and percentage standards for child support are available from the Wisconsin Department of Health and Social Services. The court may require that child support payments be guaranteed by an assignment of income, that the payments be made through the clerk of the court, or that health insurance be provided for the children. The court may also order a parent to seek employment. The court may order spousal maintenance and child support payments be combined into a "family support" payment.

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