Wisconsin Divorce Laws
The state of Wisconsin has unique divorce laws for people who wish to terminate their marriage.
We are providing this online divorce information to you as an easy divorce reference guide to help you while you are doing your own divorce. This information (and much more) is available inside your personal 3StepDivorce account area in order to help you understand how Wisconsin addresses the most important issues in the divorce process and certain elements throughout your divorce forms.
The following overview of Wisconsin divorce laws will help you understand the filing procedure and other primary issues concerning your divorce. Please keep in mind that our Wisconsin online divorce service and support staff will make the process easy for you from start to finish. We take the difficulty out of doing your own divorce.
Residency Requirements: In order to file for a divorce in Wisconsin, you or your spouse must meet the strict residency requirements. These requirements permit the court to have jurisdiction of your case, resulting in allowing you to use their judicial system. These requirements are only a concern for spouses who have recently relocated or plan to relocate in the near future. They are as follows:
One of the spouses must a be a resident of the state of Wisconsin for at least 6 months and a resident of the county in which they file for at least 30 days immediately prior to filing for the divorce. A hearing will not be scheduled by the clerk until the expiration of 120 days after service of the summons and petition upon the respondent or the expiration of 120 days after the filing of the joint petition.
The divorce is typically filed with in county in which the filing spouse resides. (Wisconsin Statutes - Sections: 767.05, 767.083)
No-Fault Grounds: Most uncontested divorce cases are filed according to a "no-fault" ground. We are using the term "no-fault" in a generic fashion by labeling all grounds that do not actually declare a "fault" as "no-fault". In the state of Wisconsin the "no-fault" grounds are as follows:
Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.
If both of the parties by petition or otherwise have stated under oath or affirmation that the marriage is irretrievably broken, or if the parties have voluntarily lived apart continuously for 12 months or more immediately prior to commencement of the action and one party has so stated, the court, after hearing, shall make a finding that the marriage is irretrievably broken.
If the parties have not voluntarily lived apart for at least 12 months immediately prior to commencement of the action and if only one party has stated under oath or affirmation that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the court shall consider all relevant factors, including the circumstances that gave rise to filing the petition and the prospect of reconciliation. (Wisconsin Statutes - Sections: 767.07)
Filing Party Name: The Petitioner or Co-Petitioner. This is the spouse who is recognized as the initiator of the divorce and is the one who actually files the Petition for Divorce with the county court.
Non-Filing Party Name: The Respondent or Co-Petitioner. This spouse plays a lesser role in an uncontested divorce versus a contested divorce. He or she will be required to sign and/or respond in a timely fashion to the documents filed by his or her spouse.
Family Law or Domestic Relations Court: State of Wisconsin: Circuit Court, __________ County. All divorce cases in the state of Wisconsin are facilitated through this court for that particular county.
Clerk's Name: All correspondence with a Wisconsin clerk of the court should formally address him or her as follows: County Clerk's Office of the Family Court.
Property and Debt Division: Wisconsin is considered a "community property" state. If you and your spouse are unable to come to an agreement on how the community property will be divided, the court shall use a three step process. First, it will determine what property is community. Second, it will put a value on the community property. Third, it will divide the community property in an equal fashion.
When making a property award, the court, without regard to marital misconduct will consider all of the following: (1) The duration of the marriage. (2) The property brought to the marriage by each party. (3) Whether one of the parties has substantial assets not subject to division by the court. (4) The contribution of each party to the marriage, giving appropriate economic value to each party’s contribution in homemaking and child care services. (5) The age and physical and emotional health of the parties. (6) The contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other. (7) The earning capacity of each party (8) The desirability of awarding the family home or the right to live therein for a reasonable period to the party having physical placement for the greater period of time. (9) The amount and duration of an order granting maintenance payments to either party, any order for periodic family support payments and whether the property division is in lieu of such payments. (10) Other economic circumstances of each party, including pension benefits, vested or unvested, and future interests. (11) The tax consequences to each party. (12) Any written agreement made by the parties before or during the marriage concerning any arrangement for property distribution. (13) Such other factors as the court may in each individual case determine to be relevant. (Wisconsin Statutes - Sections: 766.01, 766.97, 767.255)
Changing Name: The court, upon granting a divorce, shall allow either spouse, upon request, to resume a former legal surname, if any. (Wisconsin Statutes - Sections: 767.20)
Spousal Support, Maintenance, or Alimony: Determining the amount of spousal support, if any, is not as objective as determining child support. Spousal support, whether permanent or temporary, is typically decided on a case-by-case basis, because it is very likely that unique circumstances and factors regarding the marriage and the property award will play a significant role in allowing the court to arrive at the appropriate amount.
Upon every judgment of annulment, divorce or legal separation, the court may grant an order requiring maintenance payments to either party for a limited or indefinite length of time after considering:
(a) The length of the marriage. (b) The age and physical and emotional health of the parties. (c) The division of property (d) The educational level of each party at the time of marriage and at the time the action is commenced. (e) The earning capacity of the party seeking maintenance, including educational background, training, employment skills, work experience, length of absence from the job market, custodial responsibilities for children and the time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party to find appropriate employment. (f) The feasibility that the party seeking maintenance can become self-supporting at a standard of living reasonably comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage, and, if so, the length of time necessary to achieve this goal. (g) The tax consequences to each party. (h) Any mutual agreement made by the parties before or during the marriage (i) The contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other. (j) Such other factors as the court may in each individual case determine to be relevant. (Wisconsin Statutes - Sections: 767.26, 767.261, 767.29)
Custody and Visitation: Shared or joint child custody has become more and more popular with the Wisconsin courts. If you and your spouse request to have joint or shared "legal" custody, it will almost always be granted. As for joint or shared "physical" custody, the court will examine this a bit more closely to determine if it is a realistic choice that would result in an arrangement that is best for the children.
The court shall consider the following factors in making its custody determination: A. The wishes of the child's parent or parents, as shown by any stipulation between the parties, any proposed parenting plan or any legal custody or physical placement proposal submitted to the court at trial. B. The wishes of the child, which may be communicated by the child or through the child's guardian ad litem or other appropriate professional. C. The interaction and interrelationship of the child with his or her parent or parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child's best interest. D. The amount and quality of time that each parent has spent with the child in the past, any necessary changes to the parents' custodial roles and any reasonable life-style changes that a parent proposes to make to be able to spend time with the child in the future. E. The child's adjustment to the home, school, religion and community. F. The age of the child and the child's developmental and educational needs at different ages. 7. Whether the mental or physical health of a party, minor child, or other person living in a proposed custodial household negatively affects the child's intellectual, physical, or emotional well-being. G. The need for regularly occurring and meaningful periods of physical placement to provide predictability and stability for the child. H. The availability of public or private child care services. I. The cooperation and communication between the parties and whether either party unreasonably refuses to cooperate or communicate with the other party. J. Whether each party can support the other party's relationship with the child, including encouraging and facilitating frequent and continuing contact with the child, or whether one party is likely to unreasonably interfere with the child's continuing relationship with the other party. K. Whether there is evidence that a party engaged in abuse. L. Whether there is evidence of interspousal battery. M. Whether either party has or had a significant problem with alcohol or drug abuse. N. The reports of appropriate professionals if admitted into evidence. O. Such other factors as the court may in each individual case determine to be relevant. (Wisconsin Statutes - Sections: 767.24)
Determining Child Support: The basis for determining a monthly support amount is best achieved by referring to the Wisconsin child support worksheet. The worksheet utilizes the child support guidelines that are defined by state law. The court will use this same worksheet as a building block for determining the support obligation, that is if you and your spouse are unable to come to an agreement on this issue.
Upon request by a party, the court may deviate or modify child support payments determined by the child support guideliens and worksheet if, after considering the following factors, the court finds by the greater weight of the credible evidence that use of the percentage standard is unfair to the child or to any of the parties: (A) The financial resources of the child. (B) The financial resources of both parents (C) Maintenance received by either party. (D) The needs of each party in order to support himself or herself (E) The needs of any person, other than the child, whom either party is legally obligated to support. (F) If the parties were married, the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not ended in annulment, divorce or legal separation. (G) The desirability that the custodian remain in the home as a full-time parent. (H) The cost of day care if the custodian works outside the home, or the value of custodial services performed by the custodian if the custodian remains in the home. (I) The award of substantial periods of physical placement to both parents. Extraordinary travel expenses incurred in exercising the right to periods of physical placement (J) The physical, mental and emotional health needs of the child, including any costs for health insurance (K) The child's educational needs. (L) The tax consequences to each party. (M) The best interests of the child. (N) The earning capacity of each parent, based on each parent's education, training and work experience and the availability of work in or near the parent's community. (Wisconsin Statutes - Sections: 767.10, 767.25, 767.261, 767.265)
Copyright Notice: These Wisconsin divorce laws above are copyrighted by Divorce Source, Inc. This abbreviated and revised version of the state laws has been compiled from applicable state laws and unauthorized reproduction in any fashion is prohibited. Violation of this copyright notice may result in immediate legal action.
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