When a marriage doesn’t work out, Wisconsin spouses have the option to legally separate or divorce. A divorce splits the couple’s possessions, addresses child custody and dissolves their marriage, while a legal separation splits possessions and addresses child custody but does not dissolve the bonds of marriage. Thus, legal separation allows the spouses to remain married but live separate lives. Legal separation may or may not lead to a divorce, but it is not required in order to dissolve your marriage.
Courts must have a reason, or grounds, upon which to base a divorce decree, and these grounds vary between states. Wisconsin is a “pure” no-fault state, which means Wisconsin courts grant divorces only on the grounds that the marriage is irretrievably broken. Neither spouse has to prove the other spouse was at fault. Wisconsin does not require spouses to separate to show the marriage is broken or force spouses to separate before filing for divorce.
Wisconsin law recognizes legal separation for spouses who don’t wish to divorce — or not yet, at least. However, legal separation is not simply an easier way to get to divorce. In fact, filing requirements and court procedures for a legal separation are similar to those for a divorce. Spouses pursuing a legal separation order may choose to fight about child custody, support and property division just like spouses pursuing a divorce. Legal separation is not a prerequisite before divorce.
Sometimes spouses want to try a legal separation for a while to determine whether they want to get back together or divorce, and Wisconsin allows spouses to convert their legal separation into a divorce. If both spouses wish to convert the legal separation into a divorce, they can file a conversion motion with the court at any time. However, if the spouses do not agree, either spouse can file a motion with the court to convert the legal separation into a divorce after one year of separation, with or without the consent of the other spouse.
Under normal circumstances, divorced spouses cannot remarry for at least six months after their divorce. Spouses who convert their legal separation into a divorce also cannot remarry until six months after the conversion. Spouses who do not convert their legal separation into a divorce cannot remarry, even while legally separated, since the bonds of matrimony are not dissolved by the legal separation.