Does Filing for Divorce Include Separation in Wisconsin?

By Heather Frances J.D.

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.

Divorce Grounds

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.

Legal Separation

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.

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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.

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Filing for Separation Vs. Divorce in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, courts do not recognize or grant couples legal separations. If spouses choose to divorce, the court enters a judgment of divorce that legally ends the marriage. Some couples decide not to divorce, but to live apart instead for religious reasons, personal preference or in an attempt to work out the marriage. In such cases, Massachusetts law allows the court to enter a separate support judgment that includes spousal support and certain other terms, while not actually giving legal status to the separation.

How to Separate From a Common-Law Partner

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How to File for Legal Separation in North Carolina

Legal separation is one of those terms that can mean different things, depending on where you live. Some states don't recognize it at all – including North Carolina. The state doesn't recognize a judicial process resulting in a separation decree. Separation is still a pivotal aspect of the state's divorce laws, however. You can't file for it, but you generally cannot get divorced without it.

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