Wisconsin No-Fault Divorce Procedures

By Mary Jane Freeman

If you live in Wisconsin and your marriage has come to an end, the state has a relatively simple procedure for obtaining a divorce. Since Wisconsin is a pure no-fault state, you don't have to prove your marriage failed because of misconduct by your spouse, but only that your marriage is "irretrievably broken."

Getting Started

To end your marriage in Wisconsin, you must be a resident of the state for at least six months and you must have lived in the county where you file for divorce for a minimum of 30 days. Once these residency requirements have been met, you may then file both a petition for divorce and a summons with the Circuit Court in your county. The petition will request such information as the spouses' names and birth dates; marriage date and location; names and birth dates of any children; and whether spouses have a marital settlement agreement. The summons simply alerts your spouse that you have filed for divorce and what actions she must take.

Notice of Divorce

Once you've filed your petition and summons with the court, you must then forward a copy of the documents to your spouse. This process is known as service and must be done within 90 days of filing; personal service may be made by a sheriff's deputy or process server, but not you since you're a party to the action. However, if you and your spouse are amicable, you may personally deliver the documents so long as your spouse acknowledges receipt by signing an Admission of Service. Once your spouse receives the documents, she has 20 days to respond.

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Marital Settlement Agreements

If you and your spouse are in agreement regarding property and debt division, custody, visitation and child support of any children, and alimony, you may enter into a marital settlement agreement. This helps simplify the divorce process; once you and your spouse file the agreement with the court, along with a financial disclosure statement, the court schedules a "stipulated divorce hearing." At the hearing, attended by both spouses, the judge reviews and typically approves the agreement, incorporating it into the final divorce decree. However, if you and your spouse cannot agree on all issues, you will need to take more steps to complete your divorce.

Contested Issues

If you and your spouse are unable to reach an agreement on one or more issues, each of you must provide the court with a proposed Marital Settlement Agreement and financial disclosure statement. If any contested issues involve minor children, the court will also order both spouses to attend mediation. After a pretrial conference to evaluate the issues of the case, the court will hold a divorce trial where it will review evidence, hear arguments and question witnesses. The court will then make a decision on any matters you and your spouse could not resolve before trial, including property. Since Wisconsin is a community property state, the court will divide marital property -- property both spouses acquired during the marriage -- equally. However, this 50/50 split may be adjusted after the court evaluates a number of factors, including length of the marriage, each spouse's contribution to the marriage and the age and health of each spouse.

Temporary Orders & Waiting Period

If financial support and custody issues need to be addressed while the divorce is pending, you may also file and serve an Affidavit for Temporary Order and Order to Show Cause with your divorce petition. A hearing will subsequently be held and temporary orders issued by the court, which expire when the divorce is finalized and permanent orders issued. Divorces in Wisconsin may become final once 120 days have passed from the date the divorce petition was served on your spouse. However, it may take longer than 120 days to finalize a divorce that is contested or otherwise delayed in any way.

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