A Guide to Divorce in Wisconsin
This guide will help you understand what many of the basic rules and procedures are for getting a divorce in Wisconsin.
Depending on your situation, you should also learn as much as you can through other sources as well, such as a family law attorney, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, and online resources to help you deal with the legal, financial, and emotional challenges you will face along the way.
Let’s dive in…
- The differences between divorce, annulment and separation
- What are the grounds for divorce in Wisconsin?
- Deciding what kind of divorce you will go through
- The process of filing for divorce
- How to complete proof of service
- Filing for a divorce online
- Filing for divorce in Wisconsin without using a lawyer
- How much does divorce cost in Wisconsin?
- How long does it take to get a divorce?
- Should I retain the services of a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst?
- Bifurcation of Marital Status
- Can I cancel, refuse, contest, stop or reverse a divorce in Wisconsin?
- What is a divorce decree?
- What is a divorce certificate?
- Changing Your Name
- Bonus: Recommended Resources
The differences between legal separation, annulment and divorce in Wisconsin
Married couples can end their marriages by annulment or divorce in Wisconsin. They can also seek a legal separation that implements several key components of a divorce but still allows the couple to remain legally married.
Although spouses may consider themselves separated when one spouse moves out of the house, physical separation is much different than legal separation.
In Wisconsin, legal separation requires a court order and can be granted when a husband and wife remain married but live separately. The court order does not end the marriage but allows the court to issue orders about spousal support, a division of assets, and child visitation and custody. Legal separation creates an enforceable court order that sets forth rights and responsibilities for both spouses.
Another consideration is that if a person is not a U.S. citizen, and they get a divorce, they run the risk of deportation. But with a legal separation, a noncitizen can still stay in the country even if they don’t live with their spouse.
Annulments mean that a marriage is considered null and void, as if it never happened. To be granted an annulment in Wisconsin, a party must demonstrate that any of the following have taken place:
- Either spouse lacked the capacity to enter the marriage either because of age, mental incapacity, the influence of drugs or alcohol
- A party entered into the marriage due to fraud, duress, or force
- Impotency at the time of the marriage
- Either spouse was under the age of 16 at the time of the marriage
- Either spouse was 16 or 17 years old, but lacked parental permission, or
- The law prohibited the marriage (bigamy).
Divorce is a permanent and legal end to a marriage. All ties are severed, assets are divided, custody and alimony issues are resolved, and each spouse goes their separate way after a final decree is issued.
What are the grounds for divorce in Wisconsin?
A no-fault divorce is the only way you can end a marriage in Wisconsin. This means all you need to do is state that the marriage is irretrievably broken without going into details, and the court will approve the divorce.
If there is disagreement as to whether the marriage is irretrievably broken or not, you can also end a marriage by proving you and your spouse have lived separate and apart for at least one year.
You must meet Wisconsin residency requirements as well. To qualify for a divorce in Wisconsin, at least one spouse must be a resident of the state for a minimum of six months, and a resident of the county where the divorce will take place for at least three months before filing.
What kind of divorce is right for you?
You have several options you can pursue in Wisconsin if you are contemplating a divorce. How you proceed will, in large part, depend on the dynamics of your relationship with your spouse and your goals. If you can agree to work together, chances are you will save a lot of money and move quicker through the process.
Once you have made the decision to divorce, determining what type of divorce you will pursue in Wisconsin is the most important thing you will decide. This is because the nature of the divorce sets the framework for how the divorce will play out.
Before we get into the details, there’s one thing I want you to keep in mind:
One type of divorce is not “better” than another. Divorce is not one size fits all. Keep this in mind as you read through the following list, and remember that what’s most important is that you choose the process that will work best with your dynamic with your spouse.
Okay, here are the types of divorce:
What I like to call the kitchen table divorce. This one is pretty straight forward. You don’t hire any professionals and attempt to resolve all your differences with your spouse. The biggest downside is you don’t know what you don’t know. I’d steer clear of this approach unless you don’t have kids or any money.
A far superior choice to DIY divorce. Navigating the divorce process and legal procedures can be a minefield. A good online divorce platform removes the guesswork. Through guided interviews, you’ll complete the forms while getting educated on the key legal issues in the process. This can be a great option if you have a relatively straightforward situation and you’re on the same page with your spouse.
The default option and also the most expensive. If you and your spouse can’t agree on one of the other options, then you’re headed for litigation. Litigation is an attorney-driven process. While the majority of cases settle before going to trial, that doesn’t mean litigation won’t wreak havoc on you and your kids.
Sometimes it’s the only viable option, however. If your spouse has a high-conflict personality (narcissist, borderline, etc.) or there is domestic violence, litigation might be your only option. It’s also the right choice if your primary objective is to punish your spouse. As tempting as that might be, I encourage you to think about the big picture.
With mediation, you and your spouse retain a neutral professional (typically an attorney) to help facilitate agreement. The mediator will help you brainstorm options, understand each other’s perspectives, and make compromises to reach a resolution that you and your spouse can both live with.
Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t just mean that you and your spouse are going to work out your divorce “collaboratively.” There’s much more to it. Collaborative divorce is a structured process that takes a team approach. Divorce is much more than a legal process. It’s about money, kids, and emotions.
That’s why a Collaborative team includes collaborative lawyers, a divorce coach, and a neutral financial specialist. Unlike any other process, everyone commits not to go to court. The idea is that this removes the threat of litigation which fosters creative solutions and interest-based negotiation. It’s far and away the most supportive type of divorce.
Learn More: I’ve really just scratched the surface on the types of divorce. For a deep dive into the pros and cons of these options, be sure to check out our Guide on the Types of Divorce.
What is the process of filing for divorce in Wisconsin?
Gather important information.
Save time, money and stress in your divorce by approaching this step in a timely and thorough way. It will take time to pull together your information, but it is vital that you do this without cutting corners. It’s the best way to make sure your rights are protected and to give yourself the possibility of achieving the best possible financial settlement with your spouse.
Before you jump in to collecting financial information, take the following steps:
- Open a new checking and savings account in your name alone.
- Open a credit card in your name alone.
- Order a free credit report.
- Make a list of all the assets and liabilities that you’re aware of. Include any memberships, reward points, and other perks that may be considered as assets.
If you’re in the dark about your finances, that’s okay. You and your spouse will be required to complete financial affidavits as part of the divorce process. The goal at this point is simply to begin identifying the puzzle pieces.
Okay, now it’s time to start gathering your information. Here’s a short-list of what you need:
- Tax returns (including W-2’s, K-1’s, and 1099’s) for the last 5 years
- Pay stubs for the last 3 months
- Bank statements
- Credit card statements
- Retirement account statements
- Pension plan statements
- Grant notice for stock options, RSUs, etc.
- Investment account statements
- Life insurance policies
- Mortgage statements
- Real estate appraisals
- Deeds to real estate
- Car registration
- Kelley Blue Book printouts (“private party value”)
- Car loan statements
- Social security benefit statement
This is just a partial list. We’ve simplified the process even further for you by creating a Divorce Information Checklist you can access as part of our article The Ultimate Divorce Checklist: The Information You Need to Prepare for Divorce.
Complete the initial paperwork.
You will need to fill out several forms and submit them the courts to start your divorce. If you are working with an attorney, they will guide you through this process.
Although it will cost you more when you use an attorney, you will save time and stress in working with a professional who understands the system and who will ensure that your paperwork is filled out correctly.
If you decide to file without using an attorney, you will need to complete all the necessary forms on your own.
If you are the one initiating the divorce process, you will be known as the petitioner. If your spouse is the one who files the initial papers, then you will be known as the respondent.
At a minimum, you will need to file a petition, a summons and a confidential addendum. If children are involved, there will be several additional documents required as well.
Completing proof of service in Wisconsin
Once your forms are complete and have been filed, they will also need to be served on your spouse as well.
If your spouse has not hired a lawyer, you can serve them directly at their home address. If they have retained a lawyer, serve the lawyer at the lawyer’s office instead.
You can complete service in several ways.
- You can obtain a signed “Admission of Service” form from the respondent. This is proof of service.
- You can ask your sheriff’s department or a private process server to serve the papers by handing them to the respondent. The person who does this will give you an Affidavit of Service, which you’ll file with the court and retain for your records.
- You can have a friend or relative hand the documents to the respondent and complete and Affidavit of Service. The friend or relative has to be older than 18, a resident of Wisconsin, and not a party to the divorce.
Can you file for divorce online in Wisconsin?
You can do much of the work related to a divorce online in Wisconsin, but ultimately forms will need to be submitted in person at your county courthouse.
Our favorite resource for a fast and effective online divorce is: 3 Step Divorce.
3 Step Divorce checks all the boxes that make an online divorce worthwhile.
They aim to make it easy – and they certainly deliver.
From step-by-step instructions to unlimited live support, here are just a few of the reasons why 3 Step is our #1 recommended online divorce resource:
- $299 flat-fee with no hidden charges
- Monthly payment options as low as $84/mo
- Initial questionnaire takes less than 1 hour
- Library of free tools and resources
- Unlimited access to support agents by phone or email
- Immediate access to completed forms
- Assurance of 100% court-approval (or your money back!)
3 Step Divorce also boasts the highest customer rating in the industry (4.6 stars based on 1,575 reviews).
You can learn more by reading our 3StepDivorce review.
Better yet, you can Start Your 3 Step Divorce NOW (as low as $84/month).
Filing for divorce in Wisconsin without using a lawyer
You can file for divorce in Wisconsin by going to the courthouse in the county where you or your spouse live and file a summons, petition and confidential addendum. If you have children, you will need to file additional forms as well.
You will need to pay a filing fee and then the clerk of the court will assign a case number to you.
As long as the divorce is uncontested and you can agree with your spouse on all parts of the settlement agreement you could be able to complete the entire process without using a lawyer.
How much will it cost?
Filing fees vary by county in Wisconsin but expect to pay between $175 to $200 when you file your divorce documents.
To find out the exact amount for your county, you will need to contact the courthouse and ask for the amount. Fees for photocopies, notary fees, mailing, process server fees or attorney costs are not included.
Depending on your circumstances, it may be possible to ask a judge to waive your fees by filing of a fee waiver request.
If there are any unresolved issues regarding your divorce, you can expect to pay legal fees to an attorney that will range from $200 to $500 per hour depending on how complex your divorce is and how many hours it will take to resolve those issues.
Fully contested divorces can run into the tens of thousands of dollars depending on how contentious the divorce is, what kind of assets are involved, and how much disagreement there is with child custody and support issues.
How long does it take to get a divorce in Wisconsin?
There is a mandatory 120-day waiting period in Wisconsin before a divorce can be finalized. The actual time frame may vary depending on the county where you file and what issues are involved in your case. Most divorces typically take six months to a year to be finalized.
Should I retain the services of a certified divorce financial analyst?
Divorcing spouses in [state] often retain a family law attorney to help them through the process. In simple cases, an attorney may be equipped to handle all aspects of the divorce, including the finances.
But if you have a degree of complexity to your financial situation, you might benefit from working with a divorce financial planning expert.
The best professional to help in these situations is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA), and preferably someone who is also a Certified Financial Planner (CFP).
A CDFA has specialized training in the financial and tax implications of divorce and can work with you to help you understand the pros and cons of your options.
Bifurcation of marital status in Wisconsin
Bifurcation means that both parties in a divorce can legally declared as a single person while the other issues in their divorce are still being worked out. It does not affect things such as child custody, visitation, child support, alimony or other contentious issues that may have stalled or become major sticking points that are keeping the divorce from being finalized.
Bifurcation of marital status is allowed in Wisconsin, but on a very limited basis. Bifurcation removes incentives to finalize a divorce and it means that courts may have to deal with the same case more than once, creating a lack of judicial efficiency.
Can I cancel, refuse, contest, stop or reverse a divorce in Wisconsin?
Once a final divorce decree has been approved by a judge, there is not much that anyone can do to stop a divorce. Couples who later change their mind and want to stay married will have to get married again.
If you reconcile with a spouse before the final decree is issued and you both want to stop the divorce from moving forward, you can file a motion to have the case dismissed, but only if you are the petitioner.
If papers have already been served on the spouse and they have served a response, then both parties must agree to a stipulation that both have signed and presented to the court. It is generally a good idea to consult with an attorney in a situation like this to make sure that the process follows the letter of the law and the termination of the divorce action goes smoothly.
What is a divorce decree?
A divorce decree is the court’s final order that terminates a marriage. It provides a summary of the rights and responsibilities of each party, including financial responsibilities and a division of assets. It also covers child custody, visitation, alimony, child support and other similar issues.
Once the divorce decree is issued, parties are legally free to marry another person. The divorce decree is a legally binding document, and if either party does not meet the requirements and obligations set forth in the decree, the other party can take legal action to correct any deficiencies.
What is a divorce certificate?
As opposed to a decree which goes into details about the terms of a divorce, a certificate only includes brief and general information such as the names and dates of the divorce.
A divorce certificate can provide proof of divorce for many legal purposes. Because divorce records are kept at the county where a divorce occurred, if you want a copy of a divorce certificate you should contact the appropriate county office for assistance.
Changing Your Name
As you prepare your divorce forms, you will be able to choose to either restore your former name or request a court order for changing names.
The name change will be granted as part of your divorce. You may either receive a separate court order making your name change official, or else have your name change recorded on the final divorce decree. Either of these documents are accepted with all US agencies and organizations as evidence of your name change.
It’s a long process to contact each company and figure out what to send where. To lighten the load, we recommend using an Easy Name Change kit to prevent the 10+ hours of paperwork and research that you would have to do by yourself.
Recommended Divorce Resources
There are a lot of divorce resources that make big claims. We’ve tested a bunch of them. Most fall short. A few stand above the rest.
These are the tools and resources we’re excited to share with you because we know they can help you have a better divorce.
If you’re looking for recommendations in any of the following areas, we’ve got you covered:
- Online divorce
- QDRO preparation to divide retirement plans and pensions
- Masterclass on ninja tricks to negotiating with a narcissist
- Online dating
- Co-parenting apps
- Personal finance and budgeting apps
- Best place to sell your engagement ring
- And a whole lot more