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Wisconsin Divorce Law

The divorce process may seem simplified in Wisconsin thanks to its community property and “no-fault” divorce laws. However, the process can still be complicated when children are involved and neither party can agree on all issues.

LawInfo's Wisconsin Divorce Law articles can help relieve some of the stress of the process. You'll learn about the state's divorce prerequisites, how property is divided and many other divorce topics. Whether you need assistance in Madison, Green Bay or Milwaukee, LawInfo can help connect you with a Wisconsin divorce attorney.

Wisconsin No-Fault Divorces

Wisconsin law doesn't allow any party in a marriage to petition for divorce based on marital misconduct or fault. Instead, a court will grant a divorce as long as there is an agreement between the parties or if there is no agreement, evidence of an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. The couple must also have lived apart and separately for 12 months or longer prior to filing for divorce.

This makes Wisconsin a “no-fault” divorce state. This also means that marital misconduct won't be considered in a judgment for property distribution or spousal maintenance.

Community Property in Wisconsin

According to Wisconsin's Marital Property Act, each spouse in marriage holds a 50 percent interest in all marital (or “community”) property. That means that each spouse has a right to half of all marital property when they divorce.

It's important to understand exactly what constitutes marital property to know what you're eligible to retain in a divorce. Marital property includes most assets, real estate and debts both parties acquired during the marriage. Otherwise, each spouse typically retains their own separate property in a divorce. Separate property includes any property acquired prior to the marriage.

Any property that was bequeathed to, inherited by, gifted to or otherwise given solely to an individual spouse during the marriage is also considered separate property. If one party contributed to the maintenance or increase of the value of the other party's separate property, they retain a 50 percent interest in their contribution. This turns the separate property into a mixed property, which means that it could be considered community property in a distribution judgment.

Wisconsin Contested Divorces

The divorce process can be quick or slow depending on whether both parties agree that there was an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage and whether both agree on the terms of the divorce. If the respondent—the spouse who doesn't file the divorce petition—disagrees that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the divorce is considered contested.

When a divorce is contested, a Wisconsin court will hold a hearing to consider each party's arguments and any relevant factors. It will then determine whether there is a reasonable prospect of reconciliation—meaning whether, through counseling, the marriage can be salvaged. If all evidence points towards an irretrievable breakdown, the court may enter a divorce judgment.

However, if there is hope for reconciliation, the court may require additional hearings or counseling, whichever is more appropriate. If by the end of counseling and at a final court hearing, the court finds that the marriage remains irretrievably broken, it may enter a final divorce judgment.

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