Divorce Law

How to File for Divorce in Wisconsin

Divorces are emotionally, logistically, financially, and legally complex. There can be many specific concerns to address, like splitting shared assets, determining custody agreements, and arguing over spousal and child support payments.

Finalizing these arrangements requires detailed paperwork, some type of negotiation or mediation hearing, or maybe even a trial. Additionally, each state has its own rules regarding divorce proceedings. In Wisconsin, divorce requirements can vary from county to county, though many of the core elements are the same throughout the state.

If you’re considering getting a divorce in Wisconsin, it is important to understand your rights and work with an attorney who understands the process. Missteps along the way, even early on in the proceedings, can impact your outcome.

What Are the Grounds for Divorce in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin is a “no-fault state.” This means that you don’t have to give the court any specific reason for wanting a divorce. If there’s no chance that you and your spouse will reconcile, you can state that your marriage is irretrievably broken, which is sufficient grounds for divorce in Wisconsin. This can even occur if only one party wants the divorce.

How Do I File for Divorce in Wisconsin?

Depending on how complex your case is, you may be able to file for divorce in Wisconsin without a lawyer. However, state courts generally recommend hiring an attorney to represent you, as most cases require legal help. If you and your spouse have children or any assets, it is advisable to hire an attorney, even if you and your soon-to-be-ex agree on everything.

To file for divorce in Wisconsin, you or your spouse must be a resident of the state for at least six months before you file the case, and you must live within the county you’re filing in for at least 30 days.

A general overview of how to file for divorce in the Badger State includes:

  1. Completing the petition forms: You have the option of filing jointly with your spouse or filing on your own. Either option requires its own petition forms, which you can get from the Wisconsin Courts website or from a local courthouse.
  2. Requesting a temporary hearing: In some cases, you may need to request a temporary hearing to decide how to handle certain arrangements between the time you file and the time your divorce is finalized. Common reasons for a temporary hearing include an inability to agree on temporary child custody, spousal support payments, or the use of shared assets. To request the hearing, you’ll need to submit order paperwork.
  3. Filing your paperwork: Once you complete your paperwork, you’ll need to pay fees and file your documents with the court clerk.
  4. Serving papers to your spouse: Even after you first file, your case won’t move forward until you serve your spouse with a copy of your divorce petition. There are specific rules for when and how to serve someone, and who is able to do it. Once your spouse is served you’ll need to provide proof of service to the clerk.
  5. Waiting: Wisconsin has a mandatory 120-day waiting period before you can get a divorce hearing.
  6. Receiving a date for your hearing: After your waiting period ends, you can contact the court (or in some cases, they may contact you) to schedule a hearing.
  7. Gathering your final paperwork: Before the hearing, you’ll need a copy of a settlement agreement or a proposed settlement if you and your spouse still have some contested issues to settle in court. You’ll also need additional forms from the clerk and copies of financial statements. If you have minors in your care, the court may require you to include a parenting plan, which could also mean mandatory participation in parenting programs.
  8. Attending the hearing: At the hearing, you’ll present your documents to a judge, who may decide to grant your divorce, or, depending on how much you and your spouse disagree on the terms, may only rule on some stipulations and require further hearings to finalize the process.

If the judge grants your divorce without the need for further hearings, you may still need to handle certain logistics like signing over property, changing your last name, or adjusting your will and other estate planning documents.

How Do I File for a Legal Separation in Wisconsin?

Many of the same steps apply if you file for a legal separation in Wisconsin. A divorce formally ends the marriage, while a legal separation does not. Some couples may choose a legal separation to evaluate their circumstances and decide if they want to fully divorce or stay together.

Though you don’t have to give a reason for getting a divorce in Wisconsin, you will need to explain why you want a legal separation.

If you’re legally separated and you both want a divorce, you can agree to file for divorce at any time. If one party does not agree to a divorce, you’ll need to wait a full year before you can petition for divorce on your own.

Regardless if you get divorced with or without a legal separation first, you and your ex-spouse will need to wait at least six months after the divorce is final if you choose to remarry.

How Long Does it Take to Get Divorced in Wisconsin?

How long your divorce takes heavily depends on how strained your relationship is. If you and your spouse can agree on the terms of your divorce, it shouldn’t take much longer than the 120-day waiting period, depending on how long it takes to get a hearing and process your documents.

If you’re struggling to come to any agreements, however, it’s possible for a divorce to span multiple hearings, which could take a year or more to complete.

How Much Does it Cost to File for Divorce in Wisconsin?

As with the length of time for a divorce, the cost of filing depends on the specific circumstances of your case. It can range from a couple hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, depending on the need for temporary hearings, support arrangements, attorney fees, and other expenses. Note that if you file anything incorrectly or miss a step, you might need to refile, which can mean extra fees and delays.

That is one of the main reasons people often choose to work with an experienced divorce attorney. Though you’ll need to pay for the attorney’s legal assistance, they can help you save money in the long run by making sure everything is filed quickly, correctly, and completely. They can also assist you in negotiations and mediations, or represent you in your hearings to advocate for the outcome you want regarding custody arrangements, spousal support payments, or property division.