A Wisconsin Attorney's Guide to the Divorce Process
Is Wisconsin a No-Fault State?
Wisconsin Law defines divorce as the dissolution of a marriage between married people. The state of Wisconsin follows no-fault divorce, meaning the two parties do not have to prove fault to begin the divorce process. Instead, either party must state under oath that there is an irretrievable breakdown of their marriage with no hope of reconciliation. Our Milwaukee Family Law attorneys have years of experience navigating the Wisconsin divorce process for the communities of Milwaukee, Glendale, Appleton, Brookfield, & Madison.
Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce in Wisconsin
Most people think of divorce as a vicious legal battle, but it doesn’t have to get ugly. In fact, many people come to an agreement that a divorce is what is best for them. If you both agree that you want a divorce, then you should have a discussion about the issues that face you with the divorce – i.e. child placement, support, division of assets and debt. If you come to an agreement on every issue in the divorce, then you can proceed with an uncontested divorce. This is more cost-effective than going to trial and contesting the placement of every asset. See also: How much does a divorce cost in Wisconsin?
Moving forward with an uncontested divorce can be a lot faster and less expensive for you, and can save you the stress of going to trial. To get started, you can file a joint petition for divorce. Once the case is filed, you will both have to file a financial disclosure statement that will identify all of your income, assets, expenses, and liabilities. Ultimately, you will need to reduce your agreements to writing in a document called a Marital Settlement Agreement. All this paperwork, and possibly any additional county-specific required forms, must be completed and filed in the proper court, which is typically the county in which you live.
Once you have completed all the paperwork and submitted it to the court, you will be given a court date at which you will both need to attend. There is a set of general questions that the court will ask each of you and then the judge will verify your understanding of your agreement. If there are no issues with your paperwork, the judge will sign the Findings of Fact Conclusions of Law and Judgment and your divorce will become final.
A contested divorce occurs when the two parties don't agree on all withstanding issues. The disagreements will either be resolved through mediation or taken to court and presented to a judge. The judge will issue the final hearing, which will resolve all withstanding issues.
- Parties agree on all issues involving property distribution, debt, child custody, child placement & child support.
- File a stipulated agreement and proceed to a default divorce hearing.
- The judge will approve or alter the proposed stipulation agreement.
- Fewer issues to litigate make uncontested divorce less complicated.
- One party files for divorce.
- The court gives temporary orders while the parties attempt to come to a resolution through mediation.
- Parties hire attorneys or self-represent (pro se divorce).
- More complicated and requires more time and effort.
Contact one of our experienced attorneys today to discuss your situation.
Collaborative Divorce May Also Be an Option
The collaborative divorce process is an alternative way to resolve your contested issues related to the divorce without fighting a lengthy legal battle in court. The process requires a commitment by both parties to be transparent and open-minded to negotiate and work together to reach a final settlement agreement.
In this process, both parties have to agree to participate, and both parties must hire an attorney who is trained in the collaborative process. Untrained attorneys will lack mediation skills needed to reach an amicable agreement between the parties. Once the parties have committed to the process and found an attorney, you will sign an agreement to engage in the collaborative process and avoid court.
The process involves a series of meetings with the attorneys and parties. Some couples only need a few meetings and some require several meetings over several months. It depends on the complexity of the divorce and the number of disputes. The first meeting is to review the collaborative divorce agreement and verify everyone’s commitment to the process. The attorneys then work through the disclosure of financial information and preparation of a joint financial disclosure statement, addressing child custody and placement, support, and division of property and debt. The goal of the meetings is to finalize a Marital Settlement Agreement.
The collaborative process can also involve a number of other professionals to resolve all disputes. Often times it is suggested that the parties hire a “coach.” The coach is a mental health professional hired to help deal with the emotional side of the divorce. If there are issues related to children, the parties can hire a Child Consultant. If the divorce involves complex financial issues, the parties can hire a Financial Neutral, which is a single financial consultant trained in the collaborative process and hired to assist both parties on financial matters.
The most appealing advantage of the collaborative process is that your personal disputes with your spouse aren't settled by a judge who does not know much about the two of you. The collaborative process allows you and your spouse to be in control of all of the decisions and resolutions.
Divorce is difficult and can be messy. If you and your spouse are willing to commit to a process that is resolution-focused with a team of professionals ready to help you, then a collaborative divorce may be the right path for you.