The Divorce Process

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Divorce in Wisconsin

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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.

Uncontested Divorce:

Contested Divorce:

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.

Wisconsin divorce on the horizon

Is Divorce on the Horizon?

Here Are Some Tips on How to Prepare

Getting a divorce is an incredibly overwhelming and emotional process. It can be an isolating and feelings of shame can overwhelm people. Protecting your financial and legal rights should be on the forefront of your mine. This is why preparing for divorce is best to protect your own interest before the divorce even begins.

Regardless for who is to blame for the divorce, here are 4 things that you can proactively do if you think divorce may be looming:

1. Seek Advice

Every divorce is different due to everyone being in a different situation. The first step is to build a team to protect your rights and represent you going forward. Meet with a experienced lawyer to discuss the process. Speak with your financial advisor to get finances in order. You may even wat to speak with a therapist, as this process can be emotional. With a strong team supporting you, you will be prepared for the lengthy road ahead.

2. Avoid Major Expenses

If you think a divorce is looming, don’t spend major money on things such as vacations, new car, or a house. Divorce can be an expensive process and if there are major purchases, that is just one more thing that will need to be argued about for settlement. This is a time to reduce expenses and save it. This will have you be better off in the long run, even if you and your spouse end up staying together.

3. Start Gathering Documentation

There is a lot of paperwork involved in the divorce process. You will also need to have supporting documentation if there are any disputes on property division. To help out your future self, be proactive and start setting aside the necessary documents. Below are examples of some documents to begin gathering:
  • All bank statements for the last 12 months.
  • 401k or any type of retirement account statements.
  • Mortgage or loan statements.
  • Credit card statements.
  • Detailed list of assets
    • (furniture, automobiles, jewelry, etc.).
  • Pay stubs.
  • W-2's.
  • 1099's.

4. Don’t Try to be Sneaky

Being sneaky and devious can only complicate the divorce processing. Divorce can be much simpler if everyone is transparent through the process. If you attempt to hide things and beat the system, in the end, the Court will find it. The only thing that being sneaky will do is cause the process to be drawn out and cost you more money. If you are honest with the process, it will make everything much easier.

No one gets married thinking they will end in divorce. Taking precautions in the tough times does not mean you will end in divorce. However, it does mean easing the stress should you end in the worst-case scenario.

Wisconsin divorce on the horizon

Commonly Asked Questions:

Do I need to be a Wisconsin resident to file for divorce?

One party must be a Wisconsin resident for at least 6 months and a resident of his or her Wisconsin county for at least 30 days before filing for divorce. 

What are the steps for filing a divorce?

Divorce actions can be filed independently by one party or jointly by both parties. In order to file for divorce, you will be required to file a Summons, Petition, and Confidential Petition Addendum in order to begin the divorce proceedings.

If you need temporary orders, you have to additionally file an Affidavit to Show Cause and a Request for Hearing for Temporary Orders.

After filing the paperwork, there is a 120 day waiting period in Wisconsin before the final hearing can commence. Pre-marital agreementsalimony (spousal support) and division of property issues may arise during this period. If there are children involved, child support, child custody and placement issues must be discussed.

A final Marital Settlement Agreement must be approved by the court at the final court hearing for the divorce to be granted.

What do I do if I was served divorce papers?

After being served divorce papers, you have 20 days from the date you were served to file a written Admission of Service, a Response, and a Counterclaim. Failing to do so can leave you open to a default trial hearing.

How much does it cost to file for divorce?

The cost of divorce can vary greatly based on your specific case and the contested issues involved in your case. Make sure to consider filing fees and the county you reside when calculating the costs. Contact one of our experienced divorce law attorneys at Divergent law at our offices in Milwaukee, Glendale, Appleton, Brookfield, & Madison to discuss costs and flexible payment plans.

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