WI Divorce Guide

How to File for Divorce in Wisconsin (2023)

To file for divorce in Wisconsin, you must be a Wisconsin resident for 6 months and a county resident for 30 days. Review our 8-step guide to make the divorce process go quick and easy.

  1. Pick the Correct Forms

    Evaluate these questions before beginning the Wisconsin filing process: Are there minor children involved? Are you filing independently or jointly? Will you need temporary orders while the divorce is pending?

    The most common forms you need to complete are the Summons, Petition & Confidential Addendum. The presence of minor children in a marriage will require additional forms. Learn about the grounds for divorce and legal separation in Wisconsin.

  2. Complete the Forms

    Gather the necessary information for both you and your spouse. Birth dates, social security numbers, and Wisconsin addresses are required.

  3. File the Papers at Your Local Courthouse

    Contact your local Wisconsin county clerk’s office for the family action filing fees. Fees range from $175 - $188.

  4. Serve Your Spouse (if filing separately)

    Serve the divorce paperwork and obtain proof of service. You can use your Wisconsin county sheriff’s department or a private service company to serve your spouse.  Obtain a signed Affidavit of Service or Admission of Service from your spouse. Begin preparing for the temporary hearing.

  5. Wait 120 Days Minimum

    Mandatory 120 day waiting period in Wisconsin begins after service has been accomplished or the joint petition has been filed with the court.  If you were just served divorce papers in Wisconsin, you have 20 days to respond.

  6. Attend Temporary Hearing (if requested previously)

    Both parties are required to complete a Financial Disclosure Statement and bring it to the hearing. A commissioner or judge in Wisconsin will hear each side's requests and then decide temporary orders. Temporary orders must be followed until the final divorce settlement. If you are unhappy with the outcome, you have 10 days to file an appeal of the commissioner's decision. A judge would then review the orders and make a final decision. 

  7. Prepare for Pre-Trial Conference

    You and your spouse will receive a Notice of Pre-Trial Conference and a Pre-Trial Order. Parents of minors are required to complete the Helping Children Cope with Divorce seminar before the court date. If you and your spouse have resolved all issues, the court can proceed with a stipulated divorce. If you still have outstanding issues, you must notify the court of the specific issues. If child custody or placement is an issue, the court will appoint a Guardian ad Litem to determine the child/children's best interest.

  8. Complete the Divorce or Legal Separation

    A divorce can be granted three ways: stipulated, default, or in a trial:

    • Stipulated hearing: Both parties agree on the terms of the divorce. The judge decides to approve or adjust the settlement.
    • Default hearing: One party fails to appear at the final hearing. The judge will use the other party's proposal when approving the settlement.

    • Trial hearing: The parties cannot come to an agreement. A courtroom trial will take place. The judge will give a final divorce decree. If you are unsatisfied with the final hearing, you have the option to appeal the divorce decree.

Issues to consider when filing for divorce

Divorce Mediation

Wisconsin divorce mediation is a negotiation process with a trained mediator. This process allows couples to have more control over their decisions without having to go to court. Using divorce mediation, you are creating a divorce agreement that works for both parties. If you are looking to finish the divorce process quickly, mediation with one of our specialists is your best option.

Child Custody

If children are involved when a divorce is decided on, the process and negotiations become difficult. Legal child custody under Wisconsin divorce law is defined as the right to make major decisions for the child unless otherwise specified by the court. The court makes its placement decision based on the child’s best interest. If an agreement cannot be made, child custody mediation can be utilized to find the right solution for the child.

Legal child custody in Wisconsin is defined as the right to make major decisions for the child unless otherwise specified by the court. The court makes its placement decision based on the child’s best interest. If an agreement cannot be made, child custody mediation can be utilized to find the right solution for the child. 

When both parties and their minor children all live in Wisconsin, the court can easily set orders related to custody (decision-making) and placement (who the children are physically with) and divide the assets and debts of the parties. When one party, or even a party and the children, live in a different state or county, a Wisconsin court may not have jurisdiction over the children or property. 

The UCCJEA is a federal law dictating which state court has jurisdiction to hear issues and make decisions about child custody and placement. It looks to the home state of the child, as well as the state where the child has significant connections. Based on the UCCJEA, when a child lives out of state, Wisconsin may not have jurisdiction over the matter. Under certain circumstances, a divorce or post-judgment motion should or must be brought outside of Wisconsin. Contacting an experienced lawyer early will ensure timely litigation in the correct state.

Spousal Support

If agreed upon in court, spousal support or “alimony” could be required after the divorce is finalized. The decision is made to ensure both parties have equal assets after the divorce is final based on earning capabilities. Spousal support is used by courts to give each spouse a similar standard of living they had during their marriage. Make sure you include spousal support into your divorce costs. One of our divorce attorneys can help you find all the factors of your case.

Property division

Wisconsin is considered a “community property” state, meaning any property acquired during the course of the marriage is considered marital property and will be split equally between the parties. Mediation can be used to come to an agreement on property division between spouses in a quicker and easier way. Find out more about the property that can be divided during Wisconsin's divorce process.

Requirements for divorce in Wisconsin

Filing for divorce without an attorney is difficult. In order to file for divorce in Wisconsin, there are a few boxes you have to check to make sure the divorce is legal and properly documented.

Wisconsin is a no-fault divorce state - there does not have to be a reason for why divorce is taking place. If there is a reason for the divorce, the reasoning or "evidence" will not be relevant or considered in court.

Wisconsin's Divorce Rate

The divorce rate per 1,000 inhabitants in Wisconsin has declined by roughly 33% from 1990 to 2017. The Wisconsin divorce rate in 1990 was roughly 3.6 per 1,000 people - the divorce rate in 2017 was roughly 2.4 per 1,000 people. Per the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013-2017 Community Survey, the overall divorce rate in Wisconsin is 10.7%. 


Our Milwaukee, WI Family Law attorneys have years of experience in each step of the Wisconsin divorce timeline, allowing you to rest assured knowing your assets (and your heart) are in safe hands. Our attorneys have seen every circumstance that can arise in Wisconsin divorce law

Contact Divergent Family Law today to schedule your free initial divorce case consultation.
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How to file for divorce in Wisconsin FAQ

How much does a divorce cost?

In Wisconsin, the cost of a divorce can vary depending on the factors in each case. Costs can include filing fees, attorney fees, or other fees associated with certain forms. For an accurate cost estimate on your divorce case, contact an experienced attorney.

How long does a divorce take in Wisconsin?

There is a 120-day waiting period mandatory for Wisconsin residents after the divorce papers have been filed. Divorce times can vary depending on the circumstances surrounding divorce.

Does Wisconsin require separation before divorce?

Parties do not need to be separated before filing for a divorce in Wisconsin. A divorce can be given without legal separation occurring first. Contact a divorce attorney today to help with the divorce process.

What do I need to file for a Wisconsin divorce?

First, start by finding the right forms for your circumstances. If you need help finding the forms you need, a divorce attorney can help find them for you. Once an attorney is hired, they can walk you through the Wisconsin divorce process.

References: FA-4100V - Basic Guide to Divorce: Wisconsin Court System | Wisconsin Marriage and Divorce Data: Wisconsin Department of Health Services (2023) |

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