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Cohabitation

Disputing money & property

Without Marriage

In Wisconsin

Wisconsin laws on cohabitation, Watts cases & domestic partnership

Wisconsin common law marriage: cohabitation & Watts cases

The concept of common law marriage is not recognized in the state of Wisconsin. It does not matter how long a couple has been cohabitating, their relationship is not recognized as a legal marriage. A couple in a cohabitant relationship in Wisconsin looking to legally divide their property will need to file what has generally become known as a Watts case.

Watts cases in Wisconsin?

Such cases are known as Watts cases in reference to the parties in a landmark 1987 case involving a cohabitating couple that separated after 12 years. Watts cases do not regard the cohabitant relationship as a marriage, but they provide a similar means of resolving disputes over money and property. Unlike divorces, Watts cases are civil actions and do not address child placement or spousal support issues.

Are you legally married after living together for 7 years in Wisconsin?

No. Unlike some states, Wisconsin does not recognize a cohabitation relationship as a marriage—regardless of how long a couple has been cohabitating. When the Wisconsin Legislature abolished the criminal sanction for cohabitation in 1983, it made it clear in Section 944.01 that this should not be interpreted as an implicit approval of such relationships. Interestingly, Wisconsin was a common law marriage state until it was abolished in 1917.

What is a domestic partner in Wisconsin?

The term “domestic partner relationship” refers to two types of domestic partnership—one definition was created for the non-marital relationships of state employee for the purpose of establishing eligibility for insurance coverage; the other definition was created for same-sex relationships for the purpose of establishing legal rights to property, inheritances and other financial matters, as well as providing a framework for the dissolution of such partnerships.

Are there any Wisconsin cohabitation laws?

No. Although the state used to have criminal penalties for cohabitation, these were abolished in 1983. Under current Wisconsin law, the disputes that arise between cohabitating couples over property and debts when terminating their relationships are typically adjudicated by what is known as an unjust enrichment claim, which basically means that one party should not be unjustly enriched as a result of the breakup. Both parties need to present evidence of their stake in whatever is being disputed.

Divorce

When a couple decides to end their marriage, the legal action can take multiple routes. If they are able to come to an agreement about all of the required details, including division of assets, child custody, placement, and alimony, then they can apply for an uncontested divorce.

In many cases, property division and child custody are emotional decisions to make. Divorce mediation or a court proceeding may be the only way to reach a mutual agreement. A collaborative divorce occurs when the two parties are able to finalize a divorce through negotiation or mediation. A contested divorce occurs when the parties cannot reach an agreement, in which case the divorce case must go to trial and a judge will rule a final, indisputable hearing.

 

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Child Custody

It is important to remember that no matter what a parent wants for the outcome of a custody case, any final decision will be made with regards to the child’s best interests before any other factors are taken into consideration.

The term “custody” is often used as a general term regarding the amount of time that a child will spend with each parent or guardian, as well as the degree of legal power each parent or guardian has over decisions relating to the child’s life, such as medical treatments, religious and educational preferences, and more. However, Wisconsin separates these decisions into two areas, “custody” and “placement.” Custody refers specifically to the legal right that a parent has in decisions regarding the care and upbringing of the child. Custody can be either shared or sole, depending on the court's decision.

 

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Placement

Placement refers to the arrangement between parents or guardians regarding how the child’s time is shared between the two parties. The child’s welfare is the primary consideration when the judge makes the final decision. Placement can be designated as primary, shared, or split. Primary placement is granted to the parent or guardian that the child spends the most time with. Shared placement refers to each parent dividing the amount of time the child spends with them. Split placement is a third option when multiple children are involved. Each child receives his or her own specific schedule.

 

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Child Support

In order to ensure that the child support payments are fair, the judge will explore all of the relevant details, such as the income and financial stability of each parent, as well as which parent will have the majority of the financial responsibility for the children.

Child support payments may be required until the child turns 18, or there may be other circumstances that extend the payments beyond their 18th birthday depending on the child's needs. Parents can also request for their child support agreement to be reevaluated in court. To see an estimate of your monthly child support payments, use our Wisconsin child support calculator.

 

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Alimony

Alimony is often confused for child support, and while each involves a payment going from one spouse to the other, the similarities end there. Alimony is a payment that is made from the most-financially stable spouse to the dependent spouse for a set period of time. These payments are intended to give the dependent spouse an opportunity to adjust to their life without the ability to rely on their spouse’s income.

Alimony payments are determined by the current financial circumstances of each spouse. The agreement can always be renegotiated if one of the parents goes through a major income change. In particular, if the recipient of the alimony remarries, they may lose the spousal support payments. The terms of the agreement are clearly outlined by the lawyers or judge.

 

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Father's Rights

In situations involving unwed parents, the father may find that they have very few legal rights over their child. In these cases, it is especially important for the unwed father to partner with a family lawyer who can help him navigate his situation.

In addition to issues strictly pertaining to legal rights over a child, father’s rights also include issues like paternity tests, contesting adoptions or custody-related decisions, visitation, or instances where the father would like to terminate their rights. No matter the problem, if you need legal help as a father, we're here to help.

 

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Wisconsin Family Law & Divorce Attorneys:
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