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Wisconsin Divorce Process
Preparing the Divorce Papers
Forms may vary slightly from county to county, which is one reason why it's so important to use the Family Law Forms Assistant. The Wisconsin Court System has prepared a Basic Guide to Divorce/Legal Separation, which contains an overview of the divorce process and detailed, step-by-step instructions. The forms differ depending on whether a party has children and also on whether he or she is the petitioner, who is the spouse who initiates the divorce, or the respondent, who is the spouse who is served with divorce papers.
If the spouses have no minor children (which means children who are financially dependent and not legally emancipated), the petitioner needs to prepare the Summons without Minor Children, Petition without Minor Children, Confidential Petition Addendum, and Financial Disclosure Statement. The Respondent completes the Response and Counterclaim, Admission of Service (if the respondent received the petitioner's documents in the mail), and Financial Disclosure Statement.
If the spouses have minor children, the petitioner prepares the Summons with Minor Children, Petition with Minor Children, Confidential Petition Addendum, Proposed Parenting Plan, and Financial Disclosure Statement. The Respondent prepares the Response and Counterclaim, Admission of Service (if the respondent received the petitioner's documents in the mail), Proposed Parenting Plan, and Financial Disclosure Statement.
Neither the petitioner nor the respondent in either case should sign any affidavits or sworn statements until and unless he or she is in front of a notary. The parties may need to prepare additional documents, depending on the county, and on their personal and financial situation.
Filing the Paperwork with the Court
The petitioner makes two copies of all documents and files the original with the court, gives one copy to respondent and keeps the last copy. At the courthouse the petitioner files the Summons, Petition, and Confidential Addendum. The clerk of court assigns a number that is used on every divorce document related to the case.
The petitioner pays a filing fee. An indigent party may file a Petition and Waiver of Fees/Costs, Affidavit of Indigency and Order, which the court reviews and decides whether to waive filing fees.
As soon as the petitioner files the initial documents, Wisconsin's 120-day waiting period begins to run. The parties cannot have a final divorce hearing before a judge for a minimum of 120 days.
Serving the Documents
After filing the divorce papers, the petitioner should serve the respondent with the documents. Service of process ensures that everyone has notice and an opportunity to argue his or her point of view.
If the respondent is an adult who is pro se, the petitioner should serve him or her at the spouse’s home. If the respondent has retained a lawyer, the petitioner serves the lawyer at his or her office and does not send copies to the spouse. The petitioner can serve the summons and petition in a number of ways.
Most other documents can be served by first class mail or hand delivery. Different rules may apply when serving someone who is very hard to locate, in the military, out-of-state, or in jail.
Disclosing Financial Information
Both spouses complete a Financial Disclosure Statement, which details each spouse’s financial picture, from employment and assets, to liabilities and monthly expenses. The parties understand more about, for example, how much child support should be paid, or whether one spouse should receive alimony, and the disclosure helps the court to divide property and debts fairly.
Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce
Uncontested divorces are a faster option available to couples with or without children and are generally much less expensive than contested divorces.
With an uncontested divorce, the spouses agree on every issue in the divorce including child custody and child support, if children are involved. In an uncontested action, couples resolve key issues without going to court about them including child custody and visitation arrangements (including child support, health and dental insurance coverage), real estate and personal property, division of assets and debts and real and personal property, and alimony, if any.
Finalizing the Divorce
After all the proper forms have been filed with the circuit court, the judge may or may not want to hold a hearing on the case. Regardless, the divorce will not be granted unless it has been at least 120 days since the Joint Divorce Petition was filed.
If a party is required to attend a hearing, it is normally simple. The party needs to confirm residency in Wisconsin, and he or she states that the marriage cannot be repaired. If there are no issues with the paperwork, the judge will sign the Findings of Fact Conclusions of Law and Judgment and the divorce will become final.
The Wisconsin court may award spousal support or maintenance to either spouse, but the spouse requesting maintenance must specifically state so in the divorce petition. In determining the need, duration, and amount of maintenance, the judge considers the length of the marriage, the spouses' ages and physical and emotional health, the property division, and the conduct, or misconduct, of the spouses during the marriage and the divorce, among other factors.
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