A comprehensive guide to filing for divorce in Wisconsin written by family law attorneys
We’ve put together a comprehensive guide on how to file for divorce in Wisconsin, the steps to take before, during, and after you file, as well as answer some commonly asked questions about filing for divorce. It can get complicated, but we’re here to help.
Before you file for divorce
What do you need to know before you file for divorce? | What do you need to prepare before you file? | How do you know if you need a Wisconsin divorce attorney? | How much does it cost to file for divorce? | Do you need an attorney to help file for divorce?
File for divorce in Wisconsin
After you file for divorce
Filing for divorce in Wisconsin is potentially one of the most stressful situations any individual can go through.
If you are considering filing for divorce you need to be aware of all the steps involved. These steps are below.
Divorce is emotional on its own but knowing what comes next can make the process easier to navigate.
Filing for divorce has likely been a very stressful decision that has not come easy. Once you have made the decision to divorce, actually preparing the paperwork and initiating the court action can be equally difficult and stressful. Here, we will try to make the process less intimidating. Whether you choose to represent yourself or to hire a lawyer, there are a few things you should know before you file for divorce.
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Find out whether you are eligible to get divorced in Wisconsin. Wisconsin has a few criteria everybody must meet before they can file a divorce:
Ensure you have basic demographic information for both you and your spouse (and any children you may have together):
Gather any relevant paperwork that may be needed early on in the divorce process:
Begin gathering financial documentation regarding you and your spouse’s income and property (these documents are not required prior to filing for divorce; you can file for divorce without them. However, it is a good idea to begin gathering them as soon as possible because they will make the divorce process easier):
You should consider hiring an attorney to help you with your divorce if you:
You may not need to hire an attorney if:
There are several ways to get in contact with us:
Before we schedule a consult, you will be asked to provide basic information about yourself and your spouse (names/addresses) so that we can ensure we do not have a conflict of interest in representing you.
Once your consultation is scheduled, it is a good idea to make a list of questions you would like to ask the attorney. Meanwhile, you should also be prepared to tell the attorney about your case. Questions your consulting attorney may ask could include:
This list is not exhaustive, but if you give your consulting attorney specific and accurate information it will be easier for him or her to quote you an accurate retainer fee and give guidance about how he or she would handle your case.
At the close of your consultation, the consulting attorney will either agree to accept your case and will quote you a retainer fee based upon the difficulty level of your case and the experience and availability of the attorney who will actually represent you; OR if they cannot accept your case, they will give you a referral to a lawyer or law firm who might be able to help you.
You do not have to decide on the spot if you want to hire the lawyer. Our consultations are no-hassle, no-commitment, and no pressure! But if the attorney agrees to accept your case and if you would like to hire the attorney, you will then sign a fee agreement which is a contract for legal services. You can review our various fee arrangements and divorce packages ahead of time.
If you hire an attorney to represent you, the attorney will prepare your divorce forms and file them for you. If you choose to represent yourself, you will have to prepare your own divorce forms. You can find downloadable state court divorce forms here or take a look at our divorce forms resource.
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If you choose to file on your own without the assistance of an attorney, you can follow these steps:
Step 1: Prepare the forms: Fill out the online forms using the “family law forms assistant.”
Step 2: File the forms: You can file the forms by taking them to the Clerk of Courts at your county courthouse, or you can pay $20 to opt-in to eFiling and you can file the documents online. This fee is in addition to the filing fee you will pay to the Clerk when you file the documents.
Step 3: Serving your spouse: If your spouse will willingly accept the divorce papers, he or she must sign an Affidavit acknowledging receipt of the documents. If your spouse will not cooperate, you will have to have them formally served by either having a Sheriff’s deputy or private process server deliver the papers.
For more details on the cost of filing and serving divorce papers, check out our divorce cost faqs.
Once your divorce is filed, you and your attorney will collaborate on a strategy that will drive your case toward resolution and that will try to achieve your objectives. Your attorney may suggest some or all of the following strategies for you:
Temporary Orders are court orders that establish “rules” for how to manage your money and children while the divorce is pending and before everything is finalized.
You may need Temporary Orders if you and your spouse cannot agree on how to manage your affairs during the pendency of the divorce. If you cannot answer these questions, you may need Temporary Orders:
You can either file a request for Temporary Orders at the time you file for divorce or you can request them later if you believe you will need them. Once you file a request for Temporary Orders, the court will schedule a hearing within one to three months. At the hearing, both you and your spouse (or your attorneys, if you have them) will present testimony and evidence and the court will decide what your Temporary Orders should be.
“Discovery” describes the formal process for requesting information and documentation from the opposing party in a lawsuit.You may need to do discovery if:
Timeline: Discovery is an ongoing process that can take anywhere from several weeks to several months.
Negotiations take place in all divorces. Negotiation involves the parties making proposals and concessions back and forth until they reach an agreement they mutually approve. Negotiation is needed whenever there is a legitimate dispute about an issue.
Timeline: Negotiation of a final resolution in a divorce case can take several weeks to several months.
Alternative Dispute Resolution is an option for resolving court cases outside of going to court. Mediation and Arbitration are examples of alternative dispute resolution. Alternative Dispute Resolution may be a good option if:
Timeline: Alternative Dispute Resolution can take anywhere from half a day to several days depending on the number of unresolved issues and how far apart the parties are in their negotiations.
It takes a minimum of 120 days to finalize a divorce. The 120 days is calculated from the date the non-filing party is served with the divorce papers. This is considered a mandatory (statutory) “cooling off period.”
This 120-day waiting period can almost never be shortened, however, it can extend beyond 120 days. Many things can determine the speed at which your divorce progresses:
At a minimum, the court will have to make orders regarding:
If you have children, the court will also have to make orders regarding:
There is no mandatory separation period in Wisconsin that you must comply with before you can file a divorce. In Wisconsin, parties can file a divorce while they are still living together.
It is also urban legend that you cannot get divorced if your spouse won’t “sign the papers.” In Wisconsin, your spouse does not have to agree with the divorce for it to go forward.
There are no defenses to divorce. In Wisconsin, a divorce court will assume that neither party is at fault and the divorce will be granted even if one party believes the marriage can be saved.
You can file a divorce online, but whether or not you choose to do so will depend in large part on your comfort level with computer technology and with independently deciphering the court’s instructions. To file a divorce online, follow these instructions.
Yes! Learn more about the pros and cons of hiring a lawyer versus representing yourself.
The cost to file a divorce varies by county and by whether or not you have children or will be seeking to receive (or pay) spousal support. Learn more about what affects the cost of divorce.
Filing for divorce in Wisconsin isn’t easy. We understand that divorce is one of the most difficult times in many people’s lives, and unfortunately, it can be very confusing. You might not be sure where to begin with your proceedings, making it more difficult to file, but we’re here to help.
If you’re struggling with your case, the divorce attorneys at Karp & Iancu are here to lend a hand. With experience in thousands of Wisconsin divorce cases, we’ll help you file and get the fair division of assets you deserve.
No one knows Wisconsin divorce law better.
933 N. Mayfair Rd., Suite 300
Milwaukee, WI 53226
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