How to File for Divorce in Wisconsin
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 cases, we’ll help you file and get the fair division of assets you deserve.
It’s Free & Confidential
We’ve put together a comprehensive guide on how to file for divorce, the steps to take before and after you file, and answer some commonly asked questions about filing for divorce. Jump to a specific section or read through this guide from start to finish:
What 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 an attorney? | How much does it cost to file for divorce? | Do you need an attorney to help file for divorce?
What You Need to Know Before You File for Divorce
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.
Step 1: Eligibility
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:
- You (or your spouse) DO have to be a resident of Wisconsin for at least six months before you file the divorce.
- You (or your spouse) DO have to be a resident of the county in which you intend to file for at least 30 days prior to filing the divorce.
- You do NOT have to have gotten married in Wisconsin (or even in the United States) to be eligible to get divorced here.
Step 2: Demographic Information
Ensure you have basic demographic information for both you and your spouse (and any children you may have together):
- Dates of Birth
- Social Security Numbers
- Date and place of your marriage
- Dates and County/State of any prior divorces either of you have had (or the date a previous spouse died if either of you are widowed).
- Name and location of employers
Step 3: Paperwork
Gather any relevant paperwork that may be needed early on in the divorce process:
- Any prenuptial or postnuptial agreement between you and your spouse
- Any written agreements you and your spouse have made in contemplation of divorce regarding support, custody or placement of children, division of property, etc.
- You do NOT need to provide a copy of your marriage license.
Step 4: Financial Documentation
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):
- 3 years of tax returns
- 6 weeks of paystubs
- Monthly statements showing the balance in any bank, credit union, or other financial account
- Monthly statements showing the amount due on any outstanding debts
- Quarterly statements for any retirement accounts
- Deed and mortgage information for your home or any real property you own
Step 5: Consult with an Attorney
You should consider hiring an attorney to help you with your divorce if you:
- Have children
- Own a business
- Have contested issues and do not believe you and your spouse can reach a settlement on your own
- Have unusual assets to divide; uncommon sources of income; or other unique considerations that make your case difficult
- Do not know much about your family’s finances or your spouse’s income
- Do not have the time, energy, or confidence to navigate the divorce process on your own
You may not need to hire an attorney if:
- You do not have children
- Do not have complicated issues or assets
- Have a good working relationship with your spouse and believe you can reach an agreement on your own
How to contact a Karp & Iancu Attorney?
There are several ways to get in contact with us:
- 1. Give us a call at (414) 721-9643 → If you reach the voicemail, leave a message and our receptionist will get back to you within 24 hours to schedule your free consult.
- 2. Schedule a time to meet with a lawyer through our calendar app → You can use the Book Consult Now button or go to our contact page
- 3. Send us an email → Fill out the form on our contact page
What information do I need when I call?
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.
What will we talk about during a consultation?
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:
- What county you live in and how long have you lived there
- How long you have been married; whether you and your spouse still live together and, if not, how long you have been separated
- Whether your spouse knows you want to file for divorce and, if so, whether he or she agrees with the divorce. If he or she does not know about the divorce, how your spouse may react when they learn about it.
- How many children you have; their ages; who they live with and what kind of co-parenting relationship you have with your spouse
- Your goals regarding the custody and placement of your children
- What assets and debts need to be divided in the divorce
- How you and your spouse are employed and what your incomes are
- Whether you or your spouse own real estate and, if so, your goals for how it will be divided in the divorce (Do you want to remain in the house? Do you want to sell it? Etc.)
- Whether any circumstances exist that may make your case more difficult (e.g. drug or alcohol issues, domestic violence issues; children with special needs, etc.).
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.
What happens after the consultation?
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.
Other things I need to know about speaking with an attorney?
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.
What Is the Process of Filing for Divorce?
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.
Filing for Divorce in Wisconsin
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.
What You Need to Know After You File for Divorce
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:
- Who should continue to live in the home?
- Should one of us move out and get an apartment?
- How often will the children live with each of us?
- Who should pay which bills?
- Should my spouse pay me child support?
- Will I owe any maintenance?
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:
- Your spouse has all the information or access regarding relevant case issues—such as income, job benefits, bank accounts and retirement accounts,
- If you believe your spouse has not provided all the information available to them
- If they have been dishonest in their responses to your requests for information.
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
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:
- The parties want to conclude their divorce, but court delays have interfered
- They have exhausted all efforts to negotiate and need to undertake a more controlled, formal process to finish their settlement.
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.
How Long Does It Take to Get Divorced?
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:
- The county you file in: large, populous counties have much busier courts
- The judge assigned to your case: each judge can schedule cases at his or her own discretion; judges with a heavier caseload or with a disproportionate load of contested cases will have a much busier calendar.
- The attorneys involved in your case and their responsiveness and availability
- The cooperation of you and your spouse: how quickly you provide documents or request court intervention and the speed at which you comply with the court’s orders
What Factors Come into Play when Getting Divorced?
At a minimum, the court will have to make orders regarding:
- Property Division
- Spousal Support
- Restoration of a former surname
- Tax Implications
If you have children, the court will also have to make orders regarding:
- Child Support
How Long Does it Take to File for Divorce?
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.
Additional Questions about How to File for Divorce
Can You File for Divorce Online?
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.
Should I Hire a Lawyer to Help Me File?
Yes! Learn more about the pros and cons of hiring a lawyer versus representing yourself.
How Much Does it Cost to File For Divorce?
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.