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Statute of Limitations on Divorce Judgments?

Very few people realize that there is a statute of limitations in Wisconsin for enforcing a judgment. While applicable in civil judgments, it is also also applicable in family law cases. If you have any issues with your divorce case that either need modification or enforcement, if you fail to act by filing a motion within 20 years from the issuance date of the judgment, you may find your motion being dismissed for failing to comply with the applicable statute of limitations.

Under Wisconsin law, a party has 20 years to file an action requesting enforcement of a court judgment (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 893.40). If a party does not file an action within the 20-year period beginning on the date the original judgment was ordered, the party is barred from filing such a claim. For example, if you did not receive personal property that was awarded to you as part of your divorce case, and you do not pursue getting the items for over 20 years from the date you were divorced, under this applicable statute of limitation. you would be forever barred from receiving your items from the adverse party. This is true whether you are seeking to modify the judgment in some way, or seek relief for non- compliance with the divorce decree, such as a contempt motion.

In interpreting the statute, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has generally held that the 20-year statute of limitations period is a strict deadline (State v. Hamilton, 2003 WI 50). However, in a recent decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that certain exceptions to the statutory period may apply in circumstances where the original court judgment issues an order(s) that contradicts existing law at the time when the order was issued. In situations where a court order contradicts the existing law, the statutory period will not begin to run until the legislature changes law such that the order can be carried out in accordance with law (Johnson v. Masters 2013 WI 43).

You should keep a copy of your divorce decree (Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Judgment of Divorce) at home with all of your other personal papers. You should periodically review your divorce decree. If there any issues that require either you to file a motion with the court to seek enforcement or modification, to protect your right to proceed, that motion must be filed before the 20 year limitation, or your claim will be forever barred.

There is also a separate statute of limitations dealing with child support collections. Under sec. 893.415 of the Wisconsin Statutes, an action must be commenced within 20 years after the youngest child for whom the support was ordered under the judgment or order reaches the age of 18, or, if the child is enrolled full-time in high school or its’ equivalent, reaches the age of 19. This is the only exception to the general rule that you must enforce a judgment under. Sec. 893.40 within 20 years from the date of the judgment or the claim would be forever barred.

If you have questions about enforcing your divorce judgment, contact the family law attorneys at Karp & Iancu, S.C. for  an initial consultation.

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