Guide to divorce in Wisconsin

How to File for Divorce in Wisconsin: A Step-by-Step Guide

September 14, 2023 Divorce

A Guide Through the Divorce Process in Wisconsin

Deciding to file for divorce can be an emotionally challenging decision. The process of initiating divorce proceedings and handling the associated paperwork can also be overwhelming. In this guide, we aim to demystify the process and provide you with a clear step-by-step overview of how to file for divorce in Wisconsin. Whether you choose to represent yourself or hire an attorney, understanding these steps is essential.

Step One: Preparing to File for Divorce

Before diving into the divorce process, there are several crucial preparations you should undertake:

  1. Determine Eligibility: To file for divorce in Wisconsin, you or your spouse must meet specific residency requirements:
  • You (or your spouse) must have been a resident of Wisconsin for at least six months before filing for divorce.
  • You (or your spouse) must have been a resident of the county where you plan to file for divorce for at least 30 days before initiating the divorce proceedings.
  • Marital validity: Your marriage is eligible for divorce in Wisconsin if it’s legally recognized in the place where you were married.
  1. Gather Essential Information: Collect basic demographic information for both you and your spouse, including addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, marriage date and location, previous divorce details (if applicable), and employer information.
  1. Assemble Relevant Paperwork: Compile any pertinent documents that may be needed early in the divorce process, such as prenuptial or postnuptial agreements and written agreements regarding support, child custody, property division, etc. Note that you don’t need to provide a copy of your marriage license.
  1. Financial Documentation: While not required before filing, it’s wise to start gathering financial records related to income and property. These documents can include:
  • Three years of tax returns
  • Six weeks of paystubs
  • Monthly statements for financial accounts
  • Monthly statements for outstanding debts
  • Quarterly statements for retirement accounts
  • Deed and mortgage information for real estate

Step Two: Hiring an Attorney

Consider hiring an attorney to assist with your divorce, especially if your case involves complex elements. You might need an attorney if:

  • You have children.
  • You own a business.
  • There are contentious issues you and your spouse can’t resolve amicably.
  • You have unique assets or income sources.
  • You lack information about your family’s finances or your spouse’s income.
  • You lack the time, energy, or confidence to navigate the divorce process independently.

However, you may not require an attorney if:

  • You have no children.
  • The divorce involves straightforward issues and assets.
  • You have a cooperative relationship with your spouse and can reach agreements independently.

Step Three: Preparing for Your Attorney Consultation

Before your consultation with an attorney, follow these steps:

  • Provide basic information about yourself and your spouse to check for conflicts of interest.
  • Make a list of questions to ask the attorney.
  • Be prepared to discuss your case, including details like your county of residence, marriage duration, living arrangements, children, goals for custody, asset division, employment, real estate ownership, and any unique circumstances.

Step Four: Filing the Divorce

Your divorce attorney will prepare the necessary forms, and you’ll have the opportunity to review and approve them before filing. After filing, these documents become part of the public record. If your spouse cooperates, they will acknowledge receipt of the divorce papers with an Affidavit. If not, the papers will be formally served by a Sheriff’s deputy or process server, arranged by your attorney. For more details on the cost of filing and serving divorce papers, click HERE.

Step Five: Strategizing the Divorce

After filing, you and your attorney will develop a strategy to guide your case toward resolution. Strategies may include:

  • Temporary Orders: Establishing rules for managing finances, property, and child custody during the divorce process.
  • Discovery: Requesting information and documents from the opposing party.
  • Negotiations: Engaging in discussions to reach agreements on disputed issues.
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution: Exploring mediation or arbitration to resolve conflicts outside of court.

Step Six: Finalizing the Divorce

In Wisconsin, divorce finalization takes a minimum of 120 days from the date your spouse is served with the divorce papers. This waiting period cannot typically be shortened. Several factors can influence the pace of your divorce, including the county of filing, assigned judge, attorney responsiveness, cooperation between parties, and case complexity. While some divorces may take over two years, most are finalized within one year.

Filing for divorce can be daunting, but knowing what to expect can ease the process. To discuss your specific case and better understand how these steps apply to you, consult with an experienced divorce lawyer. They can provide guidance and help navigate the legal complexities of divorce in Wisconsin.