Divorce in Wisconsin is referred to as Dissolution of Marriage.
To file for divorce or legal separation in Wisconsin either of the parties must be a bona fide resident of the state for at least six months prior to filing, and a bona fide resident of the county in which the action is brought for at least 30 days prior to filing
To file for an annulment or affirmance of marriage, one of the parties must have been a bona fide resident of the county in which the action is brought for at least 30 days prior to filing, unless the marriage was contracted in Wisconsin within one year prior to the commencement of the action.
The Petitioner (filing party) may file a Petition for Divorce in the circuit court. The Respondent (non-filing party) has 20 days to file a Response or Counter-Claim after being served.
Generally, an action for divorce or legal separation may not be brought to final hearing or trial before 120 days have passed since service of the summons and Petition on the Respondent, or filing of a Joint Petition.
This "waiting period" may be waived by an order of the court, after consideration of the recommendation of a circuit court commissioner, directing an immediate hearing on the Petition for the protection of the health or safety of either of the parties or of any child of the marriage or for other approved emergency reasons.
Suspension of Proceedings for Possible Reconciliation:
While an action for divorce or legal separation is pending, if both parties stipulate in writing that they desire to attempt a reconciliation, the court may enter an order suspending any and all orders and proceedings for a time period, not to exceed 90 days, that the court deems advisable to permit the parties to attempt a reconciliation without prejudice to their respective rights.
During the suspension period, the parties may resume living together as husband and wife and their acts and conduct do not constitute an admission that the marriage is not irretrievably broken or a waiver of the ground that the parties have voluntarily lived apart continuously for 12 months or more immediately prior to the commencement of the action.
Suspension may be revoked upon the motion of either party by an order of the court. If the parties reconcile, the court shall dismiss the action that was pending. If the parties have not reconciled after the period of suspension, the action shall proceed as though no reconciliation was attempted.
Upon granting a divorce, the court shall allow either spouse, upon request, to resume a former legal surname, if any; with the exception of a known sex offender.
The Wisconsin Legislature has determined that it is in the interests of its citizens to establish and provide the parameters for a legal status of domestic partnership. The legal status of domestic partnership is not substantially similar to that of marriage.
Statute defines a domestic partner as an individual who has signed and filed a declaration of domestic partnership in the office of the register of deeds of the county in which he/she resides. A domestic partnership refers to the legal relationship that is formed between two individuals as described by law.
Criteria for forming a domestic partnership:
Two individuals may form a domestic partnership if they satisfy all of the following criteria:
Terminating a Domestic Partnership:
A domestic partner may terminate the domestic partnership by filing a completed Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership form with the county clerk who issued the Declaration of Domestic Partnership and paying the applicable fee. The notice must be signed by one or both domestic partners and notarized.
If the notice is signed by only one of the domestic partners, that individual must also file and affidavit with the county clerk stating either of the following:
Upon receiving a completed, signed, and notarized Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership, the affidavit if required, and the fee, the county clerk shall issue a Certificate of Termination of Domestic Partnership to the filing domestic partner. The domestic partner shall submit the Certificate of Termination of Domestic Partnership to the register of deeds of the county in which the Declaration of Domestic Partnership is recorded. The register of deeds shall record the certificate and forward the original to the state registrar of vital statistics.
Service by Publication:
If a domestic partner who is seeking termination of the partnership is unable to find the other domestic partner after making reasonable efforts, he/she may provide notice by publication in a newspaper of general circulation in the county in which the residence most recently shared by the domestic partners is located. The notice does not need to be published more than once.
The termination of a domestic partnership is effective 90 days after the Certificate of Termination of Domestic Partnership is recorded. However, if a party to a domestic partnership enters into a marriage that is recognized as valid in Wisconsin, the domestic partnership is automatically terminated on the date of the marriage.
In Wisconsin, there are only two grounds for divorce, both no-fault:
If both the parties have stated by Petition or otherwise under oath or affirmation that the marital relationship is broken, the court, after hearing, shall make a finding that the marital relationship is broken.
The court shall make a finding that the marriage is irretrievably broken, after hearing, if either of the following occurs:
If the parties have not voluntarily lived apart for at least 12 months immediately prior to commencement of the action and only one of the parties has stated under oath or affirmation that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the court shall consider all relevant factors, including the circumstances that gave rise to the filing of the Petition and the prospect of reconciliation, and proceed as follows:
If the matter is continued, the court may suggest that the parties seek counseling, and at the request of either party, or on its own motion, may order counseling. At the adjourned hearing if either party states under oath or affirmation that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the court shall proceed to making a finding on whether or not this is true.
A court may annul a marriage upon any of the following grounds:
Legally Prohibited/Void Marriages:
A judicial proceeding is required to annul a marriage. A marriage may not be annulled after the death of a party to the marriage.
If the validity of a marriage is denied or doubted by either of the parties, the other party may commence an action to affirm the marriage. The judgment in an action to affirm marriage shall declare the marriage valid or annul the marriage, and is conclusive upon all persons concerned.
Upon every judgment of annulment, divorce, or legal separation, the court shall divide the property of the parties. Wisconsin is a community property state. This means that all marital property should be divided 50/50, and separate property shall remain in the ownership of each spouse.
The parties in an action for an annulment, divorce, or legal separation may, subject to the approval of the court, stipulate for a division of property, in case a divorce or legal separation is granted or a marriage annulled.
A court may not approve a stipulation for a division of property that assigns substantially all of the property to one of the parties in the action if the other party in the action is in the process of applying for medical assistance, or if the court determines that it can be reasonably anticipated that the other party in the action will apply for medical assistance within 30 months of the stipulation.
Separate property, which is not subject to community property division, is defined by statute as any property shown to have been acquired by either party prior to or during the course of the marriage in any of the following ways:
If the court finds that refusal to divide separate property will create a hardship on the other party, or on the children of the marriage, then the court may divest the party of that property in a fair and equitable manner.
Additionally, the court may alter its decision to divide marital property in a 50/50 manner after consideration of all of the following factors:
Upon a judgment of annulment, divorce, or legal separation, the court may grant an order requiring maintenance payments to either party for a limited or indefinite length of time after considering the following criteria:
The parties in an action for an annulment, divorce, or legal separation may, subject to the approval of the court, stipulate for the support of children, or for legal custody and physical placement, in case a divorce or legal separation is granted or a marriage annulled.
During the pendency of an action affecting the family in which a minor child is involved and in which the court determines that it is appropriate and in the best interest of the child, the court, on its own motion, may order the parties to attend a program specified by the court concerning the effects on a child of a dissolution of marriage as a condition to the granting of a final judgment or order in the action affecting the family.
If the court order the parties to attend a program and there is evidence that one or both of the parties have engaged in inter-spousal battery or domestic abuse, the court may not require the parties to attend the program together or at the same time.
The program shall be educational rather than therapeutic and may not exceed a total of four hours in length. The parties shall be responsible for the cost, if any, of attendance at the program. The court may specifically assign responsibility for payment of any cost. No facts or information obtained in the course of the program, and no report resulting from the program, is admissible in any action or proceeding.
Custody, Placement, and Visitation:
In rendering a judgment of annulment, divorce, or legal separation, the court shall make provisions that it deems just and reasonable, concerning the legal custody and physical placement of any minor child of the parties.
A party seeking sole or joint legal custody or periods of physical placement shall file a parenting plan if the following is true:
A parenting plan should address the following issues:
When determining legal custody and periods of physical placement, the court may not prefer one parent over the other on the basis of the sex or race of the parent. The court shall consider all facts relevant to the best interest of the child, including the following factors:
The court, generally, will give preference to joint legal custody. The court may award sole legal custody, however, if it finds that doing so is in the child's best interest and that either both parties agree to sole legal custody with the same party, or the parties do not agree to sole legal custody with the same party, but at least one party requests sole legal custody and the court specifically finds any of the following:
Evidence that either party engaged in child and/or spousal abuse and/or domestic abuse creates the presumption that the parties will not be able to cooperate in the required future decision making.
The court will not give sole legal custody to a parent who refuses to cooperate with the other parent if the court finds that the refusal to cooperate is unreasonable.
In determining the allocation of periods of physical placement, the court shall set a placement schedule that allows the child to have regularly occurring, meaningful periods of physical placement with each parent and that maximizes the amount of time the child may spend with each parent, taking into account geographic separation and accommodations for different households.
A child is entitled to periods of physical placement with both parents unless, after a hearing, the court finds that physical placement with a parent would endanger the child's physical, mental or emotional health. No court may deny periods of physical placement for failure to meet, or grant periods of physical placement for meeting, any financial obligation to the child, or to the former spouse.
During the pendency of a divorce action, the court may order the parties to attend a class that is approved by the court and that addresses such issues as child development, family dynamics, how parental separation affects a child's development, and what parents can do to make raising a child in a separated situation less stressful for the child.
The court may not require the parties to attend a parenting class as a condition to the granting of the final judgment or order in the divorce action. However, it may refuse to hear a custody or physical placement motion of a party who refuses to attend a court-ordered parenting class.
When the court approves a stipulation or enters a judgment for child support in an action for an annulment, divorce, or legal separation, the court shall do all of the following:
In determining child support payments, the court may consider all relevant information or other information relevant to the parent's earning capacity, including information reported to the department or the county child support agency.
The court shall determine child support payments by using the percentage standard established by the department which uses a Flat Percentage of Income Model. The department shall promulgate rules that provide a standard for courts to use in determining a child support obligation based upon a percentage of the gross income and assets of either or both parents. The rules shall provide for consideration of the income of each parent and the amount of physical placement with each parent in determining a child support obligation in cases in which a child has substantial periods of physical placement with each parent.
The current percentages are as follows:
Upon request by a party, the court may modify the amount of child support payments determined under the percentage standard established by the department if the court finds by the greater weight of the credible evidence that use of the percentage standard is unfair to the child or to any parties. The court will first consider the following factors:
In addition to ordering child support for a child, the court shall specifically assign responsibility for and direct the manner of payment of the child's health care expenses.
In assigning responsibility for a child's health care expenses, the court shall consider whether a child is covered under a parent's health insurance policy or plan at the time the court approves a stipulation for child support, or enters a judgment of annulment, divorce, or legal separation; the availability of health insurance to each parent through an employer or other organization; the extent of coverage available to a child; and the costs to the parent for the coverage of the child.
The parties in an action for an annulment, divorce, or legal separation may, subject to the approval of the court, stipulate for periodic family support payments, in case a divorce or legal separation is granted or a marriage annulled.
The court may make a financial order designated as family support as a substitute for child support orders and maintenance orders. A party ordered to pay family support shall pay simple interest at the rate of 1% per month on any amount in arrears that is equal to or greater than the amount of child support due in one month.
If the party no longer has a current obligation to pay child support, interest at the rate of 1% per month shall accrue on the total amount of child support in arrears, if any.
A court may not approve a stipulation for expressing child support or family support as a percentage of the payer's income unless all of the following apply:
Grounds for legal separation are the same as those for divorce.
When a party requests a legal separation rather than a divorce, the court shall grant a judgment of legal separation unless the other party requests a divorce, in which case the court shall hear and determine which judgment shall be granted.
A judgment of legal separation provides that, if reconciliation occurs at any time after the judgment, the parties may apply for a revocation of the judgment.
The court may convert the judgment of legal separation to a judgment of divorce, if both parties file a motion by stipulation, and at least one year has passed since the entry of the judgment of legal separation.
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