Wisconsin Divorce Basics

Learn the basics of a divorce, or dissolution of marriage, in Wisconsin.

The only ground for divorce in Wisconsin is a statement that there's been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. The spouses may submit statements under oath stating that there is an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, or if the couple has lived separate and apart for at least a year, then the court will find that the marriage is irretrievably broken even without a statement.

Grounds for Divorce

The only ground for divorce in Wisconsin is a statement that there's been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. The spouses may submit statements under oath stating that there is an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, or if the couple has lived separate and apart for at least a year, then the court will find that the marriage is irretrievably broken even without a statement.

Residency Requirement and Waiting Period  

A couple can file for divorce in Wisconsin if at least one spouse has been a resident of the state for at least six months, and a resident of the county where the divorce is filed for at least three months, before the initial filing for divorce.

There is a mandatory 120-day waiting period after the initial filing before the parties will be heard at a court hearing or trial. However, if the court determines that there is an emergency (the health or safety of the parties or any children involved), then it may bypass the 120-day waiting period.

Property Division

Wisconsin is a community property state, so at divorce, marital property will be divided equally between the two spouses. The court has the discretion to alter the distribution based on certain factors: each party’s background and earning capacity, the existence of any premarital agreements, the spouses’ contribution to each other’s education and training, any award of alimony, and the parties’ mental and physical health.

See, Wisconsin Divorce: Dividing Property for more detailed information.

Alimony                    

When considering a request for alimony, a judge evaluates whether the party requesting the alimony actually needs the support and whether the other spouse has the resources to pay. Alimony may be awarded if there was an agreement between the parties before or during the marriage, particularly if one spouse has made contributions to the other based on an agreement for future support.

See, Understanding and Calculating Alimony in Wisconsin, to learn more.

Child Support

In Wisconsin, parents can agree on the amount of support that one parent pays to the other each month. If the court has to make a ruling on the child support amount,  it looks at the child's needs and the parents’ financial resources, the cost of childcare if the primary caregiver works outside of the home, and even the desirability of the primary caregiver as a fulltime parent.

The court may calculate child support to be a fixed amount every month, or if it is appropriate, the support amount may be a percentage of the paying parent’s income. For example, instead of paying $500 a month, the payment would be 10% of the parent's monthly income, and the support may increase or decrease each month. For more information on Wisconsin’s child support program, you can visit the website for the   Department of Children and Families.

Child Custody

Parents can work out a custody agreement between themselves, or if there is a disagreement, they can attend mediation provided by the court. If the parents come to an agreement on custody and visitation, then they must file a parenting plan with the court. Or, if the parents continue to disagree on custody issues in mediation, each parent must file a proposed parenting plan within 60 days--a parent who fails to do that may give up the right to object to the other party’s parenting plan.    

Each parent's proposed parenting plan must include information on the child’s medical, educational, and financial needs, a schedule for holidays and summer, the parent’s work schedule and what type of custody or physical placement the parent is seeking. When determining custody or physical placement of a child, the court will consider the parents’ wishes, the quality time that each parent has spent with the child, any evidence of abuse, an dthe child’s adjustment to each home and community, among other factors that are in the best interests of the child. If the child is old enough, the court may take the child's preferences into account.

Generally, once there is a final order for child custody, a judge will not modify the order within the first two years unless a parent can show that the other parent is physically or emotionally harming the child. However, after the two years have passed, either parent can ask the court for a modification of child custody if there is a substantial change in circumstances and the modification would be in the best interest of the child.

See, Child Custody in Wisconsin: The Best Interests of the Child, to learn more about this standard and how it affect custody cases in Wisconsin.

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