Grounds for Divorce in Wisconsin

Learn more about the no-fault divorce process in Wisconsin.

By , Attorney

Legal Grounds for Divorce Depend on Your State

Every court requires divorcing couples to provide a legal ground before the judge can terminate the marriage, which is a fancy way of saying that you need to tell the court exactly why the judge should approve the divorce. Some states continue to allow parties to use fault grounds for divorce, meaning you are blaming your relationship's failures on your spouse's marital misconduct. Although they vary by state, the most common reasons for a fault divorce include abandonment, physical or mental abuse, or adultery.

To make the divorce process less cumbersome for couples and judges, all states have adopted some form of no-fault divorce, which courts base on a couple's incompatibility or irreconcilable differences. Even better, some courts only require a couple to demonstrate that they have separated and lived apart for a certain amount of time to qualify for a divorce. Because the judge doesn't need to know what went wrong in your marriage, many couples can walk away from the no-fault divorce process without placing blame, which preserves what's left of the relationship.

No-Fault Divorce Is the Only Way to End a Marriage in Wisconsin

Wisconsin is purely a no-fault divorce state, meaning either spouse can request a divorce without going into the personal details of why the marriage didn't work. If both parties are willing to testify under oath that the relationship has suffered an irretrievable breakdown, the court will approve the divorce.

There are some situations when spouses disagree on the state of their marriage, and if that's the case, you may need to provide extra information to the court before a judge can finalize your divorce. For example, if your spouse disagrees that the marriage is irretrievably broken, but you can demonstrate that you and your spouse have lived separate and apart for at least one year, a judge will grant your request for a divorce.

On the other hand, if your spouse objects and you're still sharing a home, the court may delay (adjourn) your case for a short time and suggest that you and your spouse attend counseling. The delay can't be for more than 60 days, and if time passes and both spouses can't agree to reconcile, you can move forward with the divorce.

It may seem disheartening to think that your spouse's actions may delay the divorce process, but understand that aside from this adjournment, if you meet the other requirements for divorce, your spouse can't prevent you from ending your marriage.

Can I File for Divorce in Wisconsin If I Don't Live in the State?

No. Like many other states, Wisconsin has a residency requirement that the couple must meet before the court can hear the divorce case. To qualify for a divorce in Wisconsin, at least one spouse must be a resident of the state for a minimum of six months, and a resident of the county where the divorce will take place for at least three months before filing.

In addition to the residency requirements, the court will not schedule a hearing or trial until at least 120 days after the filing spouse serves the divorce documents on the other spouse. The court may waive this waiting period if the requesting party can demonstrate that there is a danger to the health and safety of either spouse or the couple's minor children.

Are There Any Alternatives to Divorce?

Yes. Couples have the option of asking the court for an annulment, which treats the marriage as though it never happened, or a legal separation, where the court decides the same major divorce issues, but in the end, the couple remains legally married.

Legal Separation

A legal separation is beneficial if the couples believes their marriage is irretrievably broken, but either want to remain legally married for medical, tax, or financial reasons or if they aren't sure the permanence of divorce is best for their family.

To qualify for a legal separation, the couple must:

  • testify that their marriage is irretrievably broken, and
  • meet the divorce residency requirements.

Once the couple demonstrates they meet the requirements for a legal separation, they can write a voluntary separation agreement, which is a legal document that details how the couple would like to handle the following issues:

If the couple can't agree, the court will decide the above issues for them. If one spouse requests a divorce, but the other would like a legal separation, the court will hold a hearing to determine what's best for the couple.

Although legal separation is often a band-aid that doesn't fix underlying marital problems, it may be the right decision for your family. If you reconcile after the court issues the final approval for separation, you can ask the judge to revoke the judgment, which restores your marriage. On the contrary, one year after the court approves your legal separation, either party can request that the judge convert it into a divorce.


An annulment is like a divorce in that it defines a person's marital status, but in the end, the court treats the legal relationship as though it never happened. There is a common misconception that short marriages qualify for an annulment, but quite the opposite, the court will only grant an annulment if the filing party can demonstrate any of the following:

  • either spouse lacked the capacity to enter the marriage either because of age, mental incapacity, the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • a party entered into the marriage due to fraud, duress, or force
  • impotency at the time of the marriage
  • either spouse was under the age of 16 at the time of the marriage
  • either spouse was 16 or 17 years old, but lacked parental permission, or
  • the law prohibited the marriage (bigamy).
If you have questions about separation, annulment, or divorce, contact a local family law attorney for advice.

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