Divorce is never easy, but it doesn't have to be ugly. For spouses who can't stand to live together but can still tolerate each other, an uncontested divorce is a cheaper and typically faster option to traditional divorces in Wisconsin.
This article provides a general overview of the process of obtaining an uncontested divorce in Wisconsin. If, after reading this article, you still have questions about getting an uncontested divorce, you should contact a local family law attorney for advice.
Wisconsin allows a simplified process for divorces for spouses that can agree on all major issues in the divorce, which the law refers to as an uncontested divorce. If you disagree with your spouse on any critical matter, the court will label your case as “contested,” which will take longer and cost more money than the uncontested process.
It's common for couples to worry about the cost of divorce in Wisconsin. Uncontested divorces are a faster option available to couples with or without children.
They are generally much less expensive than contested divorces because there's no need to hire experts, present testimony, or provide evidence to the court. Additionally, this simplified or summary divorce can save couples the stress associated with going to trial.
During a contested divorce, the court requires couples to attend one or more hearings where the judge will decide any unresolved divorce-related matters. In most cases, spouses will hire attorneys during the contested divorce process, which can cost significantly more than an uncontested divorce.
To qualify for the uncontested divorce process in Wisconsin, you and your spouse must agree on the following divorce-related issues before you file for divorce:
Spouses seeking an uncontested divorce in Wisconsin may file a joint petition for divorce—meaning you file the paperwork together. (Wis. Stat. § 767.215 (1)(a).) Wisconsin courts maintain an informative website for individuals who want to file for divorce without an attorney, complete with forms, and a Basic Guide to Divorce. Nevertheless, before commencing the divorce process, you or your spouse must have resided in Wisconsin for at least 6 months, and the county in which you are filing for divorce for at least 30 days. (Wis. Stat. § 767.301.) If you are a Wisconsin resident, your spouse does not need to reside in the state for you to obtain a Wisconsin divorce.
If you elect to file for divorce without the help of an attorney, you will be responsible for filing the correct documents in the proper court. In Wisconsin, the circuit courts handle all divorce proceedings. Each of Wisconsin's counties has at least one circuit court branch except for 6 counties, which share judges. Presently, Wisconsin has 249 circuit court judges, and the largest county, Milwaukee County, has 26 circuit judges.
You should file your paperwork in the county where you live. However, if you and your spouse live in different counties, you can file in either county.
The Wisconsin Judicial Branch maintains a comprehensive website with forms needed to complete an uncontested divorce. You can also find the forms in hard copy at your local circuit courthouse. If you decide to file a Joint Divorce Petition, you and your spouse will be joint petitioners. You must submit the following documents for a judge to grant your divorce:
Different counties have different requirements and may ask you to file forms in addition to those listed above. It is best to check with your local court clerk to verify that you've completed all the required forms for your county. After you submit your paperwork to the circuit court, the judge may or require you and your spouse to attend a hearing on your case. Regardless, in Wisconsin, the judge can't grant your divorce until at least 120 days after you submitted your divorce paperwork to the court (unless the court determines there is an emergency reason to hold an earlier hearing.) (Wis. Stat. § 767.335 (1)(2).)
If the court schedules a hearing, you must attend and confirm that you have lived in Wisconsin for at least 6 months. Additionally, the court will require you to state on the record your reason or “grounds” for the divorce. In Wisconsin, a no-fault divorce state, spouses only need to tell the court that the relationship has suffered an irretrievable breakdown, and there's no chance for reconciliation. (Wis. Stat. § 767.315 (a).) Lastly, the judge will ask you to explain and agree to the terms of the settlement agreement that you submitted to the court.
If your paperwork is complete and the court approves it, the judge will sign the Findings of Fact Conclusions of Law and Judgment and finalize your divorce. (Wis. Stat. § 767.35.) It's important to understand that in Wisconsin, neither spouse can remarry until 6 months after the judge signs the final divorce judgment. (Wis. Stat. § 765.03 (2).)
For more information on uncontested divorces in Wisconsin, see Wisconsin Statutes 767.301 et seq.