Divorce is almost never easy, but it doesn't have to be ugly and expensive. If you and your spouse can agree on how you'll deal with all of the matters related to finances and children, you'll be able to get an uncontested divorce in Wisconsin. That way, you'll save the time and expense of a divorce trial.
Unlike some states, Wisconsin doesn't have a separate, expedited procedure for uncontested divorce. However, the state does allow you and your spouse to file a joint divorce petition, which saves some steps in the traditional process of filing for divorce in Wisconsin. And if you have already reached a marital settlement agreement by the time you file the joint petition, you can obtain a final divorce judgment as soon as the law allows.
This article provides a general overview of the process and requirements for getting an uncontested divorce in Wisconsin.
Before you may file for any type of divorce in Wisconsin, either you or your spouse must have resided in the state for at least the previous six months and in the county where you file for at least the previous 30 days. (Wis. Stat. § 767.301 (2021).)
In order to qualify for an uncontested divorce in Wisconsin, you and your spouse must reach a written settlement agreement (sometimes referred to as a "stipulation") on all of the issues related to your divorce, including:
You can file a divorce petition (even a joint petition) if you haven't yet managed to agree on all of these issues. Then, you and your spouse can try to reach a settlement on your own or with professional help from a mediator and/or lawyers and other experts (such as experts on dividing pensions). In the meantime, you could ask the court for temporary orders dealing with things like support and use of the family home. In Wisconsin, you can also request court-ordered mediation on custody after you file for divorce, which would typically be less expensive than private mediation. (Learn more about the cost of divorce mediation.)
Of course, all of that could add to the time and expense of getting your divorce. The quickest and least-expensive route to uncontested divorce in Wisconsin is to reach a comprehensive agreement with your spouse before you file a joint divorce petition. Many couples who go this route are able to complete their divorce without hiring lawyers (though it might be a good idea to have an attorney review your settlement agreement).
To file an uncontested joint petition for divorce, you'll need to get the proper forms and complete them together with your spouse. The Wisconsin court system has an online family law forms assistant that will take you through most of the forms you'll need. (You can get to the forms assistant, along with other divorce information and resources, on the Wisconsin courts self-help law center.) Or you may use a private online divorce service that will complete all of the required forms for you after you've answered a questionnaire.
The joint petition for divorce has two separate versions for couples with and without minor children. This form will ask you for basic information about both spouses, your current and previous marriages, and any children you have.
You'll need to attach the appropriate form for your marital settlement agreement, depending on whether you have children. These forms require you to fill in detailed information about your property (including real estate, retirement accounts, life insurance, cars, and other personal property) and debts, along with your agreements on who will keep each item of property and who will be responsible for each debts.
If you have children, you must spell out your agreements about legal and physical custody, as well as payment of child support, health insurance, uninsured health care expenses, and life insurance for their benefit. You may attach a detailed parenting plan and other supplemental information.
Other required forms include financial disclosure statements, a vital statistics form, and a draft of the form that will be signed to make the divorce final ("Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Judgment").
Some counties in Wisconsin may have additional requirements (such as the completion of a parenting program if you have minor children), so it's a good idea to check with your local court clerk to verify that you understand the requirements for your county.
All counties in Wisconsin have an e-filing system for submitting your divorce forms. The state has been phasing in mandatory use of the e-filing system, so you should check with your local court clerk to see if you may file in the traditional way—by bringing in your forms to the courthouse. (Wis. Stat. § 801.18 (2021).)
Either way, you'll need to pay the filing fee and other court fees. As of April 2021, the total Wisconsin court fees when filing for divorce are $184.50, plus an additional $10 if there's a request for alimony or child support and $20 for e-filing. Of course, you and your spouse may split the fees when you're filing a joint petition.
If you can't afford to pay the court fees, you may request a waiver. You can get the form on the Wisconsin courts website and file it electronically with all of the other divorce forms.
Wisconsin law requires a waiting period of 120 days after you file the divorce petition before the court may finalize your divorce. The only exception is an emergency that requires an immediate hearing to protect the health or safety of either spouse or their child, but that's unlikely to come into play in an uncontested divorce. (Wis. Stat. § 767.335 (2021).)
Generally, the court will schedule a hearing on your divorce to take place once the waiting period is over. At the hearing, the judge or court commissioner will ensure that both you and your spouse agree your marriage is "irretrievably broken" (the only legal reason, or "ground," for divorce in Wisconsin) and will review the terms of your settlement agreement. If your paperwork is complete and approved, the judge or commissioner will sign the Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Judgment. At that point, your divorce is final. However, you must file the signed judgment with the court within 30 days after the hearing.
Also, it's important to note that even though your divorce is final once the judgment is signed, it's illegal in Wisconsin for you or your former spouse to remarry until six months after then. (Wis. Stat. § 767.35 (2021).)