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What is the Wisconsin Divorce Process?

by | Dec 14, 2017

What steps are taken during the divorce process in Wisconsin?

If you are initiating the divorce, the divorce process in Wisconsin typically involves the steps listed  below:

Find a Reputable Divorce Attorney

  1. Obtain a referral for a family law or divorce Ask for specific referrals to attorneys who are experienced and knowledgeable in divorce law.
  2. Schedule an appointment with a divorce attorney. You may want to interview more than one attorney to determine which attorney will best meet your divorce needs.
  3. Prepare questions and gather basic documents for your initial consultation (more about these documents later).
  4. Meet with an attorney for an initial consultation.
  5. When you decide to retain a particular attorney, you will pay a retainer to your attorney and sign a written retainer or legal services

Provide Requested Information to your Attorney

  1. Provide any additional requested information and documents to your attorney. Take other actions, as advised by your attorney.
  2. Your attorney will prepare a summons and petition for divorce. The petition will require your signature.
  3. After discussion with your attorney, a determination will be made whether a temporary hearing is necessary in your case. A temporary hearing is a hearing before a family court commissioner to decide temporary issues until the divorce is finalized. Issues that may be addressed at the temporary hearing include child support, maintenance, placement, allocation of debt, and/or attorney fee contribution. If it is deter- mined that a temporary hearing is needed in  your case, your attorney will prepare the necessary documents to schedule the hearing. Those documents  will then be filed with the clerk of court in the county where your divorce is filed, along with the summons and petition for divorce.
  4. After pleadings, formal written documents, have been filed and a temporary hearing date scheduled, the pleadings must be served on your spouse.

Your service options

  1. There are different ways to accomplish service. Your attorney will discuss your service options with you. You have ninety days after the filing of the summons and petition to serve the pleadings on your spouse. One sixty-day service extension may be granted by the court. If either party receives public assistance, a copy of the summons and petition must also be served on the county child-support agency.
  2. If you are the spouse served with divorce papers, the foregoing process will also apply to your situation. However, rather than filing a summons and petition for divorce, your attorney will prepare a response and counterclaim to the summons and petition, which is due twenty days after the service of the summons and petition. You may also request a temporary hearing if necessary in your case.
  3. Financial information must be provided to your attorney in advance of any temporary hearing. Information to be provided includes, but is not limited to, W-2s, tax returns, recent payroll stubs, your budget, a listing of all assets and liabilities, life insurance, and inherited and gifted property.
  4. Negotiations are generally conducted relative to the proposed terms of the temporary order on matters such as custody, placement, support, maintenance, payment of debts, and temporary possession of the family home. If you can reach a temporary agreement with your spouse, a stipulation setting forth the terms of your agreement will be drafted. If settlement cannot be reached on temporary issues, your attorney will likely prepare financial statements, maintenance and child-support calculations, and budgets for presentation at the temporary hearing.

Temporary hearing if no agreement is reached.

  1. A temporary hearing is held if you and your spouse cannot reach agreement.
  2. A temporary order is prepared by the family court commissioner, court, or one of the attorneys, approved as to form by the other attorney, and submitted to the court for filing.
  3. If you have minor children, you and your spouse must attend a parent education class, develop a parenting plan (if custody or placement is in dispute), and participate in mediation. Generally, in Wisconsin the is- sues of custody and placement must be resolved be- fore the court will address financial issues.
  4. Both parties will conduct discovery to obtain information regarding all relevant facts. Discovery is the obtaining of information from the other party which is necessary to settle or try a case. Discovery includes formal requests for information, as well as informal discovery, which is merely a request from one attorney to the other for documents and information.
  5. Valuations of all assets will be obtained, including real estate, retirement accounts, vehicles, investments, and business valuations. Sometimes it is necessary to hire appraisers and/or experts.

Review facts, strategy and develop a proposal for settlement.

  1. You will confer with your attorney to review facts, identify issues, and assess the strengths and weaknesses of your case. With the assistance of your attorney, you will review strategy and develop a proposal for settlement.
  2. You and your spouse, with the support of your attorneys, will attempt to reach agreement through written proposals, mediation, settlement conferences, or other alternative dispute resolution.
  3. If you and your spouse reach an agreement on all is- sues, one of the attorneys will prepare a marital settlement agreement, which is signed and approved by you and your spouse and your children’s guardian ad litem, if applicable. A guardian ad litem is an attorney appointed to represent the best interests of  your children if custody or placement is contested during the divorce.
  4. The marital settlement agreement and updated financial disclosure statements are filed with the court.
  5. The court holds a brief, final hearing called a default hearing. You and your spouse will testify that you understand and agree with the terms of the marital settlement agreement; state that the marriage is irretrievably broken; testify that your financial statement correctly identifies all income, assets, and liabilities; and provide the court with basic information about the marriage.

Judgment is entered and divorce is granted.

  1. Judgment is entered, and divorce is granted. Each party is advised that he or she cannot remarry for a period of six months subsequent to the granting of the divorce.
  2. Your attorney completes necessary orders and drafts documents to implement the terms of the divorce. These orders and documents will address transfer of real estate, retirement accounts, vehicles, implementation of child support, and more.
  3. If your case is not resolved by a default divorce, your case will proceed to further litigation and potentially trial.
  4. Additional discovery will probably be completed by the attorneys, including depositions, experts’ analyses, valuations, vocational rehabilitation examinations, and more.
  5. At this stage, because your case is in a trial posture, you may be compelled to pay your attorney an additional retainer to fund the work needed to prepare for trial and trial itself. You will be charged for costs, such as any transcript fees, witness fees, service fees, and expert-witness
  6. If agreement has been reached on some issues, but not all, one of the attorneys will prepare a partial marital settlement agreement on agreed All disputed issues are set for trial.

Work with your attorney to prepare your case for divorce.

  1. You will work hand-in-hand with your attorney to prepare your case for divorce.
  2. Your attorney prepares witnesses, drafts trial exhibits, conducts legal research on contested issues, drafts pretrial motions with supporting affidavits, prepares direct and cross-examination of witnesses, prepares  an opening statement, drafts subpoenas of witnesses, prepares a closing argument and suggestions to the court, and more.
  3. Prior to trial, you will meet with your attorney on one or more occasions to prepare for trial and your trial testimony.
  4. The court may order mediation or arbitration in an attempt to resolve all differences prior to your trial actually taking place. Alternative dispute resolution can take place at any time during the divorce process.
  5. Either pre- or posttrial, the court may order each party to file a brief to address the law relative to disputed issues.

Trial is held, each party provides testimony and exhibits.

  1. Trial is held. Each party provides testimony and exhibits setting forth his or her position relative to any disputed issues. Attorneys also generally make open- ing and closing statements. There are no jury trials in divorce actions in Wisconsin
  2. The judge renders his or her decison.
  3. One attorney, generally the petitioner’s attorney, prepares the findings of fact, conclusions of law, and judgment of divorce and submits it to the other attorney for approval as to form.
  4. The findings of fact, conclusions of law, and judgment of divorce is then submitted to the court for its signature. This is the pleading that sets forth all of the terms of your divorce.
  5. Your attorney completes necessary orders and documents to implement the terms of the divorce. These orders and documents cover transfers of real estate, retirement accounts, closing of credit cards, transfer of title, child support, maintenance payments, and more.

Schedule an appointment with Linda Vanden Heuvel, a top divorce attorney who wrote the book on divorce laws in Wisconsin!  Vanden Heuvel & Dineen, S.C. has 6 locations across southeastern Wisconsin.


Written by Linda Vanden Heuvel

Linda is a skilled litigator but also has the ability to negotiate favorable settlements on behalf of her clients. She saves her clients time, money, and emotional distress through settlement negotiations.
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