Wisconsin Divorce Law Statutes

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When getting a divorce in Wisconsin, it is important to understand the state's divorce statutes, particularly if you and your spouse do not agree on the terms of the divorce. Divorcing couples may come to their own agreement for property division, spousal maintenance, child custody and support. However, when the couple cannot agree, they will attend a trial to have the court decide the issues for them.

Divorce Overview

You may only file for divorce in Wisconsin if you or your spouse have lived in the state for at least six months and in the particular county where you intend to file for 30 days. Wisconsin is a pure no-fault state, meaning that neither spouse is blamed for the divorce. Instead, at least one spouse must be able to testify that the marriage is irretrievably broken and there is no chance for reconciliation. After filing for divorce, Wisconsin has a 120-day waiting period before the divorce will be finalized and neither spouse is permitted to remarry until six months after the divorce is final.

Property Division

Wisconsin is a community property state, meaning that most property acquired during the marriage is equally owned by both spouses. However, Wisconsin courts distinguish community property from separate property, which is property owned before the marriage or received by gift or inheritance. Courts only divide community property, while separate property remains with the spouse who owns it. Courts will generally divide community property equally between spouses, but may divide it differently after considering additional factors, such as the length of the marriage, contributions each spouse made to the marriage and separate resources of each spouse.


If the couple can agree on the custody arrangement, they may submit a parenting plan to the court, which provides when the child will spend time with each parent and how decisions will be made for the child. If the parents cannot agree, the court may order the parents to attend mediation, in which a neutral third party will help the parents reach an agreement on custody. If the parents still cannot agree, it will be up to the court to determine the custody arrangement based on what is in the best interests of the child. To make this determination, the court may consider the wishes of the parents and child, amount and quality of time each parent has spent time with the child in the past, child's relationship with home, school, religion and community, and any other factors the court deems relevant.

Child Support

Wisconsin courts calculate child support payments based on the amount of time each parent spends with the child and the income and assets of either or both parents. If the child spends less than 25 percent of his time with one parent, the court will only consider that parent's income in the calculation of child support. However, if the child spends 25 percent or more of his time with both parents, known as shared placement, the court will consider the income of both parents. The court will apply a percentage to the income to be used for child support based on the number of children, starting with 17 percent for one child. If both parents' incomes are considered, the court will adjust the amount based on time spent with the child. The court may also adjust the support amount based on child care and education costs.

Spousal Maintenance

Up to the discretion of the court, a spouse may receive spousal maintenance for a limited amount of time or indefinitely. Spousal maintenance, also known as alimony, serves to help a spouse transition into single life or financial independence. To determine whether or not to award maintenance, as well as the duration and amount of the award, the court will consider a number of factors. For example, the court may consider the length of the marriage, earning capacity of the spouse seeking maintenance, age and health of each spouse, property division, and contributions to the other spouse's training, education or increased earning potential.


About the Author

Elizabeth Rayne earned her J.D. from Penn State University and has been practicing law since 2009, advising clients on issues ranging from employment law to nonprofit management. For two years, she served as a contributing editor for the "Vermont Environmental Monitor."

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