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Divorce in Wisconsin

Custody and Physical Placement: Frequently Asked Questions

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Wisconsin is a no-fault divorce state. Basically, this means that a court will grant a divorce as long as the parties testify that the marriage is “irretrievably” broken, and there is no chance for reconciliation. There are no requirements that either party accuse the other party of adultery, abandonment or other such fault. If either the husband or wife says that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the reason for divorce is established.

A divorce terminates a marriage. An annulment vacates a marriage that was never valid from the beginning. Many people incorrectly believe that a person can get an annulment if they have only been married for a short time. If the marriage was valid from the beginning, no matter how short the marriage, then you will need a divorce to end your marriage. A marriage can be annulled for a number of reasons including, but not limited to, lacking the capacity to consent to marriage, being under 16 at the time of the marriage or being 16 or 17 and not having permission to marry from your legal custodian or guardian.

A legal separation is different from a divorce. As in a divorce, a legal separation provides for a final division of property and debts, determination of child custody and placement, child support, maintenance (alimony) payments and other issues in a marriage. The difference between a legal separation and a divorce is that a legal separation does not end the marriage.

The parties in a legal separation may change the legal separation decree to a divorce decree by agreement of both parties and court order after one year from the date the legal separation was granted. Additionally, if only one party to a legal separation wants to end the marriage after one year of legal separation, that party may formally request the court change the legal separation decree to a divorce decree.

The statute requires that before a divorce can be started, at least one of the parties must have been a resident of the state for at least six months and a resident of the county for at least 30 days.

For a legal separation, one of the parties must have resided in the county for at least 30 days. Laws pertaining to custody and placement may also require that Wisconsin decline jurisdiction over those issues, even if Wisconsin has jurisdiction to decide a legal separation case.

The court cannot hold the final hearing, granting the divorce, until 120 days after the service of the summons and petition of divorce on the responding party. If an emergency occurs, the court may shorten the waiting period upon request to do so.

A divorce is final at the time of the final hearing, however, neither party is free to remarry for six months after the date the divorce is granted.

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The above is intended to provide general information only and is not a substitute for thorough and specific advice on an individual case. Depending on the complexity of your legal problem you may need to consult an attorney for advice or representation.

This was prepared by the staff of Legal Action of Wisconsin, Inc., on behalf of low-income clients and was funded by the Legal Services Corporation, Washington, D.C. 20005. Any opinions contained herein are those of the authors and should not be construed as those of the Legal Services Corporation.

Updated: August 2004

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