A complex contested divorce lawsuit can result in serious stress and emotional trauma, but it does not have to be that way. While agreeing on the terms of a divorce with a soon-to-be former spouse may not be easy, many spouses do so all the time. That is why many states, including Wisconsin, provide mechanisms for couples to apply for easy uncontested divorces.
This article will explain the nature of an uncontested divorce and Wisconsin uncontested divorce law. If you still have any questions after reading this article or would like to file for an uncontested divorce, you should consult with an experienced divorce attorney.
Uncontested Divorce in Wisconsin Defined
Like many states, Wisconsin provides a mechanism for couples to seek an uncontested divorce rather than move through the standard divorce process. In Wisconsin, this mechanism is known as a court-approved stipulation.1 A stipulation is a legal term that simply means agreement.
When a couple seeks a divorce by stipulation, they submit a legally-binding marital settlement agreement to the court for approval. While the court may make further inquiries if it sees some need to do so,2 many courts will simply approve the stipulation as soon as legally possible and grant a divorce under the terms that the parties agreed to. This process, therefore, speeds up the divorce process and removes the expenses associated with lengthy court battles.
Requirements for Seeking a Wisconsin Uncontested Divorce
To file for uncontested divorce in Wisconsin, the filing spouses must meet certain requirements. Any questions about these requirements can be answered by an experienced Wisconsin divorce attorney or family lawyer.
The first requirement for seeking an uncontested divorce in Wisconsin is the Wisconsin residency requirement. To file for divorce in Wisconsin, at least one of the parties must have lived within the state of Wisconsin for at least six months prior to the filing. Note, however, that couples may file for legal separation after living within the state for 30 days. Unlike a divorce, however, legal separation does not end a marriage.
The second requirement that couples must meet prior to filing for an uncontested divorce is the breakdown of the marriage. Unlike many states that have at-fault grounds for divorce such as adultery or cruelty, Wisconsin is a no-fault state. To apply for divorce in Wisconsin, the spouses seeking a divorce must simply state under oath that the marital relationship is irretrievably broken and cannot be continued.
Finally, divorce by stipulation can only be accomplished by a stipulation: an agreement on the terms of the divorce. The stipulation should take the form of a legally-binding marital separation agreement, which is described in more detail below.
On Marital Separation Agreements
When spouses sit down to discuss the terms of their divorce, it is often beneficial for the spouses to sign a legal separation agreement. A separation agreement is NOT a formal divorce. A separation agreement is a contract between spouses that lays out their agreement and terms of their separation. A fully completed separation agreement can serve as the basis for adivorce by stipulation, and may be helpful in filling out the required divorce paperwork. Prior to signing any separation agreement (or any contract with your spouse), you should have an experienced attorney review the terms of the contract for you.
Under Wisconsin law, a marital separation agreement can account for many different aspects of a divorce settlement including:
- A division of marital property;
- Maintenance payments;
- Child support;
- Periodic family support payments; and/or
- Legal custody and physical placement of children.
A marital separation agreement can include provisions for any of the above issues, but a truly uncontested divorce will address all of those issues. If a marital support agreement does not address an issue, a judge will need to hear evidence and argument on that issue and make a ruling.
Wisconsin has strict rules for the approval of marital support agreements, and certain rules must be followed. First, child and family support payment agreements must adhere to the state child support guidelines contained within the Wisconsin statutes.3 Additionally, Wisconsin law does not favor the expression of support payments as a percentage of the payor’s income. Finally, no property division stipulation will be approved that assigns all property to one party where the other party is receiving state-provided medical assistance (such as Medicaid).
The Process for Filing for an Uncontested Divorce in Wisconsin
Once you have determined which court is the proper court for filing, the general flow of the process is follows:
- This step is optional, but you should begin by consulting a family law attorney who can either answer any questions that you may have, or who can help you file your divorce paperwork properly.
- You and your spouse will then need to sit down together and execute a marital separation agreement describing the terms of your divorce. You and your spouse should also decide whether you will file for divorce separately or jointly.
- Next, you will need to fill out the required divorce forms. Fortunately, Wisconsin’s Courts System website provides assistance to people searching for divorce forms.4 Your local courthouse’s employees can also provide assistance with filing.
- File the appropriate paperwork with the Circuit Court in the county where you meet the residency requirement and then deliver (or serve) copies of the divorce paperwork to your spouse. You will then need to set a date for a hearing in front of a judge.
- Wait. By law, Wisconsin requires that the spouses wait at least 120 days after service of the divorce papers on your spouse (or 120 days after a joint filing).
- Finally, arrive early to your hearing with your divorce paperwork and be polite. After the hearing, the court will grant a judgment of divorce.
For additional information about divorce in Wisconsin, please see the Wisconsin courts system’s website. Wisconsin’s courts have published a helpful guide to divorces in general that outlines basic steps to file for divorce, lists the court-related offices that deal with divorce matters, and answers some basic legal questions about Wisconsin divorce law.5
Note: This article is not legal advice. Please consult a lawyer for your specific situation.
- See Wisconsin Statutes § 767.34.
- SeeHottenroth v. Hetsko, 727 N.W.2d 38 (Wis. Ct. App. 2006).
- SeeWisconsin Statutes § 767.511.