Wisconsin Uncontested Divorce
This information is an overview of the uncontested Wisconsin divorce filing process and a summary of the divorce papers that are typically filed with the family law or domestic relations clerk. This overview is not intended to be an exact step-by-step guide for those "do it yourself divorce" filers, due to the fact that many cases are unique and the overview presented here is often not the only method of obtaining an uncontested divorce in Wisconsin.
To file for divorce in Wisconsin, one of the spouses must be a resident of the state for six months and a resident of the county of filing for 30 days prior to starting the action. There is a 120-day waiting period after the service of summons or after the filing of a joint petition before any hearing on the divorce can be scheduled.
No-Fault is the only grounds for divorce in Wisconsin. This means an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage demonstrated by 1) a joint petition of divorce on these grounds; 2) living separate and apart for a year before filing; or 3) a court finding that there has been an irretrievable breakdown with no possible reconciliation.
Actions are filed in the Circuit Court/Family Court of the county.
The spouse initiating the action is the Petitioner; the spouse responding is the Respondent. When the petition is jointly filed, the spouses are called Co-Petitioners.
Irretrievable breakdown is the only ground for a legal separation, and the residency requirements are the same as those for divorce.
Wisconsin offers a simplified divorce, wherein both spouses file a joint petition, consent to the personal jurisdiction of the court and waive service of process. In all cases, a financial disclosure form must be filed. If children are involved, an official child support form must be filed with the petition. In cases where both spouses agree the marriage is broken and have agreed on all issues, the case may be brought before a family court commissioner.
When a couple are in agreement, they can complete jointly, either a Joint Petition without Minor Children, FA-4111, or a Joint Petition with Minor Children, FA-4110. In either case, the parties must also complete a Confidential Petition Addendum, GF-179, which gives the court confidential information about the spouses and their children.
If one spouse files individually, he or she must also complete, depending upon the situation, a Petition with Minor Children, FA-4108, or a Petition without Minor Children, FA-4109 and a Summons with Minor Children, FA-4104, or a Summons without Minor Children, FA-4105. A Confidential Petition Addendum, GF-179 must also be completed when one spouse files individually.
When one spouse files individually, the Petitioner may decide he or she needs a hearing to handle temporarily such issues a debt and asset allocation and in families with children child support and visitation. If so, the Petitioner must also complete these forms:
> An Order to Show Cause and Affidavit for Temporary Order with Minor Children, FA-4128, or
If, however, the couple reach an agreement on disputed issues at any time, they can file a Stipulation for Temporary Order, which reflects their consensus.
Five copies of the appropriate documents must be filed with the Clerk of the Courts, who assigns the action a number. The clerk then keeps the original and returns one copy of each to each of the spouses, one copy to the Family court Commissioner and one copy to the Child Support Agency, as the case may be.
When a couple does not file jointly, the following documents must be served on the Respondent spouse:
> The Summons, which gives the Respondent 20 days to file an answer;
If the Respondent agrees, the Petitioner may personally serve these papers upon him or her. In this case, the Respondent must sign an Admission of Service, FA-4119, which the Petitioner returns to the clerk. The action can then move along the simplified route.
If not, the Petitioner must use one of these ways to service process on the Respondent:
> Service by a friend or relative who is 18 or over, a resident of Wisconsin and not a party to the action, who then completes an Affidavit of Service, FA-4120, which is returned to the Clerk of Courts;
When the Respondent cannot be located or will not accept service, the Respondent, having exhausted all the above options, may serve process by Publication. After being given an Affidavit of Due Diligence/Not Found/Attempted Service stating that the Respondent cannot be found, the Petitioner may file the following:
> A Publication Affidavit of Mailing, FA-4123, which states that the Petitioner has also attempted to locate the missing Respondent by mail;
The Publication Summons can then be published in a newspaper in a municipality where the spouse lives or lived, once a week for three consecutive weeks. The Respondent is considered served on the first day of publication. The newspaper provides a document as proof of publication.
Upon receipt of service, the Respondent may file a Response and Counterclaim, FA-4113, in which he or she disputes or agrees with the allegations in the Petition. A Response and Counterclaim may signal the beginning of a contested divorce, which means the parties may continue to negotiate even as the action moves toward a trial.
If the action is not contested, the Petitioner (or parties who are filing jointly) must also prepare the following documents:
> A Marital Settlement Agreement with Minor Children, FA-4150, or
The Marital Settlement Agreements, with or without Minor Children, memorialize the resolution of issues such as the division and distribution of assets and liabilities and spousal support, and in the case of children, custody and support.
> A Proposed Marital Settlement Order with Minor Children, FA-4152 or
The Proposed Marital Settlement Orders are proposals for issues that might be in dispute.
> Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Judgment with Minor Children, FA-4160, or
Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Judgment set forth the courtís view of the dissolving marriage, the conclusions of law that apply, and the courtís judgment of divorce.
When one spouse files alone, he or she must also prepare an Order to Appear, FA 5005, which notifies the other party to appear at the final divorce hearing.
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