Divorce is a process to legally end a marriage. A final judgment of divorce decides the issues of property division, maintenance, legal custody/placement, child support, and other related topics. There are a number of procedural options that may be used to reach resolution of these issues. The methods vary in degree of attorney and court involvement, conflict, and cost. The issues in a divorce are resolved by (a) the parties reaching an agreement or (b) a contested hearing after which a judge or court commissioner makes a decision. Divorce process options include (1) pro se divorce (self-representation), (2) mediation, (3) collaborative divorce, and (4) lawyer negotiation/litigation. We recommend that you gather information and consider discussing process options with your spouse or partner as well as with an attorney before making a choice.
State Bar brochure – Choosing a Process for Divorce
State Bar brochure – Divorce
State Bar brochure – Custody and Placement
Wisconsin Statutes section 767.41: Custody and Physical Placement
Wisconsin Statutes section 767.511: Child Support
Department of Workforce Development Chapter 40: Child Support Guidelines
Wisconsin Statutes section 767.56: Maintenance
Maintenance is spousal support, also called alimony. There is no standard formula for determining maintenance; it is based upon a number of statutory factors. Two of the key factors are the length of the marriage and the difference in the income of the parties. Maintenance is awarded based upon need and fairness.
The amount of time it takes to get a divorce will depend on several factors, including the process option chosen and the level of conflict between spouses. A court will not grant a divorce until at least 120 days after both parties have received notice that a divorce action is pending. Traditional, litigated divorces can take one to two years to resolve. Spouses who choose mediation or collaborative divorce may be divorced in significantly less time since they may obtain a final court hearing as soon as they reach and sign a complete agreement.
Actions for divorce and legal separation are filed in the same way and proceed the same way through a court. Both result in a final judgment that divides assets and debts, determines financial obligations between the spouses, and establishes the custody and placement of children. Legally separated spouses cannot marry anyone else until six months after the legal separation is converted to a divorce. There are some differences in the legal impact of legal separation versus divorce.
Both parties are required to attend an approved parent education program in divorce and legal separation actions that involve minor children. However, this requirement will generally be waived if the parties work with a child specialist. Please ask one of our attorneys about a child specialist’s role in a divorce and about referrals to child specialists to assist parents in focusing on the needs and interests of their children in creating a post-separation parenting plan.