Wisconsin

Wisconsin Divorce, Alimony, Child Support, and Child Custody Laws

To begin most types of actions affecting the family, including actions for divorce in Wisconsin, legal separation, annulment and paternity, at least one of the parties must be a resident of the state of Wisconsin for six months and the county in which the action is filed for thirty days. Wis. Stat. § 767.301.

To grant a divorce, the court must find that the marriage is irretrievably broken with no reasonable prospect of reconciliation.  To grant a legal separation, the court must find that the marital relationship is broken. Wis. Stat. § 767.315.

In these actions, the primary issues are (1) child custody and placement, (2) property division, (3) child support, and (4) maintenance, which is spousal support.

Custody and Placement in Wisconsin Divorce

Often the first and primary issue in the case is child custody and placement of the children.

Legal custody is the right and responsibility to make major decisions concerning a child. In cases in which both parents are involved in the children’s lives, the order is typically for joint custody, which gives both parties equal rights and responsibilities to make major decisions in the child’s life.

Custody may also be awarded solely to one party, entirely or as to one issue. For example, all decisions regarding a child’s religion may be awarded solely to one parent, while all other major decisions remain joint decisions.

Physical placement is where the child actually spends time; it is the condition under which a parent has the right to have a child physically placed with that parent. A child is entitled to placement with both parents unless the court finds that placement with a parent would endanger the child’s health. Wis. Stat. § 767.41(4).

While a court is required issue a placement order that will maximize the amount of quality time the child spends with each parent, the court is not required to grant equal time to each parent.  Placement arrangements vary greatly depending on the facts of each case.

Property Division, Debts, and Marital Assets in Wisconsin

The property division in a divorce or separation divides the assets and debts between the parties. Because Wisconsin is a marital property state, the statutory presumption is that all property, both debts and assets, acquired prior to or during the marriage is divided equally. Wis. Stat. 767.61.

The court may then deviate from an equal division after considering many factors, including the property each party brings into the marriage and the length of the marriage.

The only property not subject to division is property that one party acquired (1) by a gift from someone other than the spouse, (2) by reason of the death of another (such as inheritance, life insurance proceeds, or trust distribution) or (3) with funds acquired by either of the first two methods.

In order keep this non-marital property exempt from the property division, the spouse must establish: (1) the original gifted or inherited status of the property; and (2) that the character and identity of the property has been preserved.

Child Support in Wisconsin

The purpose of child support is to provide for the children as if the parties had not separated. The Department of Children and Families has promulgated percentage standards for determining a parent’s child support obligation. DCF 150.03.

Which percentage applies depends on the number of children, the parties’ placement arrangement, and in some cases, each parent’s income. The percentage standard is applied to the parents’ gross income.

For example, if the parties have one child and one parent has primary placement, the other parent would pay seventeen percent of his or her gross income in child support. The court may deviate from these standards after considering many case-specific factors, including the cost of day care, the cost of travel to exercise placement, or the specific needs of the child.

Maintenance, Spousal Support and Alimony in Wisconsin Divorce

Whether maintenance is appropriate depends on the facts of each case, and any order for maintenance is based on numerous factors including the earning capacities of each spouse, the length of the marriage, and the parties’ age and health. Wis. Stat. 767.56.

Maintenance is ordered to further two objectives: (1) to support the recipient spouse, and (2) to ensure a fair and equitable financial arrangement between the parties.

In determining the maintenance amount, courts frequently start by equalizing the total income, with the goal of allowing the recipient to maintain the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage.

Overview of Divorce in Wisconsin

The length of time each case takes depends in large part on whether the parties agree and resolve some issues without the court making the determination.  In all divorce cases, the courts require a 120-day waiting period from the time the case is filed until the final judgment is ordered.

If parties are unable to reach an agreement on custody and placement, the court will appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the best interests of the minor children in the action. Any issues that are unresolved will ultimately be tried to the court and the judge will issue an order and final judgment.

If parties reach a settlement agreement on some or all of the issues, that settlement agreement is presented to the court and incorporated into the final judgment.

So many aspects of actions affecting families depend on the facts and circumstances of each individual case.  If you have specific questions, please feel free to contact us.