Your family, the life you’ve built, and the new path you’re on now:
WISCONSIN DIVORCE AND FAMILY LAW
Family law issues deal with one of the most sensitive areas of our lives: our family, our children, our marriages. When you are concerned about what your future holds, you need an experienced advisor who knows and understands the law and the system. But likewise, you need someone who truly listens to you. At Halling & Cayo, we offer a flexible and personal approach that you just don’t get at other firms. We help you reach the best possible resolution considering your unique circumstances, prioritized objectives, and preferred outcome.
You’re in the right place, with the best people.
Perhaps your spouse has already filed for divorce. You feel shocked and unsure of where to begin. Or maybe you’ve done your research, and you’re looking for the best advocate for your unique situation. Maybe you’re simply exploring your options to make sure you’re ready to take the next big step. We’ve helped someone just like you. Over the combined 125 years that our dedicated team has practiced Family Law, we’ve advised, represented, and fought on behalf of clients who had the very same questions and concerns you’re grappling with at this very moment.
Are you concerned about how much divorce could cost you and how long it could take? Or curious about the grounds for divorce or whether an annulment is an option? Are you considering representing yourself or wondering what other representation options may be available based on your specific situation? What about your assets, your house, everything you’ve built together? What about your children?
KNOW YOUR OPTIONS
Reach the best possible resolution with an advisor who understands your situation.
When you initially seek legal advice from one of our experienced Family Law attorneys, we listen to your history, the goals you hope to accomplish, your constraints, and your concerns. We recommend a variety of processes to accomplish your goals, fit your needs, and defend your rights. And we explain the entire process to you so you’re equipped with everything you need to make informed decisions and to take the next steps.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS.
PERSEVERE NO MATTER WHAT YOUR CHALLENGE.
Once Divorce is on the table, here’s what to expect.
You may not be aware that Wisconsin is a “no fault” divorce state: you do not need to state the reasons why you are getting a divorce in the petition; the court only requires one party to claim the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Like many actions affecting the family, a divorce action is extremely fact intensive, and the experience and outcomes vary on a case-by-case basis. This means that both you and your attorney must be open, honest, and thorough during your entire engagement together.
At Halling & Cayo, we help you understand each step of the process — from the paperwork that must be filed, to your negotiation options during the 120-day waiting period, to how the proceedings will affect your children and your assets.
Divorce Process At-a-Glance:
- Petition is filed by one or both spouses.
- Response or counterclaim is filed.
- There is a 120-day waiting period before the earliest possible date can be scheduled for your divorce hearing in front of your appointed Judge.
- Within 90 days, your Financial Disclosure Statement is filed.
- Discovery occurs during the waiting period (including appraisals, pension valuations, interrogatories, and depositions).
- If minor children are involved, you may have to attend an approved parent education program, based on your county
- You may enter into negotiations and settlement discussions* (”Martital Settlement Agreement”) during the waiting period.
- If there are custody/placement disputes, you must go through mandatory mediation*. If there is no resolution at this stage, you must file a petition for a Guardian ad Litem to assist your Judge in making custody, placement, and support decisions.
- If you arrive at a resolution or settlement, your divorce is granted at your final hearing.
- If contested issues remain, your attorney meets with your appointed Judge at a pretrial hearing and then you move to trial so your Judge can hear your evidence.
- Judgement of Divorce is filed within 30 days of your final hearing.
- This is followed by Post-Judgement Enforcement and/or Revision
- Downloadable Documents:
* Many judges require mediation for financial issues prior to trial. It is also required if there is no agreement on custody and placement of the children, before a guardian ad litem is appointed. We can work with you in mediation, either as your advocate, or if you and your spouse contact us as a mediator. As the neutral facilitator who does not represent either spouse, we guide a discussion to help resolve the issues. And while we cannot give legal advice as a mediator, we will give you information about the law and the legal process. Mediation is a voluntary process, and it can avoid significant financial and emotional costs of lengthy litigation. Solving differences through mediation is less expensive and less traumatic and if it’s a viable option, we can guide you through the process. If at any point the process needs to move from a conference room to the courtroom, we will advocate for your interest and objectives. The divorce process includes a variety of issues that spouses encounter concerning their future relationship with their children and it’s important to know your rights.
For more information about the Divorce process or other representative options like Mediation and Collaborative Divorce, please visit our Frequently Asked Questions section below. To speak with a trusted attorney under no obligation to proceed, request a free consultation.
125 YEARS OF COMBINED EXPERIENCE.
Meet the Family Law team at Halling & Cayo.
We are proud to serve the community members of southeastern Wisconsin. When you choose Halling & Cayo as your firm, you have access to an entire team of subject-matter experts, from custody issues to property division to financial guidance. With the support of our firm as a whole, our goal is to inform you of your rights and offer expert legal counsel through creative problem-solving. By leveraging a fresh perspective we aim to help you rise above your legal challenges.
If you decide to move forward with your attorney after your consultation, rest assured you will have a strong, honest, and attentive ally who will consider your circumstances with a fresh perspective and handle your case with full attention to detail and creative problem-solving, so you re-establish your stability and security despite this challenge that you face.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Below you’ll find some high-level answers to common questions, but please be aware that 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.
What are the grounds for divorce?
The court must find that the marriage is irretrievably broken. This finding is usually based on the petition for the divorce and one or both parties’ testimony at the final hearing. If one party contests the grounds, the court may still make a finding that the marriage is irretrievably broken if it finds no reasonable prospect of reconciliation based on one party’s testimony.
Can I get an annulment in Wisconsin?
Legal annulments are granted in Wisconsin only for very specific reasons. The court may grant an annulment if it finds
- A party lacked capacity to consent to the marriage, because of age, mental incapacity, or the influence of drugs or alcohol;
- A party was induced to enter the marriage by force, duress or fraud within one year of obtaining knowledge of the fraud;
- A party lacks the physical capacity to consummate the marriage by sexual intercourse and this was not known by the other party; or
- The marriage is prohibited by law.
Even in cases where the court cannot grant a legal annulment, the parties may be able to pursue an annulment through their church following the legal divorce.
When can I file for divorce?
A divorce can be filed at any time when the residence requirements are met, which is that the petitioner lived in the state of Wisconsin for 6 months and the county in which the petition is filed for 30 days, and the moving party can state under oath that the marriage is irretrievably broken.
What forms do I need to file a divorce?
The exact forms depend on the specifics of your case. All divorces commences with filing a petition requesting the divorce. Unless both parties sign the petition, a summons is also needed to notify the other party of the lawsuit. The social security numbers of the parties and any children are filed in a confidential addendum. Each party must also complete a financial disclosure statement.
What if my spouse does not want the divorce?
As long as one spouse wants to proceed with the divorce, the court will proceed. Both parties do not need to agree for the court to find that the marriage is irretrievably broken.
Do I have to go to Court?
The parties are ordered to appear, at a minimum, for the final hearing. There may also be temporary order hearings or other hearings or conferences where your appearance is necessary, depending on the facts and procedure of your case. If you fail to appear at the final hearing, or any hearing, the court can proceed without you, and which means they also proceed without your input and you would be in default.
What is a divorce going to cost me?
Since each case is different, the cost of each case varies significantly. We bill based on an hourly rate, so the cost depends on how much time your case requires. This depends on many factors including the number of hearings, the types of issues, the nature of assets of one or both parties, whether a guardian ad litem is appointed to represent children’s best interests, and whether the parties have reached agreements on some or all issues.
Do I really need to hire an attorney?
Either or both parties may appear in court and get divorced pro se (self-represented). Before making a decision, meet with an attorney and make an informed decision about whether to proceed on your own or with counsel. I have seen many cases come back after the divorce is finalized because a mistake was made or the final order was not actually what one party thought it was. It is often significantly more expensive to hire counsel after the fact to try to fix a mistake than to hire an attorney at the time of the divorce to make sure all issues are addressed appropriately the first time.
What is ‘Collaborative Divorce’ and is it right for me?
Since 2001 Wisconsin family law practitioners have been able to offer collaborative divorce as a process to choose in the dissolution of marriage. This forward-thinking response was created to enable divorcing parties to take control of their case and exit their marriages through communication and agreement of how they will continue to co-parent.
Collaborative divorce is a dispute resolution process. Each party is represented, and part of a team committed to work together to help the spouses understand their choices, avoid conflict, and create an out-of-court settlement to meet the needs of the family.
The parties and lawyers sign a stipulation that governs the process, which includes:
- a written pledge not to litigate in court;
- withdrawal of professionals if either party chooses to litigate;
- open and complete exchange of information; and
- negotiations to address the needs of all family members.
The collaborative process is a private, voluntary process that can only govern if all parties agree and abide by the process. It can be tailored to the specific needs or timetable in your case. Our representation is limited in that certain legal remedies, such as contempt motions or formal discovery, are not available.
As part of the collaborative team, we establish the framework within which we will address the issues in your case. Then we gather information, share interests and values, and brainstorm settlement options.
If you believe that collaborative divorce may be a solution for you, contact a divorce and family law attorney for your no obligation discussion on the process and what it may mean for your family.
What typically happens if I go to court to obtain my divorce myself?
At the final hearing, the judge’s clerk will look to make sure all of the required documents are filed appropriately and see if you have an agreement or if issues are contested. The clerk cannot give you legal advice. Assuming you have an agreement, the judge will likely review it and ask each of the parties questions both about themselves and about whether the terms of the agreement are appropriate. The court will the grant the divorce and give the parties instructions.
What is Contempt of Court?
Contempt of court is the intentional disobedience of an order of the court. An order that requires specific conduct or payments can be enforced by contempt. If one party fails to comply with an order of the court, the aggrieved party can file a contempt motion.
The court then has discretion to enter an order to ensure compliance with its prior order.
If the court finds a party in contempt, the court will order sanctions, and depending on the issues, this typically includes fines and could include jail time. The court then may also offer purge conditions, usually substantial compliance with the original order, as a way to avoid the sanctions. If you prevail on the contempt motion, the cost of your attorneys’ fees, if you have one, or your costs in pursuing the motion may also be awarded as a remedy.
How long will the divorce take?
The length of the case depends on many factors, most significantly the type and number of contested issues and the court’s calendar. By law, the parties have to wait 120 days after filing before the judgment of divorce can be entered. While this is the minimum, most cases last longer. The fastest cases occur when where parties enter a complete agreement on all issues quickly.
Do all of the issues – support, custody, alimony, and property – have to be decided before the divorce is final?
In general, yes. The divorce is granted when the parties have reached an agreement on all issues or after a trial and the court decides the contested issues, so all of the issues are resolved at one time. In rare instances, if trials last multiple days over a span of time, the court may grant the divorce following the testimony of both parties although the final order or decision on a contested issue may not be completed yet.
How are Retirement Accounts divided?
Retirement accounts differ, and how they can be divided also differs. For example, and Roth IRA holds after-tax contributions while an IRA may need to be discounted for taxes when valuing. Many parties choose to divide retirement accounts as part of the property division, and how they Posare divided depends on the types of accounts that they are. Most IRAs can be divided by working with the plan administrator. However, most 401ks require a qualified domestic relations order to be divided. This is a special order submitted typically after the divorce judgment to create the new account for the alternate payee, separate from the plan participant. Defined benefit plans or pensions may require a different type of order for division. We can help you determine what is in your best interest, and also help with any required orders to implement the divorce judgment.
What are my options Post-Divorce? Can anything be modified? Can I appeal?
Some aspects of a divorce judgment may be modified, but others cannot. The property division in a divorce is final as of the date of divorce. The court may have authority to review and modify maintenance, depending on the specific language of the order. The court does have authority to modify child support and custody and placement while the children are minors; however, the exact standards of review and grounds are specific to timing and the facts of the case.
If the court enters a final order that you disagree with, it may be in your best interest to appeal the decision. An appeal of a trial court order or judgment involves filing a notice of appeal with a statement of the issues, having the entire record sent to the Court of Appeals (including transcripts), and in most cases, arguing the case via briefs.
Appeals are regulated and have numerous requirements. If you are considering appealing an order, contact us or another attorney right away. Deadlines can approach quickly, the longest is 90 days, and if the deadline to appeal has lapsed, it cannot be changed.
What if I am in the military and out of state?
You may still meet the residency requirements based on where you are a legal resident. Additionally, only one of the parties must meet the requirements. The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act provides additional protections to make sure that you have notice and the opportunity to respond.
After I file for divorce, do I have to continue to live in this state?
The law does not have any residency requirements following the commencement of the action. However, the law does limit how a party can move with minor children if the court has granted periods of placement to more than one parent.
Can I get maintenance or will I have to provide maintenance to my spouse?
Whether maintenance is appropriate in your case depends on many factors. Some of the most significant factors that the court considers often are the length of the marriage, the difference in earning capacities between the parties at the time of divorce, and the age and health of each of the parties.
At what point during the process can a spouse remarry or start dating?
In Wisconsin, a party is not allowed to remarry within six months of a court granting a divorce. Any marriage within six months of the divorce judgment will be void. As to dating, there is no law about when this can begin. However, before a new significant relationship begins, it is important to consider how dating may affect certain orders, such as placement of the children or maintenance.
Can a couple become legally married by living together as man and wife under the state’s laws (common law marriage)?
No, Wisconsin does not recognize common law marriages. However, civil claims can arise from living together. If unmarried cohabitants engage in a joint venture to accumulate assets, one party may be entitled to relief through unjust enrichment and partition at the conclusion of the relationship if one party attempts to retain an unreasonable amount of the property, depending on the circumstances.
Additional Actions Affecting the Family
View below to learn more about other legal matters that affect you and your family and how our team can help you.