Divorce is the most common marital action. It is governed by Wisconsin Statutes 767.301-767.395. Other aspects of divorce, such as property division, child custody and placement, are governed by other sections of Chapter 767.
As you begin this significant life change, please consider hiring an attorney or a mediator. Handling your divorce without professional assistance is risky. The more you own the greater the gamble it is to proceed without an attorney.
The Court can only determine equitable distributions based upon the information provided by the parties in their Financial Disclosure Statements. It will not assess whether the assigned value of personal property or real estate is too low or inflated. It will not check bank accounts, insurance plans, pensions, securities statements, retirement investments or any other records to ensure the information provided is correct or complete.
The Court is not a substitute for an attorney or a Certified Public Accountant. It cannot warn you of potential tax liabilities or provide insight into the pitfalls your agreement might cause. Property settlements are final as of the date of the divorce. Only in rare circumstances would a property settlement be re-opened. It can be very costly to fix mistakes after your case is finalized. Some mistakes cannot be corrected, and potential income streams are forever foreclosed. Expertise brings clarity and fairness to this difficult process.
Finally, for couples with substantial assets and/or significant income, the Wisconsin divorce form documents are not designed to accommodate the complexity of your case. You should hire counsel or a mediator.
This section of our website is not designed to guide you through the divorce process. As a reminder, this website offers only general information and is not a substitute for sound legal advice.
A Temporary Order is an order by the commissioner or judge that is in effect until a divorce is finalized.
Temporary Orders often address the legal custody of children, a placement schedule, and child support. They may also include orders on maintenance (commonly referred to as “spousal support” and formerly called “alimony”),
use of the marital residence or other personal property (cars, boats, etc.), the payment of debts, insurance coverage and more. No division of property is made at the Temporary Hearing. This hearing only addresses the “use”
of property prior to the final hearing.
Agreements reached: Temporary Orders are optional. Some parties are able to resolve their issues without one. In other cases, the parties reach an agreement on how to handle various issues during the divorce period and formalize it by filing a “Stipulation for Temporary Order”. Their attorneys prepare the Stipulation and Order. Parties without counsel may also enter into a stipulation. They should be aware that the available forms distinguish between those with minor children (Forms FA-4126VAand FA-4126VB) and those without. (Forms FA-4127VA and FA-4127VB). The Court may review and approve the submitted stipulation without holding a hearing.
No Agreement and Hearing Necessary: Not every couple finds common ground without court assistance. Divorce is a stressful process. Parties may disagree on a single or on many issues. In this circumstance, either party may request a Temporary Order Hearing by completing an Order to Show Cause and accompanying Affidavit. The parties should consider hiring counsel to handle their Temporary Hearing. If you proceed without counsel, be aware that the forms distinguish between parties with minor children (FA-4128VA and FA-4128VB) and those without. (FA-4129VA and FA-4129VB). These documents must be filed with the Clerk of Courts Office and served on the other party as required by statute.
Mandatory Documentation for Temporary Hearing: All parties are must file a completed “Financial Disclosure Statement” (Form FA-4139V) along with proof of their income. (Copies of most recent paystub and W-2s/1099s). If the Temporary Hearing is by Zoom, these documents should be filed with the Court and provided to the other party no later than 48 hours prior to the hearing. If the hearing is in-person, the parties must bring three copies of all documents. Three copies are necessary so the Commissioner, the other party, and you each have a copy to reference during the hearing.
Mediation/Agreements Reached in Mediation: If there is disagreement regarding custody or placement, the Commissioner will refer the parties to mediation. See Mediation section. If you reach an agreement in Mediation that differs from the Temporary Order, please review the section entitled “Stipulation” for how to properly memorialize this arrangement so it is enforceable.
All divorcing parents in Wisconsin are required to complete an education program regarding the effects of divorce on children. La Crosse County’s mandatory program is “Families First”, which is offered one time each month. This program is not a therapy session but a parental education class about divorce and the impact it has on children. The fee for this class can be paid on-line or directly to the Clerk of Courts Office. You will receive an Order to Attend this class. Failure to attend the class may result in a finding of contempt.
The goals of Families First are to:
You will also receive a Families 2.0 Order if you have children between the ages of 6-18. The goal of this program is to provide children of divorce an opportunity to meet with professionals to develop coping skills. Children are split into peer groups. The program is offered for a fee by Family & Children’s Center. Please register as soon as possible as this class is only offered every other month and class size is limited.
Both parties are required to appear at the final hearing/trial except under limited circumstances. Prior to scheduling a final hearing, the following checklist will be used to determine if you have completed all required documentation:
Proper Completion of Documentation: Legal documents must be accurate and complete. Incomplete or deficient documents will be returned to the parties for additional detail. The Court has noticed two essential documents—Financial Disclosure Statements and Marital Settlement Agreements—are often hastily prepared and lack sufficient information.
Each divorcing party is required to file a Financial Disclosure Statement (“FDS”). (Form FA-4139V) This document must provide a complete and accurate list of your assets and debts. Some of the information from your FDS will be incorporated into your Marital Settlement Agreement (“MSA”).
The MSA is a contract between divorcing spouses that spells out the rights and obligations of each party. This written agreement divides the marital property and debt. It also settles issues of child custody and placement as well as maintenance (spousal support). The Court will review the MSA to determine if it is fair and reasonable given the circumstances of your divorce. (Forms FA-4150V with minor children or FA-4151V without minor children)
The Court has identified a number of common mistakes that will cause your MSA and/or FDS to be rejected and returned. To help you avoid these errors, please read the “Review Sheet for Marital Settlement Agreements and Financial Disclosure Statements” prior to submitting your documentation to the Commissioner. Incomplete documents will be returned to the parties and will cause a delay in finalizing your divorce.
Wisconsin law requires 120 days to pass from the date of the filing of a petition before the court can hold a final divorce or legal separation hearing. Once this time elapses, the parties may proceed to a default divorce or a trial. If the parties have reached an agreement on all issues—debts, property division, and children (if any)—the parties may schedule a default divorce hearing in front of the Family Court Commissioner. If the parties are unable to resolve a few or all issues, then their case will proceed to trial in front of the Circuit Court Judge assigned to their case.
Default Divorce: Default Divorces are conducted by Zoom on Friday mornings in front of the Family Court Commissioner. If you are unfamiliar with Zoom, please review the Zoom section of this site prior to your default divorce hearing. In stipulated or default divorce cases, the parties will each testify about the Petition/Joint Petition, Financial Disclosure Statements, and Marital Settlement Agreement. Besides affirming the accuracy/understanding of these documents, parties will testify that their marriage is irretrievably broken. The final hearing for a stipulated divorce usually lasts approximately 10 minutes.
Trial: In contested divorce trials, the Judge hears testimony from the interested parties, witnesses, and expert witnesses (such as property appraisers, accountants, etc.). During the hearing, the judge will also review exhibits. The trial may last several hours or days depending on the number and complexity of the issues. The judge will make the final decision on all matters still contested by the parties. If one party disagrees with the judge’s decision, he or she may appeal the decision to the Court of Appeals. If the affected party disagrees with the Appeals Court decision, he or she may try to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court of Wisconsin. The judgment of divorce will stand unless overturned by a higher court.