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A basic guide to filing for divorce in Wisconsin

A basic guide to filing for divorce in Wisconsin

If you are considering a divorce from your spouse, you have likely begun research on how the process works. Rightfully so, as you are probably unfamiliar with the process and may need a resource or guide to assist.

Today we will focus on the basic steps, start to finish, of how the divorce process in Wisconsin works. Please understand that your case may be more complex, and that consulting with an attorney may be advisable before you proceed.

The beginning

Before initial paperwork is completed you must reach specific jurisdictional requirements in order to file for divorce in Wisconsin. If these requirements are not met, your case will not be accepted. The requirements, which can be found by clicking here, are summarized below:

  • At least 1 of the spouses must be a resident of the State of Wisconsin for at least 6 months immediately prior to filing for divorce
  • At least 1 of the spouses must be a resident of the county in which they intend to file for at least 30 days immediately prior to filing for divorce

Initial Pleadings (forms)

If the jurisdictional requirements are met, you are ready to prepare the initial divorce pleadings. These typically consist of a Summons, Petition, and Confidential Petition Addendum.  In cases where agreements cannot be reached, you will want to also include an Order to Show Cause and an Affidavit for Temporary Order.

Once you have successfully prepared these pleadings you must file them in the circuit court where residency has been established.

Serving the other party

After the initial pleadings have been filed, you must obtain service. The easiest way for this to occur is by having the other party fill out an admission of service whereby they “accept” service. As this is not very common, however, you will usually need a sheriff or process server to obtain service for you.

If you do not utilize a sheriff or process server (which is not wise to do), you will want to learn about the service rules that can be found under Wisconsin Statutes 801.14.  Without proper service you risk having your case dismissed.

Temporary Hearing

As eluded to earlier, when parties cannot reach agreements, a temporary orders hearing is scheduled with the court. This hearing is your chance to have the court enter orders on a temporary basis regarding custody, placement, use of the marital residence, maintenance, and more.

A Temporary Orders hearing is important because it establishes temporary orders on an interim basis until your case is finalized. Being prepared for this hearing is important, and not having counsel could place you at a disadvantage.

Pre-Trial Conference

Once Temporary Orders have been established, your case turns on whether the remaining terms of divorce are agreed to or not. If an agreement is reached, the process is fairly simple. You will file what is called a marital settlement agreement along with any updated financial disclosures and proceed with a stipulated divorce hearing where a final ruling is entered.

On the other hand, if issues remain contested, you will need to schedule what is called a pre-trial hearing. This essentially serves as a status update for the court where they access what issues will be contested at a trial and what anticipated evidence will be presented.


If you have made it all the way to a trial, it means you have not reached any agreements.  But going to a trial should not be viewed as a negative thing. It is, rather, an opportunity to present your evidence and to have the Judge make a ruling based upon that evidence.  At the conclusion of the trial the Judge will enter final orders.

This blog was designed to give you general knowledge as to the basic steps of a divorce case in Wisconsin. There are several other components that may or may not be necessary, depending on the facts and circumstances of your case.

Whether your case is contested or not, it is generally a good idea to seek competent counsel.  Having an attorney in an uncontested case provides security for a smooth process, ensuring you will be properly advised and placed in the best position possible to achieve your desired outcome.

If you need to file for a Divorce in Wisconsin, or any other family law-related matter, give us a call for a free consultation.