Divorce ends a marriage. Legal separation involves the same procedures as divorce, but the separated spouses can’t marry others. Legal separation is an alternative for people who wish to avoid divorce for religious or other reasons. The court grants a legal separation on the ground that the marriage relationship is broken.

Like a divorce, a legal separation requires property division and determination of child custody and placement. The court may order maintenance and child support payments. (More on these topics later in this pamphlet.)

After one year, either spouse can seek to have a legal separation converted into a divorce without the other spouse’s consent. Spouses who reconcile after a legal separation may apply to have the separation revoked.Back to Top

What is an annulment?

An annulment dissolves a marriage that was invalid from the beginning. For instance, one spouse may have been too young, unable to have sexual intercourse, incapable of consenting to the marriage, or induced to marry by fraud or force. Back to Top

How long must I live in Wisconsin before filing for divorce?

You must have been a Wisconsin resident for at least six months before filing for divorce here. Also, you must have lived at least 30 days in the county where you file.Back to Top

How does either spouse start a divorce action?

Divorce usually begins with the filing of a petition for divorce and a summons. The petition for divorce gives the factual history of the marriage and states the desired outcome of the divorce. The summons states that a response must be filed within 20 days.

Sometimes the court finds it necessary to issue temporary orders, which are orders laying out the ground rules that each spouse must follow until the final divorce hearing. If temporary orders are necessary, two additional documents must be filed. The affidavit for temporary relief requests temporary arrangements for child custody, placement, or support, as well as any other needed provisions. The order to show cause contains the time and date of the hearing before the family court commissioner, who establishes the temporary orders.

After one spouse files the petition and summons with the clerk of court, these documents are served upon the family court commissioner and the other spouse. The person asking for a divorce is called the petitioner, and the other spouse is the respondent. Both spouses are parties to the divorce action.Back to Top

Can I get divorced if I don’t know where my spouse is?

Yes, but you have to show the court that you made reasonable efforts to locate your spouse. You also must publish a notice in a local newspaper in an attempt to inform your spouse that you have started a divorce.

If it is at all possible to find an address, you must attempt to have notice of the divorce action served upon your spouse. The court has no power to order child support or maintenance unless your spouse has been personally served with notice.Back to Top

How long does it take to get a divorce?

Unless the court makes an exception for an emergency, at least four months (120 days) must pass between the serving of the initial papers and the final hearing. Most divorces take longer than four months. Several factors affect the length of the process: the complexity of the case, the ability of the spouses to agree on the issues, and the amount of other business before the trial court.

A divorce isn’t effective until the final hearing. Once the divorce is final, both parties must wait at least six months before marrying other people.Back to Top

Can my rights be protected between the start of a divorce action and the final hearing?

Yes. Every divorce includes an order that neither spouse can harass, intimidate, physically abuse, or impose restraints on the personal liberty of the other spouse or minor children (under age 18) of either spouse. In addition, neither spouse can encumber, conceal, destroy, damage, transfer, or otherwise dispose of property owned by either or both of the spouses, without the other spouse’s consent or a prior order of the court or family court commissioner. There are exceptions for actions taken in the usual course of business, in order to buy necessities, or to pay reasonable divorce expenses, including attorney fees.