Can I Appeal My Divorce Decision in Wisconsin?

In Wisconsin, a judge entering orders regarding divorce or other family issues has great discretion.  There are statutory guidelines they must follow but there are very few laws that they cannot deviate from for just cause.  Family court is a court of equity which means that the judge is required to enter orders that are fair and equitable to both parties.  This gives the judge wide latitude when making decisions in family cases in Wisconsin.

You always have the right to appeal a decision, which must be done within a certain time period following the entry of order.  The time period varies based on certain factors but, generally, between 45 to 90 days.  In Wisconsin, cases first are heard by the Court of Appeals which consists of a panel of 3 judges in different districts around the state.  An appeal can take up to a year to complete.

However, due to the discretion granted to family court judges in Wisconsin, it is very difficult to win an family law appeal unless the judge made a mistake or entered an order which was clearly erroneous.  The most common mistake that a judge can make is that he or she fails to make sufficient findings which would support his or her decision.  Or, that the judge misunderstood or misapplied the law.

This is rare and even if you win your appeal, the court of appeals cannot substitute its own orders for the circuit judges.  This means that while the appellate court will provide some guidance or direction based on its interpretation of the law regarding the issues, it will simply remand the case, or send it back, to the circuit court to correct its mistake.  Therefore, even if you “win” your appeal, the case is still not over and the results are not guaranteed.  For example, after getting the case back, the judge could enter the same order(s) but with more specific findings.  If the judge clearly made an error, however, you may end up with a different order or findings.

The time and expense of an appeal is rarely worth it on a family case.  Most family law attorneys are unwilling to even appeal a case.  You should consult with your attorney or another attorney who is experienced in appellate work to determine whether your case is likely to succeed on appeal and, if so, what the cost would be.  Based on that, you could then decide if you wish to pursue an appeal.

10 thoughts on “Can I Appeal My Divorce Decision in Wisconsin?

    • There is a very complicated process involved in an appeal. It is not easy to do. You must first file a Notice of Appeal with the circuit court and order transcripts which can be quite costly. From there, there are other documents, including briefs, which must be filed. It is virtually impossible to do it without an attorney. However, here is a link which gives you information.

      You should also keep in mind that in the majority of cases, the court of appeals will not overturn a judge’s decision in a divorce. The divorce court has very broad discretion and can only be overturned if they make an error of law or exercise an abuse of their discretion which is difficult to prove. Most often, the lower courts are overturned for failing to make adequate findings of fact. So long as they do that, and they follow the law (statutes), they usually are not overturned.

      I encourage you to seek the advice of an attorney in this.

  1. Divorce is final,judge gave me half of 401k from husband,husband ran with all 401k money, I will never get a penny, how do I get divorce decree to show I got nothing, because I can’t stand the idea of other agencys and services thinking I got moneys when I didn’t and never will. My taxes too, i never got moneys so I do year end taxes? I need proof I never got moneys such as the judge order to be revised or just what do I get ?

    • You definitely need to seek the advice of an experienced divorce attorney in your area. Without knowing all of the facts and/or what your divorce judgment says, I can’t comment on this at all. There could be various options available to you including filing a contempt motion or even going after the plan administrator, depending on whether they were notified or not of the divorce. Just because he took the money, doesn’t mean you can’t still get compensation from him so it is well worth the time and money for a good attorney. Good luck.

  2. I was divorce after 24 yrs of marriage to my wife. I went back to college to get a degree in criminal justice to better my family and myself. half way through my schooling, she decided to divorce me. I was living with family members and on state assistance because of it. she made 5100.00 a month, I on the other hand made 600.00 month and still do. I was not awarded anything. How can this be? I feel that I was railroaded because I am a man. I was told by the judge, that because of my age, I should not have gone back to school. I am 48 years old and had a total knee replacement. doctors told me no more labor work because of the surgery. I have lost fault in our justice system because of this.

    • I’m sorry to hear about your bad experience. However, there are many factors that go into a ruling and decision by the court. I cannot give you any answers or opinions in this forum. I would suggest that you seek a consultation with an experienced divorce attorney in your county, possibly one who also handles appeals. Keep in mind that there are time limits for an appeal so it is better to do this sooner, rather than later. Good luck to you.

  3. Everything I read says what the judge ruled…I want to appeal a decision that was made between attorneys and then the judge went along with it….would that be different? I don’t believe the judge really knew the situation to rule anything

    • I’m sorry but I don’t really understand your situation. You need to consult with an attorney as soon as possible. There are strict time limits within which you need to file an appeal.

  4. Within the last week, I was at a placement review hearing. My divorce order stated “Respondent will recieve mental health evaluations(s) including assessment for mental health conditions. The evaluation(s) will be completed by a licensed professional (non-employee assistance provider) who has knowledge and skills in the area being assessed. Respondent will sign all releases of information to assist in assessment, diagnosis, treatment and coordination of services. The guardian ad litem shall approve any individuals or entities utilized for these purposes.”

    I had a letter from the licensed therapist (the one approved by the GAL) I had been seeing regularly without ever missing a single appointment stating there were no mental health issues that should be a cause of concerns as it related to the placement/custody of my children. Also, without being ordered to, less than 12 months earlier, I paid out of pocket to have a complete forensic psychological evaluation done proving I had no personality disorders of any kind and did not pose a significant risk to others.

    During this hearing, the court (not a family court commissioner at this point because I had already had to file denovo putting the case in front of an actual judge) made the decision that I had failed to meet the requirement of the order despite having all these things done and prepared in a neat little bow for them.

    They continue to create hoops and then constantly move the hoops around making it impossible to ever get anywhere and fight for my children. Every step of the way in my divorce, the court has hammered me like crazy while at the same time allowing my now ex-wife to operate with complete autonomy and no oversight. Reading this does nothing to help me feel like there is anything I can do about it.

    • I am sorry but it is impossible for me to comment on your situation in this forum as I do not have access to all of the facts. Further, I am not sure you really asked a question. If your question is whether you can appeal, the answer is yes but there are time limits that are now ticking. The time limits vary depending on what type of order was entered and when. As I usually tell people, your best bet is to consult with an experienced family law attorney to review your case. If you have an attorney already and you are not satisfied with his or her representation, I suggest you seek another opinion. Good luck to you.

We welcome your comments or questions. We will do our best to try to respond. However, please be advised that we cannot give legal advice in this forum and all communications are for general informational purposes only. Communication should not be construed as forming an attorney-client relationship. This is an open forum and any information you provide may be posted and will not be held confidentially. By posting a comment or question, you are expressly giving consent for the publication of same. If you have any specific legal issues or concerns, we always recommend that you consult with an attorney in the county and state in which you reside.

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