Legal Separation v. Divorce in Wisconsin

Separation agreement

When you are married and seeking a separation from your spouse, you can either file for legal separation or for divorce in Wisconsin.

Regardless of which action you decide to file, the same issues are addressed and the same “120-day waiting period” is present in both actions before a judgment can be granted. The issues addressed in both actions are custody of the children (if any), physical placement of the children (if any), child support (if there are any children of the marriage to support), property and debt division, and maintenance.  In order to file for divorce, you must be a resident of the State of Wisconsin for six (6) months.  For a legal separation, the residency requirement is thirty (30) days.

The main difference between the two actions is that a divorce ends a marriage and a legal separation does not end a marriage. When a divorce is granted, the marriage ends and the parties are advised that they cannot remarry anywhere in the world for at least six months. When a legal separation is granted, the parties are cannot marry another person while they are legally separated.

All assets and debts are still divided in either action and that division is considered final.  For all intents and purposes, a legal separation severs the financial relationship between the parties.  Therefore, after a legal separation is granted, the parties cannot create marital property or debt and they are not able to file their taxes as a married couple.

It is important to know, however, that either party may convert the legal separation into a divorce after one year from the date the legal separation was granted or sooner if both parties agree.

For all of the reasons stated above, it is also important, in both a divorce and a legal separation, to be sure that you have fully considered all of the issues and what the effect of either action will be, both financially and as it concerns your children. Finding an experienced family law attorney is the first step in that process.

If you wish to speak with an attorney about filing for legal separation or divorce, please call our office at (414) 258-1644 for a free consultation.

What is the Difference Between a Petition for Divorce and Joint Petition for Divorce?

In a Wisconsin divorce action, there are two potential options when filing for divorce, one of which being more common than the other.

  1. Petition for divorce: This, being the most common action, is when one party (the petitioner) files an action against the other (the respondent).  The Petitioner is the only one who signs the paperwork.   Once the petitioner has filed for the papers, he/she must serve those papers on the respondent.
  2. Joint Petition for Divorce: In the event both you and your spouse agree that a divorce is the best option you may both file for a joint petition.  By filing a joint petition, both spouse sign the paperwork alleviating the need for service of process.

It cannot be stressed enough the importance of good counsel throughout this process. Make sure to seek qualified and experienced family law practitioners to ensure all your legal needs are met and that no stone has been left unturned. Too often during this process details are lost in the fine print of legal documents, creating a potential for more suffering and even financial loss.

To schedule a free initial office consultation to discuss your options for divorce, please contact us at 414-258-1644 or visit our website for further information.

Hiding Assets in a Divorce in Wisconsin

While no one likes to think they could be defrauded by their spouse, even under the worst circumstances, asset concealment during divorce is relatively common. Some spouses hide assets for purely financial reasons, perhaps fearing that they will not have enough to get by on after the divorce; others engage in asset concealment for other reasons, such as feelings of entitlement or a desire to seek revenge.

Divorcing spouses hide assets from one another in a wide variety of ways, ranging from highly sophisticated to deceptively simple. The following examples are just a few of the methods that a spouse may use to cheat a soon-to-be-ex out of a fair property settlement:

  • Temporarily transferring stock or other investment accounts into someone else’s name with the understanding that they will be transferred back after the divorce
  • Purchasing high-value items that are likely to be overlooked or undervalued, such as antiques or art
  • Deferring salary, commission, bonuses or other income to keep it off the books until after the divorce has concluded
  • Stowing cash or other assets in a safe deposit box, either in the home or elsewhere
  • Setting up a custodial account in the name of a child or other third party
  • Overpaying on taxes or other debts with the intent of receiving a refund after the divorce

To avoid losing out to a spouse’s asset-hiding scheme, it is important to stay involved in your finances at all stages of both marriage and divorce. Also watch for common warning signs that your spouse may be hiding assets, for instance if he or she:

  • Is secretive about financial affairs and does not share passwords and bank account information with you
  • Begins taking out unusual amounts of debt
  • Has financial statements and bills sent to a work address or private P.O. box
  • Opens multiple bank accounts for reasons that seem flimsy
  • Complains of sudden financial hardship, such as business failure, particularly if this occurs without a corresponding decrease in spending

 Hiding assets during a divorce to affect the outcome of the property division process is unethical and illegal in Wisconsin.  If a spouse hides or fails to disclose an asset worth more than $500, the court can impose severe consequences, including awarding that asset to the other spouse in its entirety.

If you are going through a divorce or are thinking about filing for divorce and suspect that your spouse may be hiding money or other assets from you, contact us at 414-258-1644 to schedule a free initial office consultation or visit our website for more information.

Types of Family Actions of Wisconsin – Divorce and Alternatives

In Wisconsin, there are three actions that affect a marriage: divorce, legal separation and annulment.  All three actions serve to end or separate a marriage.

The legal basis for a divorce is that one or both of the parties must testify that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.”  Once a 120 day waiting period passes, a Judgment of Divorce can be granted that terminates the marriage.  After six months, the divorced parties are free to remarry.  In a divorce case, property and debt is divided, maintenance (alimony) is determined, and if there are minor children, custody, placement and child support is decided.

A legal separation is similar to a divorce, except that the legal basis is that there is a “substantial breakdown of the marital relationship.  Parties must also wait 120 days before a Judgment of Legal Separation can be granted.  Like a divorce case, property and debt is divided, maintenance (alimony) is determined, and if there are minor children, custody, placement and child support is decided.  The significant difference is that a legally separated couple cannot ever remarry, unless the Judgment of Divorce is granted at a later date.

An annulment may be granted if the Court determines that the marriage was prohibited from the start (due to age of a party, incompetence, influence of drugs/alcohol, one party was already married) or that there was a “fraud to the essentials of the marriage.”  An annulment means that the marriage never occurred.

To schedule a free initial office consultation to discuss your divorce or alternatives, please contact us at 414-258-1644 or visit us at Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC for further information.

Alison H.S. Davis