What If My Spouse Won’t “Give” Me a Divorce?

“My spouse won’t give me a divorce”.  Whenever I read advice columns in newspapers or magazines, I often run across this question or statement.  I have even heard it in my practice in Wisconsin.

There are two parts to the answer to this question. The first is legal.  In Wisconsin, we have a no fault state.  This means it does not matter if both parties want the divorce or not.  It takes two people to be married so only one person has to testify that the marriage is over and the court will grant a divorce.  This is true in many other states as well.  In fact, some form or the other of a no fault divorce is available in all 50 states at the present time.

Some states require a waiting period in order to obtain a no fault divorce.  In order to avoid the waiting period, those states still require a proof of fault to obtain a divorce.  However, in many of those states, the level of fault necessary is so low or minimal that it is not very difficult to get divorced at all.  The government (courts) simply cannot force people to stay married to one another.

The second part to this answer to this question relates to power and control.  Often, as a threat, a controlling or abusive spouse will say whatever necessary to keep their spouse from leaving.  It is most often in this context that I hear this question.  Again, be assured that if you no longer want to be married, the courts will honor this request.  It is true that your spouse can make the divorce difficult. They can delay and be disagreeable.  They can refuse to cooperate or drag their feet.  There are ways to address these situations.  However, many divorces are difficult for a variety of reasons. That is the nature of the process and the people going through it.

But, if you are asking this question, there are significant problems in your marriage.  Either way you are facing difficulty. At least with a divorce, there is light at the end of the tunnel and an eventual end to this painful situation.

For the best possible result in your divorce, you should always at least consult with an experienced divorce attorney.  Most divorce attorneys offer free initial consultations.  Take advice from and listen to someone who knows the law and the process, rather than listening to your spouse who is simply trying to threaten or control you.

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