Requirements for Service in Family Law in Wisconsin

In the law, “service” is a term for providing formal notice of a lawsuit, court hearing or document to another person. Depending on the action that is being filed, there are different methods and very strict time limits by which you must have the other party notified, or served.

Service is critical in all cases, because if you do not serve the other party within the correct time limits and using the correct method, the court cannot hear or come to a decision on your case. There are two types of service: personal service and service by mail.

Personal service can be accomplished by the following methods:

(1) Admission of Service– a form where the other party may admit that they were served once they receive a copy of the forms

(2) Service by the Sheriff’s Department

(3) Service by the Private Process Server

(4) Service by someone who is over 18, a resident of Wisconsin and is not a party to the action.

(5) As a last resort, you can complete service by Publication. You MUST show that you have attempted one of the four methods above before resorting to publication and usually the court must approve this method first.

If you are serving something by mail, you must provide proof by either signing a sworn Affidavit of Mailing in the presence of a Notary Public and giving a copy to the Court OR by some type of mail receipt such as certified mail.

Below are some of the different family court actions that are filed, the type of service required for each action, and the time limits in which the action must be served:

1. Summons and Petition for Divorce/Legal Separation:  Must have personal service and must be served within 90 calendar days from the date the divorce/legal separation was filed

2. Order to Show Cause and Affidavit (i.e. for Temporary Order): Personal service is required and must be served not less than 5 business days before the date of the hearing or as otherwise ordered by the court.

3. Response and Counterclaim:  Can be served by mail and must be filed within 20 calendar days after the date of service.

4. Order to Appear:  Must be personally served and not less than 24 hours if the other party lives within the county the action is filed OR not less than 72 hours if the other party does not live in the county the action is filed, but in the State of Wisconsin.

5. Notice of Motion and Motion:  Contempt motions must be personally served but all other motions can be served by mail.  Service must be not less than 5 business days before the date of the hearing.

6. Petition to Enforce Placement:  Personal service is required not less than 5 business days before the date of the hearing.

If the other party is represented by an attorney, copies of all documents must be sent to the attorney.  If service by mail is required, the document is to be mailed to the attorney, not to the party.

About Divorce in Wisconsin

WISCONSIN DIVORCE FAQ’S

HOW DO I BEGIN DIVORCE PROCEEDINGS?

To begin a divorce, you must file with the Court a Summons and Petition for Divorce (generally referred to as the divorce pleadings). Your spouse must then be served with this Summons and Petition for Divorce within 90 days after filing. You can file a motion with the Court asking that this 90-day deadline be extended; however, it would be up to the Judge assigned to your case to decide whether or not to extend this deadline. There are two ways you can serve the Summons and Petition for Divorce on your spouse: (1) your spouse can sign an Admission of Service at our office or his/her attorney’s office, or (2) our process server or a sheriff’s deputy can personally serve the pleadings upon your spouse.

WHAT DO I DO IF I AM SERVED WITH DIVORCE PAPERS?

After you are served with divorce pleadings, call Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC to schedule a complimentary consultation. Once you retain our legal services, we will review the pleadings with you and prepare a Response and Counterclaim on your behalf for filing with the Court. You must file a written Response and Counterclaim within 20 days from the date you are served with the Summons and Petition for Divorce. This must be sent to the Court with a copy sent to your spouse or his/her attorney. If you do not file a written Response, the Court could enter a default judgment against you in the future.

If you also want the divorce, you should also file a Counterclaim for Divorce. This means that if your spouse changes his/her mind in the future and asks that the divorce be dismissed, the Court could deny that request and grant you a judgment of divorce instead based on your counterclaim.

WHAT IF I DON’T WANT A DIVORCE?

Wisconsin is a “no fault” divorce state. The only basis for a divorce in Wisconsin is that the Court finds that your marriage is irretrievably broken and that there is no likely possibility of reconciliation. Because it takes two willing people to have a marriage, the Court will most likely grant a judgment of divorce even if only one party wants the divorce as long as one party testifies that he or she feels that the marriage is irretrievably broken and that the marriage cannot be repaired.

HOW LONG DOES A DIVORCE TAKE?

There is a mandatory 120-day waiting period in Wisconsin during which your divorce cannot be finalized. Most divorce cases take between six months to one year to finalize. The time period can vary based on the County in which your divorce is filed and the issues involved in your case. The specific facts of your case will determine the timetable for the completion of your case. However, our goal is to complete your divorce as quickly as possible. We understand that you need to move on with your life and that you do not need a long and protracted court action.

HOW DO I SUPPORT MYSELF OR SEE MY CHILDREN WHILE THE DIVORCE IS PENDING?

In most cases, Temporary Orders are needed to determine where each party will live, when each party will see the children, and how each party will be financially supported and pay bills. These Temporary Orders are Court Orders and can be determined by the Court’s decision or upon an agreement (called a Stipulation) between the parties. These Temporary Orders remain in effect during the time it takes to complete your divorce case.

Temporary Orders could cover the issues of temporary custody, placement, support, maintenance, temporary use of personal property and/or bank accounts, temporary use of the marital residence, and temporary allocation of debts. While these orders are temporary and should have no bearing on the final outcome of your divorce, in reality, many courts continue temporary orders as permanent orders if they are appropriate in your case, especially orders regarding custody and placement of your children.

HOW DO I OBTAIN THESE TEMPORARY ORDERS?

To request Temporary Orders, you must file an Order to Show Cause for Temporary Orders and an Affidavit for Temporary Orders. These documents compel your spouse’s appearance at a first or temporary hearing which is almost always scheduled before a court commissioner rather than a judge. This temporary hearing is usually scheduled within three to six weeks of the date you request a hearing depending on the County in which your case in pending.

Prior to the hearing, you and your spouse can negotiate terms of a Temporary Stipulation. These stipulated orders are done without the need for you to appear in Court and, when filed with the Court, carry the same legal protection as if you personally appeared in Court.

WHAT IF I DON’T LIKE THE COURT COMMISSIONER’S DECISION?

If you do not agree with the court commissioner’s Orders at this first or temporary hearing or any other hearing before a court commissioner, you may request a Hearing De Novo before the judge assigned to your case. A Hearing De Novo is a hearing where the judge hears the matter as if it had not been heard before and is not supposed to give any deference to the court commissioner’s decision. A Hearing De Novo must be scheduled promptly after the hearing before the court commissioner’s (7 – 15 days in most counties).

WHAT IF MY SPOUSE LEAVES ME FOR SOMEONE ELSE OR IS LIVING WITH SOMEONE ELSE?

Because Wisconsin is a “no-fault” divorce state, one party’s infidelity is irrelevant in most cases. The court cannot consider this fact in dividing property, awarding maintenance, setting support or other financial matters. It can impact on custody and placement issues, however, if the significant other has a negative or harmful impact on the minor children.

HOW ARE PROPERTY AND DEBT DIVISION, SUPPORT, CUSTODY AND PLACEMENT DETERMINED AT THE END OF MY DIVORCE CASE?

Please see our other FAQ’s for additional information on these issues. Your attorney at Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC will work with you throughout your case to provide educated and experienced guidance to assist you in making good legal decisions for yourself in your divorce action.

WHAT OPTIONS ARE AVAILABLE TO AVOID A TRIAL IN MY DIVORCE CASE?

Your attorney at Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC will suggest options to the successful resolution of the issues in your divorce without the need for a court trial. For example, settlement negotiations at a parties-and-counsel meeting, mediation and arbitration are all alternative measures that are common in divorce cases to help resolve conflicts.

Although most cases are resolved without the need for a trial, at Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC, our experience litigating cases provides our clients the best possible legal representation. We will make every effort to minimize the emotional and financial cost of a trial, yet we are prepared to litigate your case in court if a settlement cannot be reached.