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.