The Basics of Divorce

It's something that nobody wants to go through. But the truth is - a large number of people go through divorce every year. It's normal, and the right attorney can make the process much easier for everyone involved. So of course, the first step in every divorce should be to contact an attorney.

Contact Parks Law Offices for a FREE Initial Consultation!

That said, the following information and instructions apply generally to all dissolutions of marriage (divorce) cases in Wisconsin (Note: this summary of Wisconsin divorce procedure is intended only to provide a general idea of what to expect in a divorce action. Each case is unique and all the factors in each case cannot be listed below, nor do all divorce cases touch on all the issues which are mentioned below).

Part I: Starting the Process

A divorce action must be brought in the county in which either the husband or the wife has resided for at least thirty (30) days. One of the parties must have been a resident of the State of Wisconsin for at least six (6) months immediately before the commencement of a divorce action.

A divorce action is typically started by filing with the court a series of papers and the serving of copies of these papers upon the opposite spouse. Papers include a Summons, which is a document requiring an Answer to the divorce papers within twenty (20) days, and a Petition, which is the central paper which sets forth the facts about the marriage, states that the marriage is irretrievably broken and asks the court for a divorce, and for other relief, such as support, maintenance, property division, or custody, if applicable.

While the court has some of these forms available to the public, many people find it much more advantageous to have an attorney fill out these papers, to ensure that the divorce action is properly brought. Contact Parks Law Offices for a FREE Initial Consultation.

Part II: While the Divorce is Pending

The parties need to have a living arrangement established while the divorce is in progress. Therefore, along with the first group of papers is usually contained an Order to Show Cause, or a Motion requesting relief under a Temporary Order.

The Temporary Order usually results from a short hearing held before the Family Court Commissioner within a few weeks after the service of the above papers. This Temporary Order will govern custody, visitation, use of property, support, maintenance, and such other things as needed on at least a temporary basis.

Because a Temporary Order can govern the parties' behavior for months, sometimes years, and include very crucial orders such as, mentioned above, child support, it is highly recommended that parties contact an attorney to assist them in these Order to Show Cause hearings. Contact Parks Law Offices for a FREE Initial Consultation.

Part III: Finalizing the Divorce

Between the temporary hearing and the final hearing, divorces can follow one of two routes. Most common and presenting the least amount of difficulty for attorneys and clients alike, is for the parties and their attorneys to come to a written agreement, called a Stipulation (or Marital Settlement Agreement), which sets out the terms under which the divorce will be granted.

If a Stipulation is agreed upon, the final hearing can be held any time after one hundred twenty (120) days after the service of the original papers. In this case, the final hearing is short, and the divorce is granted according to the terms of the Stipulation.

On the other hand, if an agreement cannot be reached, certain "discovery" procedures may have to be utilized to find out information from the other side. A pre-trial conference between the attorneys and the judge, sometimes with participation of the parties, is held before a trial occurs. A contested trial will only present to the court such evidence as is relevant to the contested issues. Of course, divorce cases which end up in contested trials take considerable preparation by the attorney, not to mention the fact that extensive time is spent at trial. Therefore, to some extent, it is in your best financial interest to try to come to an agreement with your spouse.

If custody or placement of the children is a contested issue, you will be required to file a proposed Parenting Plan with the court prior to any Pre-trial Conference. The court will advise you if this will be necessary, and you should follow their instructions completely.

Once a trial (or stipulated hearing) is finished, the attorneys' work is not done. The Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law of the judge must be drafted for his signature, along with the Judgment. These documents are prepared by the attorneys, submitted to the opposite party, to the Family Court Commissioner, and to the Judge for signatures before the matter is concluded.

Again, these orders and judgments can often govern the parties' behavior for years, and it is highly recommended that the parties hire an attorney. So Contact Parks Law Offices for a FREE Initial Consultation.

Part IV: Helpful Tips

The following is a list of generally helpful instructions:

1. Follow all court orders exactly.

2. If you have custody of your child, have the child appropriately dressed and ready for visitation at the arranged time.

3. If you have visitation rights, pick up and return your child at the time agreed upon.

4. Do not alienate your child from your spouse. This is a most trying time for your child. Do not discuss your marital problems with your child. Your child should not feel a necessity to "side" with either parent. Your child should love both parents. Anything that you can do to make visitation more pleasant is for your child's benefit. Do not use the occasion for conflict.

5. Do not interfere in any way with your spouse's parental rights. Interference by one parent with the other's parental rights may be considered a Class E felony, punishable by a fine of not more than $10,000 and/or imprisonment for not more than two (2) years.

6. Make debt payments as ordered.

7. If you are making support payments, pay promptly and as ordered. If it is impossible for you to do so, notify an attorney immediately. If you are required to make your payments through the office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court, do not make payments directly to your spouse.

8. If a change in circumstances occurs (such as a layoff, a substantial reduction in pay, an accident, an emergency, or unexpected medical or dental problems), you should contact an attorney immediately.

9. If there is a change in the source of your income (for example, you start receiving AFDC, Social Security, or disability income), you should contact an attorney immediately, as it may affect your case.

10. If you have custody of your child, do not present obstacles to visitation because your spouse is not making payments.

11. If you are making payments, do not withhold or delay them because you are having visitation problems.

12. Do not argue with your spouse about any important problems. These matters should be brought to an attorney.

13. Discuss your divorce problems with your attorney only, not with others, although they may inquire. Although friends and relatives may have good intentions, their advice may be inaccurate even when based on their personal experiences. Circumstances in their cases may have been far different from those in your case or the laws may have changed since their divorces.

14. Inform the court or your attorney promptly of changes in phone numbers, addresses, or employment status. Please notify the Clerk of Court's office of an address change immediately. Support payments will not be forwarded to your new address by the post office.

Contact Parks Law Offices for a FREE Initial Consultation!


Divorces are, for the most part, rather volatile. They are not happy moments. Sometimes the clients believe that the lawyer is to perform some form of miracle. They believe that the lawyer may have some favoritism with the judge, but we can tell you that, for the most part, if good lawyers are doing their jobs properly, the results obtained should be just and should not be the result of trickery or deceit. That said, we recognize that you are a party to a family action and are, therefore, under some emotional stress and strain. Whenever possible, we will attempt to reduce and minimize your emotional strain. Contact Parks Law Offices - WE CAN HELP!

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