I'm finally getting a divorce...what now?


Author: Attorney Adam Sorrentino

Partners grow apart. Spouses fight, passion ends, and communication dissolves. Maybe your spouse left with the kids or has come out about another relationship. Maybe the two of you just aren’t compatible anymore and want to move on in your lives. Regardless of the circumstances, many individuals going through a divorce put a lot of emphasis on filing “for divorce.” Ultimately, once that paperwork is accepted by a court, many people have to ask themselves “what do I do next?”

There are many different factors to consider before and during a divorce. Your decisions can have long standing implications for you, your spouse, and your children’s futures.

Many filers know that Wisconsin has a mandatory waiting period before a divorce can be finalized. Internet searches and second-hand advice lead people to believe that time limit is anywhere from 60-days to 6 months. In fact, the waiting period is 120 days. Additionally, the law actually states that it is 120-days from when your spouse is served, unless you file a joint petition for divorce, then it is when you file. Wis. Stat. § 767.335 (1).

After the divorce is filed, served, and the 120 days start ticking, people wonder what to do next. There is another requirement before any divorce can be finalized and that is the submission of a financial disclosure statement to your spouse, and the court. These financial disclosures should list your income, deductions, debts, assets, liabilities, and any other obligations you may have. Wis. Stat. § 767.127.

Once both of you have disclosed your financial information to each other, you are able to work toward settlement and dividing your property. Wisconsin’s marital property laws generally assign everything spouses own as joint marital property. That property, and all of your debts, are considered 50% yours and 50% your spouse’s. There is a great deal of flexibility in how you and your spouse divide your property, but the underlying law is that everything should be split. There are some exceptions. Property you solely brought into the marriage, gifts to you, or inheritances, do not count as marital property.

The next big issue in many divorces involves the children. Who will they stay with? Where will they live? Where will they go to school? What are your parental rights? What about child support? How do I get custody/placement?

These questions need to be resolved quickly and may already be in effect by the time the divorce is filed. During the divorce, you may be required by the Court to submit a “proposed parenting plan” to address these issues. However, similar to the property division above, the law has defaults that promote the maximization of time with both parents. Essentially, spouses should equally share time unless other circumstances arise. That underlying principle will be the guiding force behind any custody and placement dispute in a divorce.

Finally, maintenance (or alimony) is the other common issue to raise during a divorce. Unlike the previous two issues, maintenance and income is not split 50/50. Wisconsin law has adopted a more flexible standard, with maintenance being designed to support a spouse at a standard of living “reasonably comparable” to that which the spouse enjoyed during the marriage. Because of the amorphous nature of maintenance and the many factors a court must consider, this issue can become legally, financially, and emotionally complicated as the action proceeds.

The final step in the divorce process is either a) reaching an agreement and getting divorced, or b) going to trial. You have every right to go to trial if you and your spouse cannot agree on something. A judge will decide those issues for you and grant a divorce if you meet the criteria; but remember the default rules mentioned above.

If you are filing, or have filed, for divorce and are concerned about what to do next, contact an attorney at your earliest convenience to determine what steps to take next.