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Family Law Matters in Wisconsin

What are the Basic Issues in a Divorce?

Grounds: WI is a no-fault divorce state. This means that the court is not interested in why a party is seeking a divorce. The court however, must be convinced that the marriage is irretrievably broken. In other words, the court will grant the divorce if there is no reasonable prospect that the married couple can reconcile their differences.

Custody: means authority to make major decisions for a child."Major decisions" include, but are not limited to, decisions regarding consent to marry, consent to enter military service, consent to obtain a motor vehicle operator's license, authorization for non-emergency health care and choice of school and religion. If both parents have equal decision-making authority, this is called "joint legal custody" If one parent has the right to make major decisions, this is called "sole legal custody".

Physical Placement: means the condition under which a party has the right to have a child physically placed with that party and has the right and responsibility to make, during that placement, routine daily decisions regarding the child's care, consistent with major decisions made by person(s) having legal custody.

Child Support: are payments made from one parent to another for the purpose of assisting in the costs of raising the child(ren). Support calculations can be very complex and vary based on the amount of time each parent has placement of the child(ren) and the level of income of either or both parents. (See back panel for more information.)

Maintenance, formerly called alimony, is a payment from one spouse to the other. When determining if maintenance should be awarded, the court will consider: the length of the marriage; the age and health of both spouses; the property division; the education of each spouse; the standard of living of each spouse and the likelihood that each is or can be self-supporting; tax consequences; agreements between the spouses; the contributions of each spouse toward the other or the family; and other factors the court deems relevant. Maintenance can be awarded for a fixed amount of time or indefinitely.

Property Division: the court will attempt to divide the marital estate equally between the spouses. The marital estate consists of assets and debts acquired during the marriage. There are rules that allow certain property to be excepted from the marital estate: inheritance, gifts, etc..

What should I look for in a good divorce lawyer?

According to the Divorce pamphlet produced by the State Bar of Wisconsin: "Contrary to what many people believe, good divorce lawyers don't push their clients into full-scale war. This only leaves behind damage and resentment that can linger for years. The best outcome is a divorce that allows two people to begin to heal and get on with their lives. Toward that end, divorce attorneys help their clients settle their divorce, if at all possible, rather than go to trial."


A. If one parent has primary placement, the court typically orders child support based on the following guidelines:

One Child: 17% of gross income

Two Children: 25% of gross income

Three Children: 29% of gross income

Four Children: 31% of gross income

B. If the parents share placement, the courts will consider the amount of child support mom would pay for the child(ren) for the time the child(ren) are with dad and offset that figure by the amount dad would pay for the time the child(ren) are with mom.

C. The court may use alternative formulas for high and low income child support payers.

D. Either parent may argue for deviation from these standard calculations.

These are a few of the many considerations that should be discussed with your attorney.

Other procedures which may require a Family Law Attorney:

  1. Adoption
  2. Paternity
  3. Post Judgment Modifications
  4. Domestic Violence Cases

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