Preparing for Divorce in Wisconsin

The thought of getting a divorce can seem overwhelming. There is a lot to consider: the logistics of co-parenting minor children, determining debt owed, dividing assets such as a home and investments, financial planning, and much more.

The family lawyers at Murphy Desmond can assist you with these and other issues that affect your future. You can rely on us to file documents with the courts in a timely manner and keep the process rolling.

If you are contemplating divorce, the attorneys at Murphy Desmond S.C. recommend that you try to prepare for what’s ahead. Knowing your finances and having a plan for responsibilities regarding children can help your divorce be efficient and more economical from the start.

What should you consider as you plan for a divorce?

First of all, couples should review your finances when preparing for a divorce.

  • It is important that you know your current financial situation and have the paperwork available to support it. Many people are unaware of what they owe on a mortgage or vehicle, and they are unsure of what property they own vs. financed. Oftentimes, individuals are out of touch with monthly expenses like health insurance, car payments, insurance, groceries, and other costs of living. We recommend that you get a credit report on yourself before you begin the divorce process, and know what debts are in your name.
  • Consider the costs of splitting into two homes. Can you sustain the cost of a home on your sole income, or will you need maintenance or child support from your spouse? Do the math before you file.
  • Look into the costs of hiring an attorney. A simple divorce where both parties are in agreement on everything early on can be as low as $3,500 per attorney. More complicated divorces, where couples disagree on most matters, can be ten times that cost. Murphy Desmond lawyers work as efficiently as possible to help you keep costs down. This includes conflict mitigation that can reduce negative emotions for you and your children.

Second, divorcing couples should consider the children and their well-being, especially minor children at home and children with special needs.

  • Have an agreed-upon schedule in place to split time and care of your children. The plan must be suitable for all involved, especially the children.
  • Have a plan in place for expenses related to your children. This includes costs of education, daycare, sports, activities, clothing, food, tutors, and services for children with special needs. Remember to have a plan for expenses and arrangements for family pets, as well.
  • Determine which spouse will carry health and dental insurance for the children, and remember those costs in division of expenses.

You’ve decided you are getting a divorce and have done some planning. What’s next?

Hire an attorney right away. It is more efficient to hire an attorney to complete and file the proper forms than to begin a divorce pro se (without an attorney). When you hire an attorney later on, things often become complicated or you might realize missteps you made along the way.

How does a couple set a schedule for time with their minor children and arrange for child support early in the divorce process?

Your attorney will work with you to establish what is called a “Temporary Order.”  In a Temporary Order, both parties agree to a temporary schedule with the children as well as temporary financial arrangements while you begin to live in separate households.

With regard to physical placement of the children, Wisconsin family courts will always consider the best interests of the children in a divorce. The courts prefer to see a 50/50 placement time, but that is not always possible given parent jobs and other situations. It is best to work with your spouse and come up with a plan that is healthy for the children.

In instances of abuse or neglect, or if the parents vehemently disagree on what is best for the children, the court will likely appoint guardian ad litem to become part of the process. A guardian ad litem is an independent lawyer who works on behalf of the children specifically and makes recommendations.   

Child support is money paid to one parent from the other to help cover expenses. Under Wisconsin law, child support is partially determined based upon the number of overnights a parent has with the child. Recent laws have changed the way this is calculated for parents who work overnight shifts or other unusual hours.

Maintenance (also known as alimony) is money from one spouse to another. It is based upon a number of factors, including the parties’ budgets and individual incomes. You may include maintenance in your Temporary Order.

Do couples each need to hire their own lawyers or can both parties work with just one lawyer?

Wisconsin recently enacted a mediated divorce process. This change allows couples to choose one attorney to assist them jointly during the legal process of divorce.The lawyer may only give guidance on the process and file appropriate forms with the courts. The lawyer does not represent either spouse. Rather, the attorney is neutral and only answers legal questions.

Mediated divorces can be an economical process for couples to divorce. In addition, it allows the spouses to be in touch with each other directly to discuss issues and come to an agreement without legal counsel.

If couples find they cannot agree on important decisions, they can hire their own lawyers at any time during the process.

In most divorces, couples seem to prefer to have their own attorneys looking after their best interests.

Many divorces involve complicated division of property, including a family business or a farm. Do couples need additional help with complex financial situations?

When a family business or farm is part of the property division in a divorce, it’s important to have a lawyer with experience in dealing with more complicated financial matters. Our attorneys have worked with couples to divide family farms and businesses. When necessary, we work closely with accountants and Murphy Desmond business lawyers on division of property.

In the meantime, if you have any Payable on Death (P.O.D.) accounts in your name only, such as life insurance policies, investments and other financial accounts, we recommend you change the beneficiaries sooner rather than later or those assets will likely go to your spouse.

Contact Murphy Desmond when you are ready to file for a divorce.

Murphy Desmond lawyers understand the concerns of divorcing couples. Our family law attorneys can assist you no matter how complex your divorce may be. Contact us at or call us at 608.257.7181.

Murphy Desmond is a full-service law firm with offices in Madison, Janesville, Dodgeville, and Appleton, Wisconsin. We have approximately 30 lawyers, including Spanish-speaking attorneys and staff, to assist with all your personal and business legal matters. 

Published August 19, 2020