Wisconsin Legal Separation: A Powerful Option to Preserving Your Marriage and Finances

A couple with a Wisconsin legal separation

Wisconsin Legal Separation: A Powerful Option to Preserving Your Marriage and Finances in Wisconsin

Legal separation in Wisconsin offers couples a unique path to maintain certain advantages of marriage while living separate lives. Unlike divorce, which dissolves the marriage entirely, Wisconsin legal separation enables spouses to remain married while addressing property division, child custody, and support matters. If reconciliation becomes a possibility, the court can reverse the legal separation judgment and nullify associated legal actions. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the intricacies of legal separation, its benefits, key considerations, and frequently asked questions.

What is a Legal Separation?

Legal separation is akin to divorce but without the finality of ending the marital relationship. One spouse files a formal request with the court to initiate the process. After resolving issues related to property division, child custody, and support, the court issues a legal separation judgment. Despite the separation, couples remain legally married while enjoying the freedom to live separate lives.

Grounds for Wisconsin Legal Separation

The grounds for a Wisconsin legal separation differ slightly from those of divorce. To file for divorce, one or both spouses must assert that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” However, for legal separation, it’s sufficient to state that the marriage has “broken,” leaving room for potential reconciliation.

When spouses have differing claims—where one asserts “broken” and the other “irretrievably broken”—the court holds hearings for both testimonies. The court then decides which motion to grant, considering the chances of reconciliation. This deliberation might entail a 60-day delay for counseling before making a decision.

Benefits of Wisconsin Legal Separation

1. Health Insurance Continuity: In many cases, separated spouses can maintain each other’s health insurance coverage, unlike in divorce.

2. Social Security Benefits: Marriages exceeding 10 years entitle divorced spouses to certain benefits based on their own work record or a portion of their ex-spouse’s benefits.

3. Joint Tax Filing: Separated couples can continue to file joint tax returns, offering potential financial advantages.

4. Military Benefits: Spouses married for over 10 years can retain certain military benefits, as stipulated by the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act.

5. Higher Standard of Living: Separate households can be costly; legal separation allows couples to maintain their lifestyle by dividing their home into individual spaces.

6. Religious Considerations: Some couples choose legal separation over divorce due to religious beliefs and customs.

A young couple with a Wisconsin legal separation

Wisconsin Legal Separation Forms

Before proceeding with legal separation, it’s crucial to understand the required forms. A summons notifies the spouse of the legal separation action, while a petition initiates the separation process. Both forms vary based on whether the filing is joint and whether minor children are involved. These forms are available on Wisconsin’s official court forms website.

Wisconsin Legal Separation vs. Divorce

While legal separation and divorce share similarities, they hold distinct implications. Legal separation maintains the marital relationship and requires 30 days of residency in a Wisconsin county. In contrast, divorce dissolves the marriage and demands six months of residency. A 120-day waiting period applies to both processes.

Wisconsin Legal Separation vs. Physical Separation

Legal separation and physical separation are often confused. Legal separation changes marital status, impacting property, debt, and taxes. Physical separation entails living apart without legal changes and can precede legal separation.

Wisconsin Legal Separation Judgment Reversal or Conversion

Couples reconciling after legal separation can reverse the judgment through mutual agreement. To convert legal separation into divorce, couples can use a joint stipulation or a petition, depending on individual circumstances.

Dos and Don’ts of Marital Separation


  • Understand marital finances.
  • Establish individual credit.
  • Close joint credit accounts.
  • Consult a family law attorney for a separation agreement.
  • Keep copies of legal and financial documents.


  • Pursue new relationships, as it’s still considered adultery.
  • Prevent children from seeing the other parent.
  • Overshare legal matters on social media.
  • Make major purchases impulsively.

Frequently Asked Questions about Wisconsin Legal Separation

Q1: Will legal separation protect my assets? A1: Legal separation divides assets and debts, but couples can maintain certain benefits like employer health plans and military benefits.

Q2: Is dating while separated considered cheating? A2: While separated spouses are legally married, entering new relationships is still considered adultery, though it’s not considered in divorce proceedings.

Q3: How soon can we divorce after a short marriage? A3: Divorce is possible even after a brief marriage. Annulment might be an option to explore, where the marriage is deemed invalid due to specific circumstances.

Q4: How can I divorce without losing everything? A4: Wisconsin’s community property division ensures equal distribution of assets and debts. Assets kept entirely separate may be retained by their owner.

Q5: How do I initiate separation from my spouse? A5: File a petition with the circuit court in your or your spouse’s county of residence. Joint filing is possible if both parties agree.

Q6: What’s the cost of divorce in Wisconsin? A6: Divorce costs around $11,000 on average, considering filing and attorney fees. Factors like hourly vs. flat-rate billing and family circumstances influence costs.

Q7: What is spousal maintenance? A7: Also called alimony, spousal maintenance ensures post-divorce financial stability for both spouses.

Q8: What does legal separation mean in Wisconsin? A8: Legal separation maintains marital advantages while allowing separate lives. Health benefits, social security, and reconciliation remain possible.

Q9: How long can you be legally separated in Wisconsin? A9: There’s no time limit for legal separation. After a year, either spouse can convert separation to divorce without the other’s permission.

Q10: How do you get legally separated in Wisconsin? A10: File a Petition or Joint petition with the court in the county of residence. The court issues a separation judgment that resembles a divorce decree.

For further assistance and personalized guidance in your legal separation journey, contact Dahlberg Law Group’s seasoned family law attorneys, including Attorney Latrice Knighton and Attorney Paul Santilli. We’re here to support you through every step of this process.

For immediate help with your family law case or any inquiries, call (262) 677-8999 now!