Step 5: Asset division, child custody and spousal support
The major points of contention in most divorces involve issues of property division, child custody or spousal support. If you and your spouse fail to come to an agreement on these issues, you should know how Wisconsin divorce law often rules but also consider working with a divorce mediator to help you both come to an agreement.
Wisconsin is a community property state in which property acquired by both spouses during the marriage must be divided equally. Separate property which belongs wholly to one spouse may have been acquired in the following ways:
- Owned prior to marriage
- Received as a gift or inheritance
- Obtained following a separation but prior to divorce
- Designated as separate through a prenuptial agreement
Once the community property and debts are identified, they must be assigned a monetary value, usually via an appraiser.
Division of property may occur in several ways. Although Wisconsin courts favor a 50/50 division when it comes to cash or multiple goods, they may use various methods to distribute other forms of property. Indivisible assets may be provided to one spouse, while another asset of equivalent value is assigned to the other spouse. In some cases, a share of the property may be given to one party while providing the asset to the other, in essence, making both spouses co-owners.
Debts are also distributed in a similar manner to each spouse. While the judge may assign a debt to one party, the other spouse may still be responsible for a portion of repayment.
As in most states, Wisconsin determines child custody based on the best interests of the child, and, as such, usually awards joint custody to both spouses. The judge will design a parenting schedule in joint custody situations that apportion each parent’s time with the child. Joint custody in Wisconsin grants both parents equal rights in making decisions regarding the child.
If one parent is deemed unfit, the court may assign one parent sole custody of a child. In this situation, the sole legal custodian possesses full authority to make decisions regarding the child.
In some rare instances in which spouses have trouble communicating, possess incompatible parenting styles or reside a long distance apart, Wisconsin courts may confer joint custody but grant authority over major decisions regarding health, welfare and education of the child to one parent.
Spousal support is more commonly known as maintenance in Wisconsin and is dependent upon several factors:
- Earning capacity of both spouses
- Each spouse’s educational level
- Standard of living during the marriage
- Professional skills of both spouses
- Sacrifices made by spouses during the marriage, particularly for the other’s education, career or training
- Financial assets and income
- Length of the marriage
- Debts incurred during the marriage
- Age and health of each spouse
- Property division
- Any agreements regarding maintenance made before or during the marriage
Maintenance in Wisconsin will usually have a start and termination date, although in cases of an extremely lengthy marriages of if one spouse is unable to work, maintenance may go on indefinitely. The spouse who is awarded maintenance may petition the court for an extension only before maintenance is terminated.