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Questions and Answers About Legal Separation in Wisconsin

The decision to end your marriage is often difficult and it can take some time. There are many issues that can complicate a divorce, including those involving children, residence, insurance, and distribution of assets and debts. In some cases, a couple may prefer to obtain a legal separation instead of proceeding directly to dissolution of marriage.

How is Legal Separation Different from Physical Separation?

The divorce process typically begins with the decision to live apart. There is a difference between a legal separation and a simply physical separation. A physical separation simply means that the couple lives apart from each other. This occurs on a regular basis with all divorces. When you simply live apart, the law still considers that you are married. The court can grant a legal separation to couples who request one through the proper channels.

What is a Legal Separation?

A legal separation is similar to divorce; however, the parties are still married. A legal separation allows the parties to decide on specific terms such as division of property, determination of child custody and visitation, support and maintenance, and more. A legal separation allows a couple to remain married; however, they will be able to live their lives separately. A couple may seek a legal separation while they decide whether to permanently dissolve their union.

What are the Grounds for Legal Separation?

Wisconsin allows for a divorce when a marriage is irretrievably broken. For a legal separation, one or both parties must acknowledge only that the marriage is broken. This slight difference means that when a marriage is broken the parties may still be able to salvage the relationship. A legal separation allows the couple time to attend marriage counseling to determine whether they can reconcile. A couple with a legal separation may decide to get back together and continue the marriage.

Are There Benefits to Legal Separation?

There may be some benefits to choosing a legal separation rather than an immediate divorce. Couples who are separated may be able to continue on their spouse’s healthcare plan. This can be important because once you are divorced, you will generally be required to have your own insurance. Couples who are legally separated are still able to file joint tax returns, and therefore, might save money. Couples who are separated may be able to live more comfortably because they can take advantage of all the laws that apply to pooled resources. Some religions do not allow divorce, and for these individuals, a legal separation is the best alternative.

What is the Process for Legal Separation?

A legal separation utilizes a similar process to the dissolution of marriage. The first step is to file a legal request for a separation and notify the spouse of the action. Couples may file together or one or the other may file the petition. The court will provide a hearing date and you and your spouse will work together to agree to terms that deal with issues like finances and children. The court will review the matter and issue a judgment. It is important to note that you can remain in legal separation status indefinitely. If you wish to convert to a divorce, you must wait at least a year, unless both parties agree.

Separation and divorce can be complicated. It is helpful to speak with a qualified divorce attorney to learn your options and get the guidance you need. Contact our legal team at Moen Sheehan Meyer, Ltd, online for by phone at (608) 784-8310 for an initial consultation.

Published April 30, 2021
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