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Divorce is one of the three legal processes which can be pursued to dissolve, or terminate, a marriage (the other two being Legal Separation, and Annulment). The major legal issues presented in a divorce, along with a basic overview of divorce procedure, will each be addressed below.

Issues in a Divorce

In addition to severing the bonds of matrimony between the parties, a divorce often presents other related issues which must also be addressed and resolved. Among these is how the assets and debts accumulated by the parties during the marriage should be assigned as between the spouses, which is known as property division. Another is the issue of whether one spouse should have a support obligation to the other spouse. Known as "alimony" in most other states, that potential obligation is referred to as "maintenance" in Wisconsin. If there are minor children from the marriage, provisions must also be made as to custody, placement and child support. Finally, there may be other legal issues in a divorce, depending on the specific facts and circumstances which are presented. The potential for other issues must be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

Basic Divorce Procedure

In the traditional court system, the basic procedure for a divorce is as follows. Initially, one party commences the divorce by filing a document with the court known as a petition for divorce. The party filing is then referred to as the Petitioner. The party who did not file must then be served with a copy of the initial pleading. Thereafter, that person is referred to as the Respondent. There is no advantage or disadvantage legally in being the Petitioner or the Respondent.
From the date on which the Respondent is served with the initial pleadings, there is a minimum waiting period of 120 days which must elapse before a final judgment of divorce can be entered. It usually takes somewhat longer than the minimum waiting period for most divorces to be concluded, and in some cases, much longer.

While the case remains pending, there is a practical need to determine what ground rules will apply pending a final resolution. For example, the spouses in a new divorce are often unable to reach an agreement concerning such matters as who should be allowed to remain living in the marital residence, what times any minor children should be with mother versus father, who should have temporary use of various items of marital property, who should pay which bills, and so on. Answers to these and other questions is provided by entry of what is known as a Temporary Order. Just as it sounds, the Temporary Order is not a final decision, but is merely intended to define the rights and responsibilities of each party respectively until a final determination about the issues presented can be made. Normally, it would be preferable to have a Temporary Order entered as soon as possible after the commencement of a new divorce, in order to minimize the time during which the important questions it is designed to address are left "up in the air."

Once the temporary order issues in a divorce are resolved appropriately, the next phase is for information needed to finalize the case to be collected. Lawyers often refer to that process as "discovery." A variety of formal tools are provided by the law to collect information, such as subpoenaes, depositions, and interrogatories or requests for production of documents. Sometimes in a divorce, however, the parties will agree to utilize less formal means of exchanging information. Doing so can often be faster, more efficient and less expensive than the formal alternatives.

Eventually, the issues presented in the divorce must be resolved on a final basis, and incorporated into a judgment of divorce. This can be done by the parties reaching a settlement agreement, or if necessary can be accomplished by appearing for a final divorce hearing before a judge and allowing the judge to make a decision after considering the evidence and argument offered by each party. Finally, once the judgment is entered, steps must often be taken to implement the terms of the judgment, such as recording deeds to confirm ownership of real estate, or specialized orders to divide interests in retirement accounts.