Property Division FAQs

Wisconsin Property Division FAQ’s

Skilled Milwaukee Divorce Lawyers Answer Your Questions

 

If you have made the difficult decision to file for divorce, but are unsure what to do about property division, this section will help give you a basic understanding of property division in Wisconsin divorce. Covered in this section are concerns about debt and prenuptial agreements as well. For a more detailed look at to the specific Family Law areas we specialize in, check out our services. If you have further questions or concerns beyond these FAQs, please contact Bandle & Zaeske LLP today to get the answers you need.


How will our property and debts be divided?

The presumption in the State of Wisconsin is that all property and/or debts of the parties will be divided equally. This presumption can be overcome based on the following factors:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The property brought to the marriage by each party
  • Whether one of the parties has substantial assets not subject to division by the court.
  • The contribution of each party to the marriage, giving appropriate economic value to each party’s contribution in homemaking and child care services The age and physical and emotional health of the parties
  • The contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other
  • The earning capacity of each party
  • The desirability of awarding the family home or the right to live therein for a reasonable period to the party having physical placement for the greater period of time.
  • Maintenance and/or family support orders
  • Other economic circumstances
  • The tax consequences to each party
  • Other relevant factors

What if my spouse has everything in his/her name?

Wisconsin is a marital property state which means that each spouse has a one-half interest in all property and/or debts acquired during the marriage. There are only a few exceptions such as inherited or gifted property. As a result, title, or in whose name an asset or debt is held, is largely irrelevant in the State of Wisconsin. 


Will I be able to keep or recoup gifted or inherited property?

Generally, property that is inherited or gifted is not subject to division in a divorce but there are exceptions. What happens to gifted or inherited property received by one party either prior to or during a marriage depends on what was done with that property when it was received. For example, if you inherit a sum of money and keep it separate from marital property, you will most likely be able to keep that inheritance. However, if you take your inheritance and use it for a down payment on a marital home, the court will most likely consider that marital property and divide it. 


What if there is a dispute about the value of certain property?

Often times it is necessary to have property appraised or valued to determine a value. The court usually appoints an appraiser or valuator in those cases and orders that the parties split the cost but each party is entitled to hire their own independent appraiser or valuator as well. 


How are pensions or retirement accounts divided?

The presumption in Wisconsin is that all property, including retirement accounts, will be divided equally. For most 401(k)’s, pension plans, retirement accounts or IRA’s, a special order called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (called a “QDRO”) is prepared which effectuates a division of those accounts. For some retirement accounts, such as military, state or county pension plans, QDRO’s do not apply and other special orders are required. If these type of retirement benefits exist, a lawyer or accountant is the most qualified person to address this type of issue. 


What if I accumulated a portion of my pension or retirement account prior to my marriage, will my spouse get half?

The presumption in Wisconsin is that all property, including retirement accounts, will be divided equally. For most 401(k)’s, pension plans, retirement accounts or IRA’s, a special order called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (called a “QDRO”) is prepared which effectuates a division of those accounts. For some retirement accounts, such as military, state or county pension plans, QDRO’s do not apply and other special orders are required. If these type of retirement benefits exist, a lawyer or accountant is the most qualified person to address this type of issue. 


Will the court enforce our pre-nuptial agreement?

Wisconsin law states that a pre-nuptial agreement is binding on the court unless the terms of the agreement are inequitable as to either party.


 What if my spouse accumulated a large amount of debt without my knowledge, am I responsible for half?

Because Wisconsin is a marital property state and the presumption if for an equal division of property and debt, the answer would be yes. Again, there are exceptions. For example, if the debt accumulation was due to a spouse’s addiction, such as gambling, drugs or alcohol, the court usually relieves the other party from those liabilities. 


What if my spouse doesn’t pay debt that he/she agrees to pay or that the court orders him/her to pay?

Unfortunately, creditors are not bound by family court orders. As a result, they may seek payment from you on a debt that your spouse was ordered to pay. The only recourse you would have would be to file a contempt motion with the family court for your spouse’s failure to pay. Most often, the court will order remedies which may include a wage assignment to you for any amounts your spouse failed to pay and you end up being responsible for. 


What if my spouse (ex-spouse) files bankruptcy?

If your spouse files bankruptcy, you would be responsible for the entire amount of any debt he/she is discharged from. Typically, however, this only applies to joint debts. If a debt is in one party’s name alone, the creditor doesn’t often seek repayment from a non-debtor spouse although it does happen on occasion. Again, you remedy would be to file a contempt motion in the family court as stated above. A debtor cannot discharge support obligations.


What if I decide after my divorce that the property/debt division was unfair and I want to change it?

The court does not have the authority to change a property division order after the date of the final divorce unless a party files a Motion to Reopen and the court grants that motion. A Motion to Reopen must be filed with a “reasonable” period of time but no later than one year from the date of the final divorce. The court has the discretion to determine what a reasonable period of time is. Also, the court will only reopen a judgment for very limited reasons such as mistake, fraud, inexcusable neglect, new information or other equitable grounds.

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