Wisconsin Divorce Defined
This work is not a substitute for professional legal advice. If you are facing a divorce or other family law matter, consult a knowledgeable attorney licensed to practice in your state for personalized, professional advice.
Where it might be helpful, I have included references to Wisconsin Statutes. All statutory citations are current as of January 1, 2010. As of January 1, 2010, Wisconsin Divorce Statutes are in Chapter 767 of the Family Code. Wisconsin Marital Property law is in Chapter 766 of the Family Code.
Too often lawyers and clients share a common goal but speak different languages.
The common goal is an efficient, satisfactory resolution of the client’s case. The use of legal jargon interferes with communication between lawyers and clients. Lawyers are learning to avoid “legalese” in their communication with clients but vocabulary specific to the legal process cannot be completely eliminated. This glossary is intended to define words and legal concepts in plain English in order to give non-lawyers a basic understanding of the language of family law. I hope it will serve as a bridge between you and the legal system.
The information here is based on my practice philosophy. While the definitions are intended to be accurate, they are not objective. They represent my opinion based on decades of divorce practice in Wisconsin.
Disclaimer: This glossary is not a substitute for personalized, professional legal advice.
ACTION: A lawsuit. Lawyers use the words action, case, and lawsuit interchangeably. A divorce action is filed with the Court by the Petitioner and served on the Respondent. The title of a divorce action looks like this: “In re the marriage of John Smith, Petitioner and Lori Smith, Respondent,” or like this: “In re the marriage of Lori Smith, Joint Petitioner-Wife and John Smith, Joint Petitioner-Husband.”
ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF PATERNITY: A legal document used to voluntarily establish the paternity of a child born outside of marriage. The document is signed by the person admitting paternity and is filed with the Registrar of Vital Statistics. Section 767.805.
ADOPTION: The procedure required to create the legal status of parent and child. Chapter 48 describes the procedure for adoption of children.
ADVERSARIAL PROCESS: Wisconsin’s family court system is rooted in traditional adversarial process. The adversarial process model assumes that each party is represented by a strong advocate whose job is to convince the Judge to accept that party’s version of the facts and make him or her the winner. The problem for divorcing spouses is that often their relationship doesn’t end when the divorce is granted. Battling in Court is not a good basis for a future coparenting relationship. The position taking, no holds barred behavior required by the adversarial process is counter-productive to meeting the needs of children and families. Parties to family actions can choose alternative dispute resolution processes such as mediaton and collaborative practice rather than litigation. They can choose lawyers who are experts in settlement and pledge to work out agreements to meet the best interests of every family member, rather than fight it out in court. In mediation and collaborative practice, parties keep decision-making over divorce issues within the family rather than turning issues over to a Judge who decides who wins and who loses. In recent years the Wisconsin legal system has recognized Alternatiave Dispute Resolution procedures intended to preserve family relationships while recognizing the reality of divorce. Private dispute resolution offers clients increased confidentiality, decreased expense, and more control over the outcome of disputes than does traditional litigation. Chapter 802.12, Wis. Stats.
AFFIDAVIT: A written statement of fact signed under oath and witnessed by a notary. Many legal pleadings must be supported by a signed affidavit. When a pleading is filed, the affidavit is physically attached to the document. For example, a motion for an increase in child support includes an affidavit signed by the person requesting the increase outlining the reasons that support the request.
AFFIANT: The person signing an affidavit. A typical introductory form for an affidavit looks like this: “Your affiant, being first duly sworn, hereby states…”
ALLEGATION: A statement of fact. The word allegation is often used by lawyers to imply that statements made by the other party are false. For example: “The allegations made by Mr. Smith concerning the night in question are completely groundless.”
ANNULMENT: The legal ending of an invalid marriage. There are a number of possible grounds for annulment including, among others, that the parties were too young to enter into a legally binding contract. Section 767.313, Wis. Stats.
APPEAL: A request made to a higher court requesting a review of a lower court’s decision. In Wisconsin a trial court’s decision can, under certain circumstances, be appealed to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals or to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
APPEARANCE: Attendance at a Court proceeding. The Court determines whether proceedings will be handled by telephone or in person.
APPRAISAL: An expert opinion concerning the value of an asset.
ARBITRATION: An alternative dispute resolution process in which parties agree to ask a neutral third party (other than the Court) to decide their dispute. In Wisconsin parties can agree to resolve disputes in arbitration rather than by litigation. Section 802.12, Wis. Stats.
ARREARAGES: Past due payments, usually of child or spousal support. If court ordered support payments are not paid, the amounts past due are referred to as arrears or arrearages.
BEST INTERESTS OF THE CHILD: The standard the court is required to apply in making custody, physical placement and visitation decisions. The standard is subjective and the Court must consider the factors found in Section 767.41, Wis. Stats. to determine what is in a child’s best interests.
BURDEN OF PROOF: A legal standard assigning one party the greater burden to prove his or her case to the Court. This concept is best described by comparing it to the standard used in professional football when a review of a play is requested. The burden of proof is on the team requesting the review.
BRIEF: A specific type of written argument submitted by an attorney to the Court. The Court may order the attorneys in a family case to submit briefs on a particular legal issue on which the Court is being asked to rule. A brief typically includes a statement of the facts of the case, a summary of the applicable law, and legal argument supporting a party’s view of the case. When a court asks attorneys to brief an issue, the court is asking for a written submission called a brief.
A briefing schedule is a timetable set by the Court for the submission (filing) of briefs. The Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court have rules for the format of briefs that are stricter than the rules in the circuit courts. (By the way, lawyers carry their briefs in briefcases.)
CAPTION: The title of an action. In a family case the title looks like this: “In re the marriage of M. Smith, Petitioner and J. Smith, Respondent” or like this: In re the marriage of M. Smith and J. Smith, Joint Petitioners.” The caption also includes the case number assigned by the Clerk of Courts and a case classification code.
CASE LAW: Legal opinions deciding lawsuits written by appellate courts. When a Judge decides a case, he or she considers the statutes – the law written by the legislature – and case law – decisions written by Judges interpreting the law and applying the law to the specific facts of a case.
CERTIFICATE OF READINESS: A form issued by the Family Court Commissioner informing the Court that a family action is ready for trial.
CHILD CUSTODY: Custody refers to the authority to make major decisions on behalf of a child. Custody may be either sole or joint. A person with sole custody is authorized to make all major decisions on behalf of a child. Persons with joint custody are both empowered to make major decisions on behalf of a child and are typically required to talk with one another and reach an agreement before making major decisions. Section 767.41, Wis. Stats.
CHILD SUPPORT: Money paid from one parent (or grandparent) to the other parent as a contribution toward the cost of raising a child. Child support is determined by a Court or by agreement of the parents. Wisconsin has a standard child support guideline pursuant to which support is usually set. It is found in Ch. DCF 150.
CHILD SPECIALIST: In a collaborative case, parents who need expert help with placement and custody issues, can hire a child specialist to join the collaborative team. The role of a child specialist is to help parents understand their child’s needs and come to agreements about placement and custody. More information is available at www.collabdivorce.com, www.collaborativedivorcecommunity.com; and throughout this site.
CHILD SUPPORT GUIDELINES: A mathematical formula used as a basis for the determination of child support. Wisconsin courts have some discretion (authority) to deviate from (not use) the guideline but must state clear, legally supportable reasons for doing so. Ch.DCF 150.
COLLABORATIVE COACH: In a collaborative case, each party hires an expert mental health professional to become part of the collaborative team. Coaches have many roles in collaborative divorce cases. A coach helps clients prepare for negotiation, set goals, work on placement plans, and communication, etc.. More information can be found at www.collabdivorce.com, www.collaborativedivorcecommunity.com; and throughout this site.
COLLABORATIVE PRACTICE: A non-adversarial approach to divorce. The parties and attorneys in a collaborative case agree to opt out of the traditional adversarial legal process and instead work together to create an outcome acceptable to both parties and in the best interests of the family. There is no litigation and no formal discovery. More information can be found at www.collabdivorce.com, www.collaborativedivorcecommunity.com; and throughout this site.
COBRA: An acronym (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) for a federal law requiring certain employers to offer medical insurance benefits to the former spouse of an employee. The employer is not required to pay the cost of the medical insurance nor must the insurance be offered indefinitely. Former spouses also have some insurance continuation rights under Wisconsin law.
COHABITATION: Adults living together without being legally married.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST: Divided loyalties. An attorney is required by the Rules of Professional Conduct to represent only one side in a legal dispute. In fact, lawyers’ ethical rules require them to avoid “even the appearance” of a conflict of interest. The Rules extend to prohibiting attorneys from entering into business relationships with clients. The purpose of these rules is to assure that an attorney’s loyalty to a client is absolute and not potentially diminished by an obligation toward another person.
CONTEMPT OF COURT: When a party is ordered by the court to do a particular act or to refrain from doing a particular act and the party willfully violates the court order, that party is in contempt of the court order. A Motion for Contempt can be made to the Court by the party who believes a violation has occurred and a hearing will be held. If the court finds (determines) that a violation has occurred, the court may impose sanctions (punishment) including attorney fees and costs. In some circumstances, the court may also sentence the violator (contemptor) to jail. A party sentenced to jail often is given the right to purge (correct) the contempt by immediately complying with the court order and remaining in compliance with the court order in the future. A Motion for Contempt is often referred to an Order to Show Cause.
CONTESTED DIVORCE: A divorce in which at least one issue remains to be resolved (decided) by the court. In Wisconsin, most divorces are resolved by agreement of the parties without a trial. When parties work out all divorce related issues, the diovrce is considered fully stipulated. A fully stipulated divorce requires only a brief hearing with the Court. The Court accepts the parties’ stipulation (agreement) and grants the divorce.
COURT COMMISSIONER: Many Wisconsin counties employ lawyers to assist Judges in family cases. The specific tasks handled by family court commissioners vary from county to county.
COURT RULES: Many Wisconsin Circuit Courts create procedural rules for court processes.Often copies of the local rules are available for purchase at a nominal cost in the Clerk of Courts office. They are also frequently available online.
CROSS-EXAMINATION: A witness testifies (answers questions under oath) in Court. The attorney who calls (brings) a particular witness asks questions of that witness – a process referred to as direct examination. The other attorney then has an opportunity to ask the witness questions – a process referred to as cross-examination.
DECISION-MAKING AUTHORITY: The law defines the following as major decisions: choice of school and religion, authority to authorize non-emergency medical care, authority to give permission to marry, to obtain a driver’s license, and to enter military service. If parents have joint legal custody, each parent has an equal right to make major decisions. Generally, the parents will be expected to consult with each other concerning major decisions and come to an agreement. If one parent has sole legal custody, that parent has sole authority over major decisions. Section 767.41.
DE NOVO HEARING: In some counties, a court commissioner enters temporary orders. A party disagreeing with the order has a right to a de novo hearing in front of the assigned Judge. De novo means the court commissioner’s decision has no precedential value; the court hears the case without regard to the commissioner’s decision. From the Latin, “anew.” Black’s Law Dictionary, Seventh Edition.
DISCOVERY: A formal system of information gathering. Examples of discovery procedures commonly used in family court are interrogatories and depositions. In collaborative practice, discovery is done informally to avoid unnecessary expense and duplication of efforts.
DISQUALIFICATION AGREEMENT: In a collaborative case, both parties and both attorneys pledge to use all of their efforts to come to a peaceful, fair resolution of all divorce issues in the best interests of the family. If settlement fails, both lawyers must withdraw from representing the parties. The divorce continues but other counsel is hired to try remaining issues to the Court.
DISSOLUTION: Legal ending of the marriage.
DISCRETION: Authority of a Judge to decide the outcome of a case. A Judge must apply the law to the facts of a case but doing so requires the Judge to exercise his or her own judgment as to the outcome.
DEPOSITION: A formal proceeding at which an attorney questions a witness under oath.
Answers are recorded by a court reporter. A deposition is part of a larger process referred to as discovery. In collaborative practice, discovery is done informally pursuant to the terms of the collaborative contract.
DIRECT EXAMINATION: The first questioning of a witness by the attorney calling (requesting the testimony of) the witness.
DOMESTIC ABUSE: Physical, verbal, emotional abuse or harassment by or between spouses or persons living in a household. Whether a child or a parent has been the victim of domestic abuse is one factor the court is obligated to consider in making custody and placement decisions. Section 767.41, Wis. Stats.
DUTY TO DISCLOSE: In a collaborative case or in mediation, there is a duty to disclose all relevant information voluntarily. That duty is created by contract in Collaborative Divorces and in Mediation.
EVIDENCE: Documents, testimony or other material offered (presented) to the court to prove or disprove allegations. The rules of evidence are complicated. Court hearings are not an opportunity to simply tell your story. Courts have specific rules about what is “allowed” into evidence.
EX PARTE: Contact with the Court by one lawyer or party without notice to the other lawyer or party. Legal rules prohibit such contact. Ex parte is Latin for “from the part” according to Black’s Law Dictionary, Seventh Addition.
EXPERT WITNESS: A person with specialized training called as a witness to provide information and opinion to the Court. Experts frequently called to offer testimony in family cases include real estate appraisers, accountants, and psychologists.
FAMILY SUPPORT: A category of support payable from one spouse to the other often intended as a combination of maintenance and child support. The terms used to describe payments made by one spouse to or on behalf of the other may have significance beyond the obvious. Lawyers often advise labeling such payments by one name as opposed to another name to gain tax or other advantages. Great care must be given to decisions concerning how to label support as tax and other ramifications may be substantial.
FILING: Documents are filed with the Judge or Clerk of Courts. A Court file is created. Court files are, for the most part, public records. A divorce is started by filing a Joint Petition or Summons and Petition with the Clerk of Courts in the County in which the parties’ reside.
FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE FORM: Before the Court can grant a divorce or set support, both parties must submit written financial information. Most Wisconsin counties have a standard, required financial disclosure form available through the Clerk of Court’s office. Section 767.127, Wis. Stats.
FINANCIAL SPECIALIST: A neutral financial professional hired in a collaborative divorce to help the divorcing spouses make good financial decisions.
FINDINGS OF FACT, CONCLUSIONS OF LAW AND JUDGMENT OF DIVORCE: The final document signed by the Court at the conclusion of a divorce. The divorce is not legally completed until the Findings are signed by the Judge. Section 767.36, Wis. Stats.
FORMER NAME: Upon request, the divorce court may enter an order allowing a spouse who changed his or her surname at the time of marriage to resume his or her former surname.
GROUNDS: In the past a person seeking a divorce was required to prove he or she was entitled to a divorce based on certain legally acceptable reasons. Currently, a divorce is granted when both husband and wife state the marriage is irretrievably broken. No proof beyond that statement is required. Section 767.315, Wis. Stats.
GUARDIAN AD LITEM: An attorney appointed by the Court to represent a child’s best interests in a legal proceeding. The guardian ad litem (gal) represents the concept of a child’s best interests and is not bound by a child’s stated wishes. The gal functions like the other attorneys in the case but is obligated to substitute his or her own judgment for the child’s judgment after taking into consideration the facts of the case and the law which must be applied. A guardian ad litem may also be appointed for an incompetent adult. From the Latin, “for the suit.” Section 767.407, Wis. Stats.
HEARING: Any proceeding before (in front of) a court or commissioner at which testimony is given or legal argument made.
HOLD-HARMLESS: An agreement by one party to (1) assume responsibility for payment of a debt and (2) to protect the other party from claims by the creditor. It is important to remember that your divorce judgment is a contract between you and your spouse, it does not change the rights of your creditors. If you agree to pay a debt and do not do so, the creditor can still require your spouse to pay. Your spouse can try to force you to comply with the terms of the hold harmless provision by bringing a motion in family court to have you found in contempt of the divorce judgement.
IMPASSE DECISION-MAKING AUTHORITY: The Wisconsin Court can award parties joint legal custody but give one party decision-making authority if there is a disagreement on a legal custody issue. Such authority is known as impasse decision-making authority.
INCOME WITHHOLDING: Money deducted from an employee’s paycheck for court-ordered support payments before the paycheck is issued to the employee. Income assignments for payment of child or spousal support are generally mandatory in Wisconsin. Also called a wage assignment. Section 767.511, Wis. Stats.
INJUNCTION: A court order forbidding a person from doing a particular act. For example, a Judge can issue an Injunction forbidding one parent from interfering with the other parent’s placement.
INTERROGATORIES: Written questions served upon (given to) one party by the other party which require him or her to provide written answers pertaining to divorce issues.
INDIVIDUAL PROPERTY: Property that legally belongs solely to one spouse. The classification of property as inherited, gifted, individual, joint or marital has far reaching implications for the financial outcome of a divorce and must be approached carefully and with the help of an experienced attorney.
IRRETRIEVABLY BROKEN: In order to grant (give) a divorce, the Court must find that the marriage is irretrievably broken. No proof is required other than one party’s sworn statement that the marriage is irretrievably broken.
JOINT LEGAL CUSTODY: A form of custody of minor children in which the parents share the authority to make major decisions.
JOINT PETITION: A divorce can start with a petition signed by both spouses. When a joint petition is used, no summons is required.
JOINT TENANCY: A form of ownership in which each joint owner has an undivided equal share which share passes automatically upon the death of one owner to the surviving owner.
JUDGMENT OF DIVORCE: The final document signed by the Judge at the conclusion of the divorce process. Section 767.35, Wis. Stats.
JURISDICTION: Authority of a Court to hear a particular case. The Court must have authority over the subject matter and the parties. A family case must be filed in the appropriate state and county. Jurisdictional issues are complex and questions must be directed to an experienced attorney. Section 767.01, Wis. Stats.
LEGAL CUSTODY: The authority to make major decisions on behalf of a child. Custody may be sole or joint. The law defines major decisions as those relating to non-emergency medical decisions, choice of school and religion, permission to marry, to enter military service and to get a driver’s license. Parties can add decisions to those defined by law. Section 767.41, Wis.Stats.
LEGAL SEPARATION: An order of the Court that finds that the marital relationship is broken. In such a case the Court has the authority to enter orders for support, custody of children, etc.
LITIGANTS: Participants in a lawsuit.
LITIGATION: The presentation of legal issues to a court or jury for a decision. Family cases in Wisconsin that do not settle by agreement of the parties are tried to a court, not to a jury.
MAINTENANCE: Support paid by one spouse to the other spouse for the spouse’s support. Formerly known as alimony.
MAJOR DECISIONS: See decision-making authority.
MARITAL PROPERTY: A way to define how property is owned in Wisconsin. Income and property acquired during or brought to the marriage, with some exceptions, is defined as “Marital Property.” The exceptions are numerous. This is a complicated concept and the help of an experienced attorney is necessary to sort out issues related to property at divorce.
MARITAL PROPERTY AGREEMENT: A contract made by spouses defining each spouse’s legal interest in property.
MEDIATION: A non-adversarial dispute process in which participants are assisted in reaching a settlement by a neutral third party trained in mediation and divorce issues. Wisconsin law requires, except in certain circumstances, parents to mediate child custody and placement issues before litigation. Section 767.405, Wis. Stats.
MOTION: A written or oral request to the court for some type of decision. A hearing is held on the motion and the Court issues a decision.
NO-FAULT DIVORCE: In Wisconsin it is not necessary to find marital misconduct to grant a divorce. All that is required is for one party to state that the marriage is irretrievably broken.
NON-CUSTODIAL PARENT: The parent who does not have custody of a child. This term is not universally used in Wisconsin.
OLR: Office of Lawyer Regulation. OLR investigates lawyer misconduct. OLR is overseen by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
ORDER: A court’s ruling. A Court order may be written or oral. It may be the result of litigation or agreement.
ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE: See motion.
PARENTING PLAN: A formal document that must be filed with the Court in any disputed custody or placement case. Section 767.41, Wis. Stats.
PARTICIPATION AGREEMENT: In a collaborative case, the agreement signed setting out the terms and guidelines of collaborative practice. The Participation Agreement is filed with the Court and becomes a Court Order.
PARTY OR PARTIES: Litigants in a lawsuit.
PATERNITY: A legal process to determine the father of a child. A paternity action is titled, “In re the paternity of C.I. (child’s initials).”
PENDENCY OF ACTION: During the time that the lawsuit is unfinished (pending). For example, you might hear a lawyer say, you may not change beneficiaries on your life insurance policy during the pendency of the action. He or she means you may not do so until the divorce is final.
PERJURY: Lying under oath in court, at a deposition or in a sworn document.
PETITION: The initial document (pleading) filed with the Court to begin a divorce action. Section 767.215, Wis. Stats.
PETITIONER: The person who starts the divorce action by filing a petition.
PLEADING: A formal, written document filed with the Court.
PRECEDENT: Prior cases with similar facts decided by the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court may be cited (applied) by the Judge as a basis for a decision in the present case.
PRETRIAL: A hearing with the Court or Court Commissioner before a trial. The purpose of a pretrial is generally to discuss what issues remain in dispute, how much time it will take to try those issues, and what time-line is appropriate for scheduling the trial.
PREMARITAL or PRENUPTIAL AGREEMENT: A contract signed by both individuals prior to marriage which attempts to define the parties’ respective rights to property.
PRESUMPTION: A legal standard controlling the legal effect of some evidence. For example, there is a legal presumption that continuing a child’s physical placement with the parent with whom the child resides for the greater period of time is in the best interest of the child. See burden of proof.
PRESUMPTIVE PERIOD: The time period during which a child is presumed to have been conceived.
PRIMARY PLACEMENT: Placement is the time children spend with parents. If one parent has more than 50% placement time, he or she has primary placement.
PRO SE LITIGANT: A party who represents him or herself in a legal proceeding. From the Latin, “for him (or her) self.”
PROPERTY DIVISION: When parties divorce, their property is divided. Wisconsin law presumes that all property, other than gifts and inheritances, will be divided equally between the parties. There are some exceptions, however, and legal advice is important in determining an appropriate property division.
PUTATIVE FATHER: The person alleged (said) to be the father of a child in a paternity suit. If a couple is married at the time a child is born to the wife, the husband is presumed to be the father of the child.
QUALIFIED DOMESTIC RELATIONS ORDER: (QDRO) A mechanism for the division of pension or other retirement accounts at the time of divorce. Great care must be taken when drafting QDROs and drafting should be done by an expert.
QUIT CLAIM DEED: A legal document transferring a person’s ownership interest in real estate. In a divorce when one spouse is awarded the marital residence, the other spouse often signs a quit claim deed giving up (waiving) any interest he or she had in the property.
REAL ESTATE: Land and/or land and buildings.
RECEIVING AND DISBURSING FEE: A fee charged by the agency collecting and distributing support payments.
RECORD: With some exceptions, everything said in Court is recorded verbatim by a court reporter. If the Court says, “let’s go off the record,” the court reporter does not take down what is said during that portion of the hearing. Upon request, the court reporter will prepare a written transcript of the proceeding from the verbatim record he or she created during the hearing. The term record is also used to refer to the Court file or exhibits presented at a hearing.
RELIEF: A request by a party to the Court. A divorce petition includes a relief section in which the petitioner asks for an absolute divorce, a division of property, etc.
REMOVAL: A final divorce judgment contains a provision forbidding a parent from moving a child outside the State of Wisconsin or more than 150 miles within the state. A parent wishing to make such a move must comply with the requirements of Section 767.327, which is commonly referred to as the removal statute. Disagreements about out of state moves are some of the most contentious Courts must hear. Legal advice from an experienced attorney is important in such cases. Section 767.481, Wis. Stats.
RESPONSE AND COUNTERCLAIM: The formal document filed by the respondent to answer (respond to) the summons and petition.
RESPONDENT: The spouse who files the divorce is known as the petitioner and the other spouse is known as the respondent.
RESTRAINING ORDER: An order made by the Court forbidding a party from taking a particular action. The filing of a divorce petition results in an automatic restraining order restraining (forbidding) either party from disposing of assets while the divorce is pending.
RETAIN: Hire an attorney. The word retain is also used in family law to refer to hiring an expert such as an accountant, etc.
RULES OF EVIDENCE: The court rules relating to what evidence is admissible in court and how such evidence must be presented to the Court. The rules of evidence are complex and a complete understanding of the rules requires the assistance of an experienced attorney.
RULING: A court’s decision. Lawyers often use ruling, order, finding, and decision interchangeably.
SEALED RECORDS: Divorce files are, for the most part, open for public view. However, financial disclosure forms and psychological reports are closed (sealed) and may not be read by anyone without a Court order.
SEEK WORK ORDER: A court order requiring a parent to look for work in order to support his or her children.
SEPARATE PROPERTY: Property belonging only to one spouse. See Marital Property and Individual Property.
SERVICE OR SERVICE OF PROCESS: The act of presenting legal papers to the other side in a law suit.
SOLE CUSTODY: One parent is given sole decision making authority over the child or children of the parties.
STATUTE: Laws passed by the Wisconsin legislature. Statutes are distinguished from case law.
Case law refers to written decisions interpreting the law made by the Court of Appeals and the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
STIPULATED DIVORCE: A final divorce hearing in which all issues are agreed upon by the parties.
STIPULATION: An agreement by the parties and counsel.
SUBPOENA: A document served on a party requiring his or her physical presence at a court proceeding.
SUBPOENA DUCES TECUM: A document requiring not only personal attendance at a court proceeding but also requiring that the person under subpoena bring requested documents with them to the proceeding. From the Latin, “you shall bring with you.”
SUBSTANTIAL CHANGE OF CIRCUMSTANCES: Wisconsin law requires that some changes to final judgments be made only if there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the entry of the last order. For example, changes in placement and support will be ordered only if the Court finds (determines) that there has been a substantial change in circumstances.
SUMMONS: A written document notifying the spouse or other respondent that a court action has been filed against him or her.
SUSPENSION OF PROCEEDING: A legal document filed with the court to temporarily suspend the divorce process. Parties to a divorce may agree to suspend the divorce action for up to 90 days without dismissing the divorce.
TAX INTERCEPT: The federal and state government can take (intercept) a person’s tax refund if he or she owes back child or spousal support.
TEMPORARY ORDER: The Court can enter orders concerning temporary issues in a divorce case before the divorce is over. Temporary issues might include child support, placement and custody. A temporary order is based on limited information and may be changed from time to time throughout the divorce process.
TESTIMONY: Sworn statements made to the court or during a deposition.
TRIAL: A formal hearing before the judge. Usually refers to the final divorce hearing. In Wisconsin, family cases are heard by (tried to) a judge, not a jury.
TRANSCRIPT: A written verbatim version of a court proceeding.
UNCONTESTED DIVORCE: A divorce in which there are no disputes.
UCCJA: An acronym for Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act. Any case concerning custody, placement or visitation must be brought in the proper court. This statute defines the appropriate court among competing courts and assures that custody decisions entered in one Court will not be disregarded by other courts.
VENUE: The appropriate physical location of a court in which to file a family action. A family action is usually filed in the county in which at least one of the spouses resides. Rules of venue and jurisdiction may not be clear where spouses reside in different counties or in post judgment actions. Venue refers to the place in which the action should be filed; jurisdiction refers to which of several possible courts has the authority to hear a particular case.
VISITATION: A person who is not a parent may, under certain circumstances, ask a court to order specific visits between the non-parent and a child. Section 767.43, Wis. Stats.
VITAL STATISTICS FORM: A form the State requires divorcing spouses to file at the time of a divorce. Sometimes referred to as a Certificate of Divorce.
WAIVER: A giving up (relinquishing) of rights. A spouse might decide to give up (waive) maintenance to which he or she might be entitled.
WAITING PERIOD: Wisconsin has a required 120 day waiting period in divorce actions. The Court may not grant a divorce until at least 120 days have passed since the divorce was filed and served. Wisconsin also has a required waiting period after the divorce is granted before either party could remarry. The waiting period for remarriage is six months.
WAGE ASSIGNMENT: Payments owed by one party are deducted directly from his or her paycheck by the employer and submitted by the employer to the support office.