Wisconsin Marital Property Laws

During the divorce process, property is divided according to its status as "marital property" -- that which was acquired after the marriage and is thus shared -- or personal property that is not subject to division. The marital property concept is rooted in Spanish law and is now widespread. Wisconsin marital property laws are unique when compared to laws in other states, primarily because Wisconsin recognizes all marital property as subject to equal division.

Most states divide marital property through the more complex process of "equitable distribution," which considers a number of factors, including the length of the marriage and income of each spouse. But in Wisconsin, marital property is divided (after a divorce) in accordance with the legal theory of "community property."

Community Property in Wisconsin

Wisconsin is one of the states labeled as a community property state. (The others are Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Washington.) In community property states, everything a married couple owns together is subject to a 50/50 split upon divorce. It's a broad category that includes the following:

  1. All income received by either spouse during the course of the marriage (salary, interest income, stock dividends, capital gains, retirement accounts, etc.)
  2. All property (real estate and personal property) acquired during the course of the marriage using income earned during the marriage
  3. All debts incurred during the course of the marriage

In Wisconsin and other community property states, it doesn't matter who earned the most income or purchased the most property -- everything is subject to equal division. However, parties may decide on a different distribution plan if it is an uncontested divorce. Property that stays separate includes anything owned prior to the marriage, acquired after a legal separation, or received as an inheritance or gift (provided it stays separate and doesn't end up in a joint account).

The following table provides a few basics of California's marital property laws. See Community Property Overview and Divorce Property Division FAQ to learn more.

Community Property Recognized? Adopted Uniform Marital Property Act with variations on January 1, 1986 (§§766.31)
Dower And Curtesy No dower or curtesy rights exist

If you have a family, you should be aware of Wisconsin child custody laws, as well as Wisconsin laws pertaining to child support guidelines and child support enforcement.

More Information for Legal Requirements for Divorce

Going through a divorce can be an emotionally and legally difficult process. You might find that consulting with an attorney can ease the strain of dealing with both the divorce paperwork and your soon-to-be ex-spouse. You can schedule a consultation with an experienced divorce attorney in Wisconsin. If you’d like to do more research on your own, you can find more introductory information in FindLaw’s divorce section.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

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