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Cost of Divorce in Wisconsin

The cost of divorce in Wisconsin is top of mind for many people going through the process. We explain the factors that impact divorce costs in the state.

evident Editorial Team
December 6, 2023
Madison capitol building, Wisconsin

Going through a divorce in Wisconsin can be a stressful experience. One source of stress for many is concern about the costs involved. Questions like "How much is a divorce in Wisconsin?" often arise during this time.

This article will:

  • Share data on the average cost of divorce in Wisconsin
  • Explain the key factors that impact the cost of divorce in Wisconsin
  • Highlight resources for individuals who may have financial constraints and cannot afford a Wisconsin divorce attorney
Key Takeaways

Average Cost of Divorce in Wisconsin

The average cost of a divorce in Wisconsin is around $11,300 for cases without children and approximately $16,900 for divorces involving children, according to USA Today

These are just averages, though, and every divorce is unique. The actual cost of a particular divorce in Wisconsin depends on the context and individuals involved. For instance, even these two data points reflect the difference between divorces that do and don’t involve minor children.

What affects the cost of divorce in Wisconsin?

So, how much is a divorce in Wisconsin? The answer typically depends on several key factors and how they influence the divorce process.

Those factors include concrete inputs such as:

  • Court costs and filing fees
  • Attorneys’ fees

More thematic factors also affect divorce costs, such as: 

  • How complicated your divorce is
  • How contentious your divorce is

To start, let’s take a look at some concrete numbers that affect Wisconsin divorce costs.

Cost to File for Divorce in Wisconsin

How much does it cost to file for divorce in Wisconsin? Court filing fees for the initial divorce papers in Wisconsin are typically $184.50 or $194.50, depending on whether a party is requesting spousal maintenance or child support. 

If you did not file a joint petition for divorce, there is also usually a service fee for having to serve divorce papers on your spouse. This can cost around $50-$100. 

Other court costs may be incurred if you file additional motions or paperwork. Those costs can vary, so be sure to check the court’s fee schedule.

Fee waivers in Wisconsin

If you have difficulty paying the Wisconsin divorce filing fee, you may submit a Petition for Waiver of Fees and Costs.

How much is a divorce lawyer in Wisconsin?

Attorneys’ fees can be one of the biggest factors affecting the cost of divorce in Wisconsin. 

How much a Wisconsin divorce attorney's fees really cost may depend on how they charge for their services, so it's important to understand the two main billing methods.

Divorce Lawyer Fee Structures

The two main billing methods that Wisconsin divorce lawyers use are hourly rates and flat fees. 

With an hourly rate, the divorce attorney bills by the hour for the time they spend working on a case. Attorneys who use hourly rates often request a retainer fee upfront, which is like a down payment for their services. 

With a flat fee, the divorce lawyer would quote a fixed amount for their assistance with the divorce case upfront. 

pros and cons of billing methods

There are pros and cons to each billing method, but the details of your divorce could also impact which fee structure makes more sense. For example, flat fees often work better for uncontested divorces, whereas hourly rates generally make more sense for contested divorces.

Average Hourly Rates For Wisconsin Divorce Lawyers

The average hourly rate for family law attorneys in Wisconsin is approximately $248 per hour. (Note that divorce lawyers are a subgroup of family law lawyers). 

Actual hourly rates vary based on several factors, though, including the lawyer's experience, their location, and more. For instance, divorce lawyers tend to charge more in big cities like Milwaukee than in other parts of Wisconsin.

Hourly Rate vs Hours Worked

Understanding hourly rates is helpful, but keep in mind that the amount of time the divorce lawyer spends on your case can have a greater impact on total costs than their hourly rate. 

For instance, compare a divorce lawyer with an hourly rate of $300 per hour who spends ten hours on a simpler case with a divorce lawyer who charges $250 per hour but spends 50 hours on a more complicated case ($300 x 10 hours for $3,000 in attorney fees vs. $250 x 50 hours for $12,500).  

This is why the complexity and contentiousness of your divorce are such critical factors when it comes to the overall cost of divorce in Wisconsin.

How Complicated Your Wisconsin Divorce Is

Generally, the more complex a divorce is, the more expensive it will be. 

A threshold distinction is whether the divorce is uncontested or contested because uncontested divorces are generally less complicated and, therefore, less expensive than contested divorces.

Even among contested divorces, though, there is a huge range of outcomes, so we will explore the specific factors that increase complexity below.

Uncontested vs Contested Divorce in Wisconsin

In an uncontested divorce, both spouses must agree on all divorce-related issues, including:

  • Alimony
  • Child custody
  • Child support
  • Property division 

Uncontested divorces are usually faster, simpler, and less expensive than contested divorces. The cost of uncontested divorce in Wisconsin can often be limited to court costs and filing fees.

Contested divorces, meanwhile, involve unresolved issues and require a greater level of court involvement. The number of unresolved issues and the extent of disagreement significantly impact the overall cost of contested divorce in Wisconsin. (For instance, is there a small disagreement about how to split joint custody, or is it a full-blown custody battle over legal custody?).

What makes a divorce more complicated?

maze, labyrinth, solution

There are several common factors that can increase the complexity of a divorce if they raise issues that need to be addressed. Those issues include:

  • Minor children (raising issues of child support and child custody)
  • Alimony (also called spousal maintenance)
  • Substantial marital property
  • Complex marital property (such as an ownership interest in a company)

These factors can make the divorce process more complicated and, therefore, more expensive. (As noted above, divorces involving children are substantially more expensive on average than divorces without children). 

Plus, any of these issues can introduce a potential source of disagreement, which brings us to our next factor affecting Wisconsin divorce costs.

How Contentious Your Wisconsin Divorce Is

finger, touch, hand

On balance, contentious divorces are more expensive than amicable divorces.  

Obviously, an uncontested divorce in which the divorcing couple is able to cooperate and work through their issues amicably would be a great outcome for most people. But this is not always possible. 

And it’s when divorces get contentious that lengthy court battles enter the picture, which can lead to substantially higher attorneys’ fees. (Remember the discussion earlier regarding attorneys’ hourly rates versus the number of hours they bill for). 

Some things are worth fighting for, and of course, not all divorcing couples can end their marriages amicably. But to the extent that you can work with your ex-spouse to resolve issues out of court and find areas of agreement, it can help streamline the process and reduce the cost of divorce in Wisconsin. 

One method for doing this is through divorce mediation or other collaborative divorce processes. These approaches can significantly reduce the need for lengthy court battles and excessive lawyer fees, plus they can give the parties a better shot at shaping their own outcomes.

Lower-Cost Options for Divorce in Wisconsin

money, profit, finance

If you are concerned about the cost of divorce in Wisconsin, there are resources available to help reduce legal expenses. 

One option is limited-scope representation, in which a divorce attorney can assist you with specific aspects of your divorce but not represent you for the full scope of your case. (E.g. they could review your marital settlement agreement or accompany you to divorce mediation). 

Legal Aid organizations, meanwhile, offer free or low-cost legal services based on income level. The Wisconsin State Law Library lists resources available by county through their website

Additionally, for help with court costs, remember that fee waivers may be available for qualifying individuals. 

FAQs About the Cost of Divorce in Wisconsin

How long does a divorce take in WI?

The timeline for a divorce in Wisconsin can vary depending on several factors, including some of the same factors that affect costs. 

Generally, an uncontested divorce can be finalized more quickly than a contested divorce, often within a few months from the start to the divorce decree. Contested divorces can take significantly longer, including up to a year or more. 

The complexity of the issues, the level of cooperation between the parties, and even the court’s schedule can all impact the timeline of a Wisconsin divorce. 

Consider consulting with a Wisconsin divorce lawyer if you would like a better understanding of the specific circumstances and factors that may influence the timeline of your divorce.

What is the cheapest way to get a divorce in Wisconsin?

The cheapest way to get divorced in Wisconsin is with an uncontested divorce. If the parties can agree on all divorce-related issues, they can submit a proposed marital settlement agreement to the court for approval.

Uncontested divorces are generally faster, easier, and less expensive than contested divorces. But, this is only an option if the divorcing couple can work together and reach an agreement. 

How much does it cost to file an uncontested divorce in Wisconsin?

The cost of uncontested divorce in Wisconsin can be as little as the filing fees and court costs if the divorcing spouses are able to agree on all divorce-related issues and avoid hiring lawyers.

If the divorcing couple is able to do this, the cost of uncontested divorce in Wisconsin may be less than $1,000, including the Wisconsin divorce filing fee (which is typically just under $200).

The Final Word on the Cost of Divorce in Wisconsin

So, how much does a divorce cost in Wisconsin? Let’s summarize the main takeaways. 

The average cost of divorce in Wisconsin is approximately $11,300 for cases without children and $16,900 for divorces involving children. That said, actual costs vary greatly. 

Factors such as filing fees, court costs, attorneys' rates, the complexity of your divorce, and the level of contention involved all influence the overall cost of divorce. 

An experienced lawyer who is familiar with Wisconsin divorce law can provide invaluable assistance, but if you are not able to afford an attorney, there are alternative options available. Limited-scope representation and Legal Aid organizations can offer more affordable alternatives to paying for a divorce attorney out of pocket. 

If you have other questions about the cost of divorce in Wisconsin, consider speaking with a divorce lawyer to address your concerns and get personalized guidance. Be sure to ask these questions during the initial consultation to evaluate whether the lawyer is the right fit for your specific situation.