Property & Debt Division:
There is no fixed way to determine how you or the Court should decide how to divide your property, although our law says the division should be “equitable,” and equitable almost always means equal. Other factors include whether or not property belongs to the marital community or is the sole and separate property of one of the parties. If you and your spouse agree on a division of property, the Court will usually approve your written agreement. If you cannot agree, the Court will equitable divide your property and debts.
In Wisconsin, Property acquired during marriage from the parties’ incomes is called community property. Community property includes financial accounts, retirement and pension accounts, houses, land, business interests, loans owed to you, furniture and other tangible items, and any other items of value. As a general rule, community property is divided equally between the parties, although there are some exceptions. For example, if one of the parties wasted community property (by gambling, drugs, etc.), or hid community property, the Court may award the other party more property.
Sole & Separate Property:
In Wisconsin, property acquired prior to marriage, though inheritance, and/or from gifts from other people besides their spouse, is presumed to be that person’s sole and separate property and is not always divided. However, in some instances, the property’s nature as sole and separate may be changes. For example, if a party deposits sole and spate funds into a community account and such funds into a community account and such funds were spent, the items purchases will likely be presumed to be community property. If such funds are still in the account, it is presumed to still be sole and separate property. Another example is where a party has a house in their own name prior to marriage, but later places that house in both parties’ names. In such event, the house would generally be presumed to have become community property. There are always exceptions to the general rules. You always consult with an attorney regarding your specific circumstances.
Community vs. Sole & Separate Debt:
Debt incurred during a marriage is presumed to be community debt. The Court generally divides any such debt equally between the parties. Any debt incurred by a spouse before the marriage or after the separation of the parties’ remains the spate debt of that spouse.
Protection from Malicious Financial Maneuvers:
It is possible to protect yourself from your spouse’s potential malicious financial maneuvers. At the initial consultation, your attorney should review with you your assets and liabilities. If you have joint credit cards and your spouse is mean-spirited, you may be advised to terminate the credit card or lower the credit limit. If there are joint investment accounts, you may be advised to request that the financial institution either freeze the account, or request that both parties sign for any transactions in order to avoid a spouse’s unilateral looting of the account. In addition, you can protect yourself by gathering as much financial information as possible, including bank account, brokerage accounts, stocks, trusts, or life insurance policies, prior to meeting with your attorney. Although your attorney has the ability to discover your spouse’s assets during the litigation, it is always easier and more cost-efficient to assemble existing documents in order to prevent a spouse from unilaterally transferring, depleting, or hiding an asset.