How are Divorce Records Generated in Wisconsin?
The State of Wisconsin keeps records of all divorces that were granted in the state. In 2018, the state recorded 7.7 divorces out of every 1000 women above the age of 15. It is not necessarily the highest of rates compared to other states, however, it’s very easy to obtain a divorce in Wisconsin.
A marriage can be dissolved through a divorce or legal separation, but divorce is the most common way of dissolving a marriage in the state. People opt for legal separation majorly because of spiritual or religious reasons. The primary difference between divorce and legal separation is that a couple that is legally separated cannot remarry because the marriage is not completely dissolved.
Besides this difference, the entire process for divorce and legal separation are the same. For both cases, the court will determine the following matters: property division, spousal support, child support, child custody, visitation, etc.
Wisconsin is a no-fault divorce state, which means a couple can file for divorce or legal separation without citing any major reason as obtainable in some other states. As such, there are only two grounds for divorce in the state as captured in Wis. Stat. § 69.2:
- Irretrievable breakdown
- Breakdown of the marital relationship
Based on these grounds, the court would determine if the marriage could be reconciled or not. At times, the court may order the couple to seek the services of a counselor. If the court resolves that the marriage is irreconcilable, it will grant a divorce or legal separation to the parties.
Divorce or legal separation in Wisconsin takes six months to one year to be completed. Within this period is a mandatory 120-days waiting window. The waiting period starts from the day the second party in the divorce is served with the divorce notice.
Are Divorce Records Public in Wisconsin?
In Wisconsin, divorce records are public and are fully accessible to members of the public pursuant to the Wisconsin Public Records Law § 19.31–19.39. This statute makes all divorce records in the state including divorce decrees, divorce certificates, and divorce case files public. The only private divorce records are those sealed by a competent court.
What are the types of Divorce Records available in Wisconsin?
Wisconsin has three types of obtainable divorce records, which are divorce decree, divorce certificate, and divorce case files. A divorce decree is the final judgment of the divorce proceeding as well as the terms of settlement of the divorce. It also contains details on child and spousal support, visitation, asset division, change of name, etc.
On the other hand, divorce case files are documents that are filed during the entire divorce proceeding. It starts with the petition from one of the divorce parties to the final divorce judgment issued by the court. It also contains affidavits, court orders, praecipe, motions, etc.
Divorce decrees and divorce case files are kept and issued by the Clerk of Court where the divorce was granted. But divorce certificate is maintained by the Wisconsin Vital Records Office.
A divorce certificate is a document that proves a divorce was granted between two people. It contains the names of the registrants (parties of the divorce, including the date and venue of the divorce. The State of Wisconsin issues two types of divorce certificates: certified copy and uncertified copy.
According to Wis. Stat. § 69.20, certified copies can only be issued to the persons named on the record, their immediate family members, legal guardian, legal representatives, or anyone authorized by law.
An uncertified copy of a divorce certificate can be requested by anyone. This copy cannot be used as an official document for any legal matter. It’s also a crime for any unauthorized person to obtain a certified copy of a divorce certificate.
How Do I Get Divorce Records in Wisconsin?
The means of obtaining divorce records differs across the various counties of the state. Typically divorce records can be obtained:
- By mail to the government agency or Clerk of Court maintaining the record
- In-person requests at the government agency or court Clerk of Court where the record is maintained
- Online requests at the website of the government agency or court where the court is maintained
The Vital Records Office of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services stores and issues certified copies of divorce certificates to requesters. The Office maintains records of divorce from October 1907 to date. To obtain a certified copy of a divorce certificate, complete the Wisconsin Divorce Certificate Application form.
The Vital Records Office charges $20 for the first copy and $3 for each additional copy. The fee should be check or money order payable to the State of Wis. Vital Records. If it’s a personal check, it must be preprinted with the account number, account holder’s name, check number, and routing number. However, cash and credit/debit card payments are accepted for in-person requests.
For mail-in requests, send the completed application form, applicable fee, and copy of a valid ID to:
Wisconsin Vital Records Office
PO Box 309
Madison, WI 53701
Mail-in requests of certified copies take about two weeks to be processed in addition to the mailing time. But uncertified copies take a longer processing time of about one month.
In-person requests of certified and uncertified copies take about two business hours to be completed. To request for a divorce certificate in person, submit the completed application form, applicable fee, and a copy of a valid ID to the State Vital Records Office located at:
Wisconsin Vital Records Office
1 West Wilson Street, Room 160
Madison, WI 53703
Hours: 8:00 a.m.–4:15 p.m. Monday through Friday
Divorce certificates can also be obtained from the Register of Deeds Office of the county where the divorce was granted. The address and contact information of the various Register of Deeds office across the state are obtainable from the official Wisconsin Register of Deeds Association website.
In some counties, divorce certificates can be obtained at the Register of Deeds Office through mail-in and in-person requests alone, while some other counties offer online requests through third party organizations.
Divorce decrees and divorce case files are stored and issued by the Clerk of Court office in the county where the divorce was granted. To obtain any of these records, contact the correct clerk. The contact information of every Clerk of Court is obtainable from the Wisconsin County Clerks Association website.
While divorce and marriage records may be searched through government sources and organizations, the availability of these documents cannot be guaranteed. This is also true of their availability through third-party websites and companies, as these entities are not government-sponsored therefore record availability may vary further.
Also note that marriage and divorce records are considered extremely private due to the information the records contain, and are often sealed. Hence, bearing in mind that these factors determine the availability of any type of marriage or divorce record.
Who Can Obtain Divorce Records in Wisconsin?
All divorce records are public records and can be issued to any interested member of the public. However, certified copies of divorce certificates can only be obtained by the registrants, their immediate family members, legal guardians, legal representatives, and any other person empowered by Wis. Stat. § 69.20. Uncertified copies of divorce certificates can be obtained by anyone.
Are Wisconsin Divorce Records available online?
The State Vital Records website has an online portal that contains details on how to apply for a divorce record. More so, it also contains the Wisconsin Divorce Certificate Application form, which requesters must complete before obtaining a certified or uncertified copy of a divorce certificate.
However, this application form cannot be submitted online. Requesters would have to download and print the form. The completed form can be submitted in person or by mail. Some counties in the state have an online index search service that allows members of the public to search for divorces in the state and their case numbers.
How Do I seal My Divorce Records in Wisconsin?
According to Wis. Stat. § 801.21, a court record, which includes divorce records, can be sealed by filing a motion to seal a part of or the entire document. The person filing must have the motion served on all parties involved in the action. The party filing the motion to seal the divorce record also needs to provide authority for asserting as such.
While filing the motion to seal the divorce records, the party making the application can file the motion under a temporary seal. The temporary seal would make the divorce record unavailable to the public until the court rules on the motion.
Once a divorce record has been sealed, it becomes inaccessible to the public. Any member of the public seeking access to the sealed divorce record must obtain permission from the court. The court would grant the motion for the sealing of a divorce record under certain circumstances.
- The divorce record contains information that would adversely affect the children.
- The divorce record states private financial issues.
- The divorce record has information that could cause harm to the parties.