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Dane County Family Court Services

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How can I protect my kids from the stress of divorce?
  2. What if I don't want a divorce? Is there anything I can do to stop it?
  3. How do I know what county to file for divorce in? Is it where I got married?
  4. How long does it take to get a divorce?
  5. How do I change a legal separation into a divorce?
  6. What if I'm pregnant and going through a divorce?
  7. Can I get child support before a divorce is final?
  8. Can I get a divorce if I don't know where my spouse is?
  9. What does the Court Commissioner need in order to advise the Judge that the case is ready for the divorce hearing?
  10. We don't have any property or children, do we still need to fill out the Marital Settlement Agreement?
  11. When is my divorce final?
  12. I have a Paternity hearing and can't remember the date. How can I find the date?
  13. I have a question regarding my pending, pre-judgement Paternity case. Who can help me?
  14. How can I tell if my spouse has filed a divorce action against me?
  15. Where do I get a copy of my Judgment of Divorce or Divorce Certificate?
  16. How do I change my name after I'm divorced? Do I have to go to court?
  17. Does the Court offer counseling before a divorce is filed?
  18. What's the difference between legal separation, annulment, and divorce?
  19. Can I appear by phone for my court hearing?
  20. I need to reschedule my hearing before the Court Commissioner due to lack of service on the other party. What should I do?
  21. I have been served or mailed notice of a hearing before the Court Commissioner and cannot attend due to a conflict. What should I do?
  22. How do I get a fee waiver?
  23. I lost my notice of the hearings. When and where is my hearing?
  24. How do I get copies from my file?
  25. Where do I go for help with filling out forms? Are there services available in Spanish?
  26. How do I file for a change of venue?
  27. On the Summons I was served, it says I must respond with a written answer. If I agree to the terms and don't want to make a counterclaim or deny anything, must I respond with an answer before the hearing?
  28. How do I put custody or support orders in place? There's never been one before.
  29. How to file for a temporary restraining order
  30. What is the Children First Program?
  31. I need to change my address / name / employer. Can you help me?
  32. I am not receiving child support as ordered. What do I do?
  33. The father of my children is not paying child support and resides in another State. What should I do?
  34. How do I obtain information about my child support payments?
  35. How do I erase back support (arrears) from my record?
  36. How can I receive payments on arrears?
  37. How do we get a person arrested on a child support warrant released from jail?
  38. Can I terminate parental rights so I don't have to pay child support?
  39. How do I change my custody or support order?
  40. Do I have visitation rights as a third party-grandparent or other relative?
  41. What are my parental rights and responsibilities if I'm incarcerated?
  42. What do I do if my ex-spouse isn't obeying the custody order or has stopped paying support?
  43. Do I need to inform the other parent of my children if I intend to move with the children?
  44. My new spouse wants to adopt my children from my former marriage. Can we do this?
  45. How can I set aside a divorce judgment and stay married?
  • Divorce/Paternity

  • 1. How can I protect my kids from the stress of divorce?

    Divorce is hard on children, but there are things you can do to lessen the tension and conflict in your household.

    Avoid blaming the other parent, arguing or fighting in front of children, discussing the court proceedings when the children are at home, involving children in decision making or choosing sides, or threatening to send the children to live with the other parent.

    Work toward answering children's questions in an age-appropriate manner, making answers simple and clear, reassuring children that the divorce is not their fault, encouraging them to express their feelings such as fear and anger, giving them permission to continue to love both parents and not take sides, reassuring them that they will be taken care of, keeping the children's schedules as normal and typical as possible without major or drastic changes that are unsettling, and preparing the children for changes to their family. 

  • 2. What if I don't want a divorce? Is there anything I can do to stop it?

    The only basis for divorce in Wisconsin is that the marriage is "irretrievably broken." This means the husband and wife can find no way to work out their differences. A judge usually will find a marriage irretrievably broken even if only one spouse wants a divorce. 

  • 3. How do I know what county to file for divorce in? Is it where I got married?

    To file for a divorce in Dane County, one party must have lived in the State of Wisconsin for six months prior to the time the divorce is filed and in Dane County for at least thirty days before filing for divorce. Generally, you file for divorce in the county in which you are a legal resident. 

  • 4. How long does it take to get a divorce?

    Unless the court makes an exception for an emergency, which is very rare, at least four months (120 days) must pass between the serving of the initial papers (or filing of the joint petition) and the final hearing. Most divorces take longer than four months. Several factors affect the length of the process, including the complexity of the case, the ability of the spouses to agree on the issues, and the amount of other business before the trial court.

    A divorce isn't effective until the final hearing. Even then, a "Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Judgment" form must be filed with the court within 30 days of the final hearing or the case may be dismissed. Once the divorce is final, both parties must wait at least six months before marrying other people. 

  • General

  • 5. How do I change a legal separation into a divorce?

    If a legal separation has been granted by the Court, parties may jointly request to convert the separation into a divorce by completing and submitting Stipulation and Order to Convert Legal Separation to Divorce forms (FA-4162VA and FA-4162VB) to the judge who granted their legal separation.  After one year from the date of the legal separation, either spouse may seek to have the separation converted into a divorce without the other spouse’s consent.  They may file a Motion & Order to Convert Legal Separation to Divorce forms (FA-4163VA and FA-4163VB) to the judge who granted their legal separation.  Both sets of forms may be located online at https://www.wicourts.gov/forms1/circuit/index.htm or purchased in the Dane County Law Library (Room L1007) for a small fee.  You must also submit a completed Divorce/Annulment Worksheet, which can only be obtained at the Courthouse (Room 1000, Room 2000, or the Law Library).

  • Divorce/Paternity

  • 6. What if I'm pregnant and going through a divorce?

    Your husband is legally presumed to be the father of your child. You must notify the Court Commissioner or Judge of your pregnancy so that a lawyer can be appointed to represent the child's best interests. That lawyer, the guardian ad litem, must recommend to the judge whether genetic testing should be undertaken to determine whether your husband or another person is the father of your child, before you can be divorced. This often involves waiting until the child is born, when genetic testing can be performed. 

  • General

  • 7. Can I get child support before a divorce is final?

    The Judge or Court Commissioner may issue temporary orders that protect your rights during the divorce process. For example, temporary orders may determine child custody and physical placement, who lives in the family home, payment of maintenance and child support, or payment of debts. The parties may also complete a Stipulation for Temporary Order and submit it to the Court for approval. The forms can be found at our Family Court Forms page

  • Divorce/Paternity

  • 8. Can I get a divorce if I don't know where my spouse is?

    Yes, but you have to show the Court that you made reasonable and diligent efforts to locate your spouse. You also must publish a notice in a newspaper likely to give notice in the area or to the person affected [§985.02(1)], in an attempt to inform your spouse that you have started a divorce. You must also submit an Affidavit of Attempted Service at the last-known address.

  • General

  • 9. What does the Court Commissioner need in order to advise the Judge that the case is ready for the divorce hearing?

    Please refer to the Checklist for Contested Divorce/Legal Separation or the Checklist for Uncontested Divorce/Legal Separation.  Both forms are located online at https://courts.countyofdane.com/prepare/formFamily under the Divorce Information Documents section.  The top section of the checklists outlines which documents must be submitted prior to a final divorce hearing being scheduled.  The bottom section of the checklists outlines what documents must be brought to the final divorce hearing. 

  • 10. We don't have any property or children, do we still need to fill out the Marital Settlement Agreement?

    Yes. Even if the parties have no property to divide, a Marital Settlement Agreement must be filed. The Marital Settlement Agreement available at the Dane County Legal Resource Center or our Family Court Forms page, outlines the potential issues in a divorce. There may be issues that need to be resolved that you have not thought of. As long as both parties sign the MSA and agree on the terms, the Judge will usually accept their agreement. 

  • 11. When is my divorce final?

    Your divorce is final on the date of the divorce hearing. Unless the Judge makes an exception for an emergency, at least four months (120 days) must pass between the serving of the initial papers (or filing of the joint petition) and the final divorce hearing. Most divorces take longer than four months. You are not free to marry, in Wisconsin or another State, for six months after the divorce is final.  A "Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Judgment" form must be filed with the court within 30 days of the final hearing. If this document is not received, the action may be dismissed. 

  • Divorce/Paternity

  • 12. I have a Paternity hearing and can't remember the date. How can I find the date?

    Call the Child Support Agency at (608) 266-4031. 

  • General

  • 13. I have a question regarding my pending, pre-judgement Paternity case. Who can help me?

    Either call the Child Support Agency at (608) 266-4031 or write to the office at Room 365, 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, City-County Building, Madison, WI 53703. 

  • 14. How can I tell if my spouse has filed a divorce action against me?

    Check to see if a divorce action has been filed on the Internet at Wisconsin Circuit Court Access, or call (608) 266-4311. 

  • 15. Where do I get a copy of my Judgment of Divorce or Divorce Certificate?

    You may contact the Clerk of Courts Record Center in Room 1002 of the Dane County Courthouse or call (608) 266-4311 for information. Requests for copies may be made in person, by mail, by email at dane.courtrecords@wicourts.gov, or by fax at (608) 267-8859. No telephone requests are taken. There is a charge of $1.25 per page for copies. The Divorce Certificate can be obtained from the State of Wisconsin Office of Vital Records, PO Box 309, 1 W. Wilson Street, Madison, WI 53701-0309 or by calling (608) 266-1373. 

  • Divorce/Paternity

  • 16. How do I change my name after I'm divorced? Do I have to go to court?

    You usually do not need to go through a separate name change court proceeding in order to change certain documents if necessary language regarding use of maiden name is contained in the divorce judgment. Most agencies that hold documents that you need to change, such as the DMV or Social Security Agency, have internal forms for you to fill out. Some may require a certified copy of your divorce Judgment of Divorce (available from the Record Center in Room 1002 of the Dane County Courthouse). The Social Security Agency requires a certified copy of the Judgment of Divorce showing the Judge's signature, not the judge's stamped signature. Contact the individual agencies to see what they require. 

  • 17. Does the Court offer counseling before a divorce is filed?

    There are no Dane County Circuit Court family counseling services available prior to the filing of a divorce or legal separation. You may be able to use private sector providers, which may be covered by your health insurance, or other available family counseling services.

  • 18. What's the difference between legal separation, annulment, and divorce?

    • Legal Separation: A legal proceeding that separates the parties' property and finances, and makes custody and placement orders regarding children, but continues their marriage. Legal separation is an alternative for people who wish to avoid divorce for religious or other reasons.
    • Annulment: Dissolves a marriage that was invalid from the beginning. A marriage may qualify for annulment only if it satisfies very limited statutory circumstances. See Wis. Stat. §767.313.
    • Divorce: A legal proceeding to dissolve an irretrievably broken marriage.
  • General

  • 19. Can I appear by phone for my court hearing?

    For hearings being held in the Commissioner Center on FA or PA cases, all requests to appear by telephone must be submitted in writing at least 2 weeks prior to the scheduled court date.  Timely requests are forwarded to a commissioner for review. The decision on the request will be noted in the court record in CCAP and a response letter may be sent if time permits.

    Requests made less than 2 weeks before a hearing will NOT be forwarded to the commissioner for review. The clerk will scan the request into the court record, note that it is untimely, and then record any telephone number provided on the court’s calendars. The court commissioner may or may not contact the requester at the time of the hearing if they do not appear in person. The Court may proceed without them if they fail to appear and have not received permission to appear by phone.

  • 20. I need to reschedule my hearing before the Court Commissioner due to lack of service on the other party. What should I do?

    If your hearing is in front of a Court Commissioner, call or write to the Court Commissioner Center at the address at the top of this page. A new date may be assigned and you can attempt service again. 

  • 21. I have been served or mailed notice of a hearing before the Court Commissioner and cannot attend due to a conflict. What should I do?

    Dane County Court Rule 124 states:  In any type of case, an unrepresented party or attorney requesting that any hearing or trial be set over to a later date shall make diligent efforts to ascertain the position of all other unrepresented parties and attorneys in the case prior to contacting the court.  Requests for continuances shall be made in writing only, which may be sent by fax to the court, and shall contain the reason for the request as well as the position on the request of all other unrepresented parties and attorneys or a statement that, despite the described efforts to contact the others, the requestor has been unable to ascertain their positions on the request. Requests for continuance shall be made not less than five (5) working days before a scheduled hearing. Unless the court notifies the parties and attorneys that the request or stipulation for continuance has been granted, they must appear at the originally scheduled time. 

  • 22. How do I get a fee waiver?

    Complete the two-part Petition and Order for Waiver of Fees and Costs forms (CV-410A and CV-410B).  Instructions for completion of these forms may be found at Family Court Forms page under the Fee Waiver Documents section.  Fee waivers typically cover filing and service fees, but not fees for forms or copies.

  • 23. I lost my notice of the hearings. When and where is my hearing?

    You can find out where and when the hearing is by accessing the Circuit Court Access System called the Consolidated Court Automation Program (CCAP) or by calling (608) 266-4311.

    If your hearing is before a Judge, you can find out where and when the hearing is by accessing the Consolidated Court Automation Program (CCAP). You could also call the Judge's office at the number listed in the public phone directory. 

  • 24. How do I get copies from my file?

    Contact the Clerk of Courts Records Center in Room 1002 of the Dane County Courthouse or call (608) 266-4311 for information. Requests must be made in person, by mail, by email at dane.courtrecords@wicourts.gov, or by fax at (608) 267-8859. Telephone requests are not allowed. There is a charge of $1.25 per page for copies. 

  • 25. Where do I go for help with filling out forms? Are there services available in Spanish?

    The Family Law Assistance Center is staffed by volunteer attorneys and family law experts who can help you fill out forms and answer general questions about family law. They cannot offer legal advice. It is a drop-in service only; no phone calls. The Center is available Wednesdays from 11:30 - 1:30 in Room L1022 of the Dane County Courthouse. Spanish-speaking volunteers are available on the first and third Wednesdays of each month. 

  • 26. How do I file for a change of venue?

    There are no specific court-approved motions to change venue. You may need to consult an attorney. The rules as to when a change in venue is appropriate may be complicated. 

  • 27. On the Summons I was served, it says I must respond with a written answer. If I agree to the terms and don't want to make a counterclaim or deny anything, must I respond with an answer before the hearing?

    No. The Response and Counterclaim is to be used to deny factual statements in the petition or make a counterclaim. If a response and counterclaim is filed, copies must be provided to the spouse or their attorney. If you also want the action to continue, you must file a Counterclaim. Otherwise, if the Petitioner dismisses the Petition, the action will be dismissed too. 

  • 28. How do I put custody or support orders in place? There's never been one before.

    You can file a divorce, legal separation, or paternity action. If there is already a Dane County court order of any sort related to the child(ren), you may file a Stipulation & Order to Amend Judgment for Support/Custody/Maintenance/Placement. If the parties do not agree, either party may file a Notice of Motion and Motion to Change Custody/Placement/Support/Maintenance. These forms and instructions can be found at our Family Court Forms page. If the child(ren) are not the product of a marriage, and if paternity has not been established, you may file a paternity case or request the assistance of the Child Support Agency, 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Room 365, Madison, WI 53703. They are available by telephone at (608) 266-4031. There are no court-approved forms for initiating a paternity action. 

  • 29. How to file for a temporary restraining order?

    The Records Center, located in Room 1002 of the Dane County Courthouse, has the forms to obtain a temporary restraining order and injunction.

    • Domestic Abuse
      Domestic abuse includes the following types of behavior: physical abuse, sexual assault, impairment of physical condition, criminal damage to your property, or the threat to do one of these. The other party must have been an adult family or household member, an adult former spouse, an adult with whom there is a child in common, an adult with whom a dating relationship has existed, an adult under a caregiver’s supervision, or an adult guardian of an incompetent individual. The party must feel that he/she is in imminent danger of physical harm from the other party. There is no filing or service fee.
    • Harassment
      The petitioner must show that the other party engaged in a pattern of behavior that is harassing, intimidating and has no legitimate purpose, or that the respondent has subjected the victim to unwanted physical contact, or has threatened to do so. The filing fee is charged at the “Civil Action to Commence, No Judgment Requested” rate. The fee may be waived due to indigence or if the behavior outlined in the petition consists of physical harm, threats, property damage, or stalking that would cause a reasonable person to fear physical harm. If the respondent is a juvenile and the paperwork is filed in Juvenile Court, there is no filing fee.
    • Child Abuse
      The petitioner must show that there has been physical injury inflicted by other than accidentally means, sexual intercourse, contact, or exploitation, or failure to obtain treatment. There is no filing or service fee.

  • Related Documents:

  • Other Family

  • 30. What is the Children First Program?

    The Children First Program is a program for unemployed parents ordered to pay child support. For information, call the Child Support Agency at 266-4031 or write to the office at Room 365, 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. City-County Bldg., Madison, WI 53703. 

  • General

  • 31. I need to change my address / name / employer. Can you help me?

    Write to the Court Commissioner Center, 215 S. Hamilton Street, Room 2000, Madison, WI 53703. If there is a support obligation, you must also notify the other party and the Child Support Agency, 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Room 365, Madison, WI 53703. 

  • 32. I am not receiving child support as ordered. What do I do?

    You may pursue one of the following:

    • Contact the Child Support Agency at (608) 266-4031.
    • File an "Order to Show Cause for Remedial Contempt of a Divorce or Paternity Judgment". Forms are available for a small fee at the Dane County Legal Resource Center, Room L1007 in the Dane County Courthouse, or on our Family Court Forms page.
    • Contact an attorney to bring an enforcement action on your behalf.
  • Other Family

  • 33. The father of my children is not paying child support and resides in another State. What should I do?

    You may contact an attorney because the issues are more complicated when one party resides in another state or contact the Dane County Child Support Agency at (608) 266-4031. That office may be able to begin an interstate child support action on your behalf. 

  • General

  • 34. How do I obtain information about my child support payments?

    To see payment information, you may register to have online access to your support account.  To learn more regarding this process, Click on link to go to the Wisconsin Department of Children and Familes website.  

    Alternatively, you may call the Wisconsin Support Collections Trust Fund at 1-800-991-5530.

  • Other Family

  • 35. How do I erase back support (arrears) from my record?

    Only the recipient of the child support can agree to erase arrears unless you can prove that the child lived with you or received disability benefits through you, or that you made direct payments to the other parent. 

  • 36. How can I receive payments on arrears?

    The "Motion to Change Support" form can be adapted to request that a payment on arrears be established. If the person under the support obligation is under an income assignment, they can write to the Court Commissioner Center and request that a Court Commissioner increase the income assignment until the arrears are paid. The Child Support Agency can establish an arrears payment by administrative action. 

  • 37. How do we get a person arrested on a child support warrant released from jail?

    Call the Child Support Agency at (608) 266-4031. You should provide the arrested person's social security number, case number, and the name of the other party to the case. They will advise you what can be done to secure the person's release. 

  • General

  • 38. Can I terminate parental rights so I don't have to pay child support?

    Usually, a person can voluntarily terminate his or her parental rights only if there is another person willing to adopt the child. A Judge will not terminate your rights just so you can avoid paying support. Parental rights can be terminated involuntarily for the reasons specified in WI Stat §48.415. Questions about terminating parental rights are best addressed to an attorney. An informational checklist on what forms need to be filed can be obtained from the Dane County Legal Resource Center. Petitions to terminate parental rights are filed with the Juvenile Court Administration Office, Dane County Courthouse Room 2000, Madison, WI 53703, (608) 266-4407. The forms to terminate parental rights are available here: Termination of Parental Rights (Voluntary or Involuntary).

  • 39. How do I change my custody or support order?

    If both parties are in agreement to make the change, you can file a "Stipulation and Order to Amend Judgment for Support/Maintenance/Custody/Placement." If the parties are not in agreement, you can file a motion to change either custody/placement or court-ordered support. These packets and instructions are available at the Dane County Legal Resource Center (Room L1007 in the Dane County Courthouse) for a small fee or on our Family Court Forms page. The filing fee is $50 for a motion to change custody or placement and $30 for a motion to change child support or maintenance. Stipulations have no filing fee. A copy of any child support modification motion or stipulation must be provided to the Child Support Agency, if public assistance is involved in the case. 

  • Post-Divorce/Post-Paternity

  • 40. Do I have visitation rights as a third party-grandparent or other relative?

    According to Wis. Stat. §767.43, "upon petition by a grandparent, greatgrandparent, stepparent, or person who has maintained a relationship similar to a parent-child relationship with the child, the court may grant reasonable visitation rights to that person if the parents have notice of the hearing and if the court determines that visitation is in the best interest of the child." However, certain limitations apply to this statute. You can read the entire statute on the State Legislature's website. Since this issue may be complicated, you may want to consult with an attorney. There are no official court forms for this action. 

  • 41. What are my parental rights and responsibilities if I'm incarcerated?

    There is nothing in Wisconsin law that changes your rights or responsibilities as a parent just because you are incarcerated. There are often side effects of incarceration that can affect parental rights, however. If there is no one to care for a child, then the county and state could become involved in raising the child. If contact is not maintained with the child, a court could later find that the child was "abandoned" and can terminate parental rights permanently. If a divorce is started while a parent is incarcerated, the Judge can consider the inability to care for the child in deciding who gets custody. Support orders are not automatically reduced when a parent is incarcerated. 

  • General

  • 42. What do I do if my ex-spouse isn't obeying the custody order or has stopped paying support?

    If one of the parties has violated an order of the Court, the other party may wish to file an Order to Show Cause for Contempt. If the commissioner finds that the other party has violated an order, the party who violated the order could be made to compensate the other party for his or her loss. For instance, in order to avoid going to jail, the other party could be ordered to pay off a debt, make arrangements to pay a medical bill, or pay a certain amount towards his or her child support arrearages.

    A contempt form and instructions can be obtained for a small fee from the Dane County Legal Resource Center, Dane County Courthouse Room L1007, 215 S Hamilton St, Madison, WI 53703, or on our Family Court Forms page.

    If you believe the other party has violated a support order, you may wish to request assistance from the Dane County Child Support Agency, Room 365, 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, City County Bldg., Madison, WI 53703, (608) 266-4031. That office could file a contempt action in your case. Please contact the Child Support Agency to obtain an application for their services. 

  • 43. Do I need to inform the other parent of my children if I intend to move with the children?

    According to Wisconsin Statute §767.481, if the court grants any periods of physical placement with a child to both parents and one parent intends to relocate and reside with the child 100 miles or more from the other parent, the parent who intends to relocate and reside with the child shall file a motion with the court seeking permission for the child’s relocation. The child may not be relocated pending the initial hearing.

    You may locate the necessary motions forms (FA-4178V and FA-4179V) and Dane County filing instructions at the Family Courts Forms page under the Post-Judgment Documents section.

  • Post-Divorce/Post-Paternity

  • 44. My new spouse wants to adopt my children from my former marriage. Can we do this?

    Any child present in this state may be adopted if the child's parents are either deceased or have had their parental rights terminated. In the case of adoption by a stepparent, the birth parent to whom the stepparent is not married must be deceased or have had his/her rights terminated. 

  • General

  • 45. How can I set aside a divorce judgment and stay married?

    The parties may jointly complete the Stipulation and Order to Vacate/Revoke the Judgment of Divorce or Legal Separation forms (FA-4164VA and FA-4164VB) and submit the paperwork to the court official who granted the divorce or legal separation.  Please see the referenced forms for further information on timelines and conditions.  The forms may be located online at https://www.wicourts.gov/forms1/circuit/index.htm or purchased for a small fee at the Dane County Law Library located in Room L1007 of the Dane County Courthouse.