Wisconsin constitutes one of the nine states that follow community property laws during divorces. These laws, compared to the other divorce process under equitable distribution, work to divide marriage assets into a 50/50 split. The court will look at all assets of a married couple and determine whether property constitutes individual or community property, and in doing so, the court can ensure that spouses receive their rightfully owned separate assets, as well as half of their marital assets.

Passed in 1986, the Marital Property Act, or community property law, helps ensure that one individual spouse does not prove detrimentally affected by divorce filings and asset splits. Community property laws recognize that both spouses contributed to the marriage, even if one spouse worked while the other raised children.

The key question: When did you acquire the property?

The property subject to split is called community, or marital, property. This property indicates all assets and debts acquired from the beginning of a couple’s marriage until the date of separation, which usually describes the day the spouses begin living separately. Community property includes:

  • All property acquired during your marriage
  • All debts acquired during your marriage
  • Pensions and retirement plans
  • Salaries or income
  • All property you and your spouse owned together, even if you acquired the property beforehand

By identifying community property as owned by you and your spouse, Wisconsin court understands that though you may have made less than your spouse, you still collectively used their total earnings. Therefore, the court recognizes that you should receive half of the sum.

Especially for non-working parents or spouses that may have received less education, the court ensures that assets face equal division.

Individual property cannot be divided

Individual, or separate, property includes only the assets you acquired before your marriage or after your initial separation. For example, if you purchased a collectible car before you married your spouse, and your spouse never had his or her name on the deed, the car would hold individual property value in court. Other individual property may include gifts or inheritances.

The most important element to ensure your right to your individual property is proof. You must have accurate documentation that an asset belongs entirely to you through paperwork, deed or title. If you have no proof of ownership or cannot determine when you acquired the asset, the court may designate the asset as community property.

Most often, you will sell community property, and both spouses will receive half of the monetary value. Individual property is solely provided to the designated owner. Know that Wisconsin court works to divide assets equally after a divorce, but if you can prove your ownership of certain assets, your spouse has no authority to retrieve the property.