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  • December 07, 2022

    Effectively and Efficiently Handling Divorce Cases in Wisconsin

    In 2021, more than 16,600 divorce cases were opened in Wisconsin, according to circuit court statistics. The lawyers who handle them know that divorces involve complex decisions and a lot of paperwork. Here are a few time-saving tips for efficiently working with a new divorce client.

    Shannon Green

    wedding cake bride and groom facing away

    Dec. 7, 2022 – According to Wisconsin Court System statistics, more than 16,600 divorce cases were opened in Wisconsin in 2021, up from about 15,500 in 2020.

    Divorce cases involve complex decisions and processes that can challenge attorneys, especially those new to family law. Knowledge of processes and decision points will allow attorneys of all experience levels to prepare for the complexities of divorce proceedings.

    Prepare for that Critical First Interview

    For attorneys with a new divorce client, the first meeting is a critical step in providing the best representation for that client. During the interview, attorneys should get to know the client, gather information on the client’s background and marital history, explain divorce procedure and fees, answer the client’s questions, and request relevant documents from the client.

    Family Law in Wisconsin: A Forms and Procedures Handbook, Volume 1 (10th ed.,​ 2020) from State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE®, offers a solution: the Initial Interview and Fact Gathering checklist, and the Master Information List – two checklists that facilitate a systematic and efficient approach to family law cases.

    The checklists in Family Law in Wisconsin are tools that eliminate unnecessary meetings. For example, the Initial Interview and Fact Gathering checklist offers reminders for each step of the initial interview, including a conflicts check before the first meeting is scheduled, and a set of prompts to get the full story from your client. The checklist also reminds lawyers to discuss general legal concepts with new clients, such as:

    • no-fault divorce;

    • legal custody and physical placement;

    • child support;

    • spousal maintenance;

    • property division;

    • provisions regarding health insurance, uninsured health care-related expenses, and life insurance; and

    • tax issues.

    The purpose of any checklist system is to provide a routine method of gathering and processing information that streamlines data gathering and spares clients undue stress, according to Gregg M. Herman, lead author of Family Law in Wisconsin: A Forms and Procedures Handbook.

    Shannon Green Shannon Green is communications writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. She can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6135.

    Finding the most efficient way to gather not just necessary information, but also get the necessary documents from the client, saves time and money for both the client and the attorney.

    As Herman explains in Family Law in Wisconsin, “this information is accomplished through a Master Information List (MIL).”

    The MIL, Form 4.1 in Family Law in Wisconsin, can be given as-is to the client, and among other functions, aids clients with their data gathering – saving time and money for the client. (See Figure 1: Form 4.1: Master Information List excerpt below.)

    “Once the MIL is complete, the attorney has the necessary information from which to commence the action and complete financial discovery,” Herman notes. The MIL, when complete, cuts down on time spent on letters, phone calls, and client meetings.

    The MIL is just one form of many in the two-volume Family Law in Wisconsin. In Volume 1, for example, chapter 5 contains forms used for commencing a divorce action, such as a summons, a petition for divorce, an affidavit of custody information, a lis pendens, and more.

    And chapter 13 in Volume 2 focuses on legal proceedings after a divorce judgment, providing forms for termination of maintenance, adjustment in child support, and others. The forms are available in downloadable format.

    One practice tip: Herman recommends that lawyers using the forms check with the relevant county to confirm which forms are used and how they are to be completed. Local circuit court rules are available via the State Bar’s webpage on Circuit Court Rules on

    Excerpt from Form 4.1: Master Information List, <em>Family Law in Wisconsin: A Forms and Procedures Handbook, Vol. 1

    Excerpt from Form 4.1: Master Information List, Family Law in Wisconsin: A Forms and Procedures Handbook, Vol. 1.

    More on Referenced PINNACLE Book

    Family Law in Wisconsin: A Forms and Procedures Handbook (previously titled System Book for Family Law) is available as a two-volume set from State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE®.

    Both volumes are available in print and online via Books UnBound, the State Bar’s interactive online library, which recently underwent a significant upgrade. Initially published in 1978, the Family Law in Wisconsin is now in its 10th edition with an integrated supplement released in 2022.

    The two-volume print book costs $270 for members and $337 for nonmembers. For more information, or to place an order, visit the WisBar Marketplace at​ or call the State Bar at (800) 728-7788 or (608) 257-3838.

    See additional family law resources on WisBar Marketplace via this link.

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