What is equitable distribution in Wisconsin?

Under Wisconsin law, marital property is divided in an equitable manner but this does not guarantee an equal division.

When a couple in Mequon exchanges vows, they never think that some years later, their love will turn to ashes and they will find themselves in a divorce. Fraker Law Firm SC understands that this can be a confusing time for people and that they have many questions. One of these questions, is what is equitable distribution?

Wisconsin's family law

The Wisconsin State Legislature establishes that property obtained during the marriage is automatically considered the property of both spouses. This is often referred to as marital property and may include the following:

  • Real estate - family home, vacation homes, vacant lots, rental properties, timeshares in a vacation rental
  • Retirement plans - including company 401ks, individual retirement accounts and even some pension plans
  • Family-owned businesses
  • Company bonuses
  • Investments

Property that was acquired before the marriage, gifts and inheritances are usually considered separate property. However, Forbes points out that separate property can become marital property under certain situations. For example, adding a spouse's name to the deed of a separately owned property could give that spouse claim to it in a divorce.


In order to make sure that spouses receive the rightful portion of marital property, the property must first be valuated. Forbes states that valuation is accomplished by choosing a valuation date. This could be the date that the couple filed for legal separation or divorce, or some other date that they agree on.

Once the valuation date is chosen, all marital property should be assessed to determine its market value, based on that date. People should understand that once the date is chosen, it cannot be changed. Therefore, a market change of significant value after that date would not be grounds for a redistribution of property.

Dividing property

Once all marital property has been identified and valuated, it is then divided using an equitable division process. Many people may think that this means the property will be equally divided between the spouses but this is not always the case. Under Wisconsin law, there are several factors that must be considered. These include the emotional and mental health of the spouses, age, length of the marriage, earning capacity, what property each spouse brought into the marriage, education levels, separate property, contribution to the marriage and support of the earning spouse and the needs of each spouse.

If one spouse will retain primary care of children, it is probable that the spouse will be allowed to keep the family home as well as other assets that may be in the children's best interest. Wisconsin law provides a protective provision that property that will prohibit the division of certain property if the division "will create a hardship on the other party." Therefore, people who have questions on this law should consider meeting with a family law attorney.