Wisconsin, as most states, recognizes a distinction between “residence” and “domicile.” It is important to know this distinction to ensure that Wisconsin is the correct jurisdiction to file a military divorce.
“Residence” and “domicile” may be the same place, but not always. “Residence” usually means the place where a party lives at a specific time. Thus, to file a divorce in Wisconsin, a party must be a resident of Wisconsin for 6 months prior to filing. Wisconsin does not require that the party intend to live in the state forever, just demonstrate the required 6 months of current residence.
“Domicile” is considered a more permanent home, where the party intends to return, even when currently “residing” somewhere else. Note that Wisconsin does not require a party to be “domiciled” in the state to file for divorce.
Military members and spouses, even if an intact family, do not always live in the same state. The member may be stationed in Texas for a year, where he could be a resident. The spouse and children who did not follow may live elsewhere as residents of a different state. Where should the divorce be filed? It may come down to a question of domicile–where the parties intend to live permanently.
There may be more than one state with jurisdiction over a military divorce, and each party should consider the pros and cons of filing in each state. Questions of child support, child custody, spousal support, and property division are different in each state, and the choice to file may have significant effects.
The Military Spouse Residency Relief Act provides some relief for the civilian spouse who follows the servicemember through her stationing orders. The Act indicates that the spouse does not gain or lose domicile solely by accompanying the member to another state.
Properly establishing residency is vital so that Wisconsin has jurisdiction over the divorce. If jurisdiction is improper, the case can be challenged at any time, and potentially dismissed, even years down the road.
A further complication is jurisdiction over children. We will address that issue in the next blog.
Attorney David Kowalski routinely handles military divorces for both servicemembers and their spouses. Contact him at 608-405-6663 with any questions.