No law exists automatically requiring either spouse to pay any expenses. In fact, there are very few rules addressing spouses’ behavior just because a divorce petition was filed. Certain rules prohibit a spouse from selling or giving away property without approval. But no rules govern the payment of bills or living expenses, and neither spouse has an automatic right to support from the other. So if the spouses cannot agree on support or payment of expenses after a divorce is filed, what do they do? The remedy is to request a temporary order from the divorce court. Because Wisconsin requires at least a four-month waiting period between the filing and the actual divorce judgment, the temporary order process is designed to address how expenses, bills, support, and other issues are handled during that interim period. At the temporary order hearing, the spouses appear before a family court commissioner, present their expenses, needs, and budget, and the commissioner allocates support and payment of expenses between the spouses. These orders are only in force, and can be modified at the time of the final divorce judgment. However, there is a tendency to use these orders as a guide for the final divorce order, and therefore it is important to make the proper arguments at the temporary order hearing. It is generally much easier to argue that the temporary order worked well, and should be continued, than to argue that it must be radically changed. For this reason, it is important to have legal representation at the temporary order hearing.
The temporary order process is somewhat different in each county, often in the level of formality and the length of time granted for hearings. For example, the process in Columbia County, in my experience, is less formal, and often more limited in time, than in Sauk and Dane counties. It is important that your attorney be familiar with the local county rules and requirements to properly assist you at these hearings. I have considerable experience in Sauk, Columbia, Dane, and other counties, and am happy to consult with clients for these and other hearings.