Procedurally, the three do not differ much, however, it is important to understand the difference before filing and understand what they will provide to you in terms of relief.
Divorce ends a marriage. The court rules on the division of property, maintenance (spousal support), and if necessary, arrangements for child support, legal custody, and physical placement. There is a statutory 120-day waiting period to get divorced. Once the divorce is granted, the parties cannot remarry anywhere in the world for at least six months.
Parties do not have to give reasons for wanting a divorce. Wisconsin is a "no fault" divorce state, which means neither party must prove that the other has done anything wrong, and only one party must testify under oath that he or she believes that the marriage is irretrievably broken. A marriage is irretrievably broken when there is no chance for reconciliation.
Legal separation does not end a marriage. The court rules on the same issues as for divorce. The forms, instructions, procedural information, and waiting period (120 days) for obtaining a legal separation are also the same as those for divorce. Parties are free to reconcile at any time. The parties cannot marry another person during legal separation. If the parties agree, they may convert the legal separation to a divorce at any time. If they do not agree, either party may convert the legal separation into a divorce by filing a motion to do so after one (1) year from the date the legal separation was granted. If the parties convert the legal separation to a divorce, the parties may not remarry anywhere in the world for at least six months from the day the legal separation is converted to a divorce.
An annulment is a court procedure that declares that a marriage never existed. However, a court may annul a marriage only under limited circumstances. A short term marriage is NOT a legal reason for annulment. See Wisconsin Statute 767.313 for the acceptable reasons to request an annulment. The forms, instructions, and procedural information provided by the Family Division Self-Help Program are not designed to be used to request an annulment. Please seek legal assistance if you feel you qualify and would like to file for annulment.