Maintenance / Spousal Support

Spousal Maintenance Attorneys in Madison

What is Spousal Maintenance & How is it Awarded?

Spousal support in the state of Wisconsin is called “maintenance,” and is comparable to what is called “alimony” in other states. It refers to the payments that one ex-spouse makes to the other during or after a divorce or legal separation. Unlike child support, there is no exact formula to determine if maintenance is appropriate or how much, if any, should be awarded.

How Long Does Spousal Maintenance Last in Wisconsin?

The court will examine the parties’ situation in light of ten statutory factors, one of which is length of marriage. After considering the factors, the court will decide if maintenance is appropriate, how long the award of maintenance should last, and how much maintenance should be received. An award of maintenance may be modified if the parties’ circumstances substantially change. The amount and duration of maintenance lies in the discretion of the court, after analyzing a host of statutory factors. For that reason, the awarding of maintenance is one of the most difficult outcomes to predict in the context of a divorce.

How Spousal Support (maintenance) is Calculated in Wisconsin

Spousal support in the state of Wisconsin is called “maintenance,” and is comparable to what is called “alimony” in other states. It refers to the payments that one ex-spouse makes to the other during or after a divorce or legal separation. Unlike child support, courts do not follow an exact formula to determine if maintenance is appropriate or how much, if any, should be awarded.

In Wisconsin, maintenance has two objectives: “1) to support the recipient spouse in accordance with the needs and earning capacities of the parties (the support objective) and to ensure a fair and equitable financial arrangement between the parties in each individual case (the fairness objective).” In re Marriage of LaRocque, 139 Wis. 2d 23, 33, 406 N.W.2d 736 (1987), the amount and duration of maintenance lies in the discretion of the court, after analyzing a host of statutory factors. See Wis. Stat. § 767.56.

For these reasons, a maintenance award is one of the most difficult outcomes to predict in the context of a divorce. However, Wisconsin’s Supreme Court has issued several decisions analyzing the factors found under Wis. Stat. § 767.56 in individual cases, which provides further guidance for parties to an action as well as trial courts. For example, the court has stated that in a long-term marriage, it may be appropriate to start the spousal support analysis by dividing total household income equally, with adjustments based on several statutory factors. See In re Marriage of LaRocque, 139 Wis. 2d 23. In a long-term marriage, it may be appropriate to award maintenance for an indefinite period or until it can be shown that the person receiving maintenance is self-supporting at an appropriate standard of living. However, there are several cases which Wisconsin courts have supported limited term maintenance in an amount that is less than half of the total family income. See, for example, Murray v. Murray, 231 Wis. 2d 71, 604 N.W.2d 912 (Ct. App. 1999).

If maintenance is an issue in a case, the trial court will examine the parties’ financial situation in light of ten statutory factors under Wis. Stat. § 767.56 and the prior Wisconsin appellate court decisions interpreting those factors in other cases. After considering the law, the court will decide if maintenance is appropriate, how long the award of maintenance should last, and how much maintenance should be received. An award of maintenance may be modified if the parties’ circumstances substantially change.

Some factors the court considers when deciding about maintenance include:

  • The length of the marriage.
  • The age and physical and emotional health of the parties.
  • The feasibility the party seeking maintenance can become self-supporting at a standard of living reasonably comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage.
  • Education level and earning capacity of the party seeking maintenance.
  • The contributions one spouse made to the other’s education or increased earning ability.

Traditionally, courts have set maintenance after determining the financial need of the person requesting maintenance and the ability of the earning spouse to pay. The standard for determining the amount of maintenance is the marital standard of living, or more precisely, what it costs to support the family’s existing lifestyle. In most divorces, there is simply not enough money to provide this standard of living in both households. The court often attempts to balance the financial shortfall in both houses.

Our lawyers at Balisle Family Law Legal Counsel, S.C. are well-versed in Wisconsin maintenance case law. Whether through negotiation, mediation, arbitration, or litigation, our family lawyers are here to help you determine how best to preserve your financial security.