Maintenance, sometimes known as alimony or spousal support, can be awarded by the court in proceedings related to divorce, annulment, or legal separation. Maintenance has two objectives: to support the recipient in according with the needs and earning capacities of the parties, and to ensure a fair and equitable financial agreement between them. Its purpose is to put the recipient in a solid financial position that allows him/her to become self-supporting by the end of the maintenance period.
The court typically begins its maintenance evaluation with the proposition that the recipient is entitled to 50 percent of the total earnings of both parties. The goal is to provide the recipient with the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage. This is measured by the parties’ lifestyle immediately before the divorce and by what the parties could anticipate enjoying if they were to stay married.
A number of factors are used to determine whether or not maintenance is appropriate. A list of these factors can be found on Wis. Stat. 767.56. These include, but are not limited to:
- The length of the marriage
- The age and physical and emotional health of the parties
- Division of property
- The educational level of each party at the time of marriage
- The earning capacity of the party seeking maintenance
- The feasibility that the party seeking maintenance can become self-supporting at a standard of living reasonably comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage, and, if so, the length of time necessary to achieve this goal
- The tax consequences to each party
- Any mutual agreement made by the parties before or during the marriage
- The contribution by one party to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other
Maintenance is not to be viewed as permanent, but should be paid until the recipient can reasonably reach the standard of living of the marriage. Under Wisconsin law, maintenance payments will be terminated at the death of either the payee or payer, or when the payee is remarried. If a court orders a party to pay maintenance, that order can be modified if a party can show a substantial change in circumstances. Common examples include the payer losing his/her job, or the payee obtaining a job or increase in income. If maintenance is waived by a party during the proceedings, he/she cannot come back to the court and request that maintenance be reinstated, no matter what.
Wisconsin law does not provide a specific length of time that parties should be married for before maintenance applies, or a specific length that payments should be made. Therefore, if you believe you have a possible claim for maintenance it would be in your best interest to seek the advice of a family law attorney on this matter. Our office has handled many maintenance cases and can advise you on the matter if you wish to contact us and schedule a free half hour phone consultation.