Few events are as financially stressful as divorce. During a marriage, spouses typically combine financial resources to help pay the necessary bills, such as rent, groceries, and utilities. After divorce, each spouse will have to rely entirely on his or her own resources to make ends meet. In some cases, one spouse may be ordered to pay alimony after the divorce is over. In Wisconsin, alimony is referred to as spousal maintenance, but the idea is the same; a court will sometimes order spousal maintenance when the earnings between the two spouses are unequal, in order to help the economically disadvantaged spouse to maintain a comparable standard of living. It is common for clients to want to know whether they will have to pay maintenance, and if so, how much and for long the award will be.
There is no set formula for exactly how long a person may be required to making spousal maintenance payments or how much the payments will be. Spousal maintenance orders are based on a variety of factors, and because no two cases are alike, no two orders will be the same. Often the court is focused on a spouse’s need as compared with the other spouse’s actual ability to pay. This need will be weighed against the requesting spouse’s ability to eventually generate income that is sufficient to continue the standard of living established during the marriage. The length of the marriage is also very relevant – the longer the marriage, the more likely a court is to make an award.
In many cases, the court will set a specific start date and end date for spousal maintenance payments. For example, the court may schedule the maintenance to be paid for a particular number of years or maybe until the receiving spouse has completed receiving a new degree. In some rare situations, a court may not provide an end date at all. This means that the paying spouse will have to continue making spousal maintenance payments (“indefinite”) until the receiving spouse dies until the recipient remarries, or until the parties return to court to request the payments be eliminated. To modify spousal maintenance, the paying spouse may return to court to request the payments be lowered or eliminated if financial circumstances change. The types of changes in circumstances that would make a modification of spousal maintenance appropriate would be an involuntary job loss or reduction in pay, reasonable retirement age, or disability. If the paying spouse seeks modification based on his or her income being lowered, the change must typically be involuntary. This means that the paying spouse cannot simply decide to quit his or her job or take a much lower-paying job just to spite the receiving spouse and get out of paying spousal maintenance. It’s important to contact an experienced attorney to be informed on the details of family law.