In Wisconsin, a court may order that one partner pay the other alimony, or spousal maintenance, for a specified period following divorce. Generally, these payments are intended to help establish financial equity between the parties. In some rare cases, the maintenance payments can be permanent. More often, the support term is structured to give the less financially well-off partner time to attain the skills, education, or employment they need to adequately meet their needs. However, circumstances can arise that warrant changing maintenance amounts in your Wisconsin spousal maintenance order.
Wisconsin Spousal Maintenance
Wisconsin law requires that the court look at multiple factors when considering spousal maintenance. These include elements such as the length of the marriage; the relative age, emotional and physical health of the parties, and each partner’s earning capacity, education, and contributions during the marriage. In practicality, when a couple is in a long-term marriage (more than ten years), and there is a significant difference in their income and earning capacity, spousal maintenance is more likely to be an issue during divorce if one person’s earning capacity is affected because of their contributions during the marriage (like the decision to stay home and raise children). However, every case is unique, and spousal support could be ordered or agreed to in a variety of circumstances.
Changing Spousal Maintenance
Once the maintenance order establishes the amount and duration of support, either party can petition the family court to change, or modify, that sum. However, the law requires evidence that one or both of the parties have experienced a substantial change in circumstances since the order was issued to make any alterations. For the obligated spouse, losing a job or becoming disabled could be a reason to return to court and ask for reduced payments. For the receiving party, a significant rise in the cost of living or health issues may justify a request to alter the maintenance amount.
Cost of Living Changes
Generally, the court will only allow modification when something has occurred that is going to make it much more difficult for the paying party to meet his or her obligation or the receiving party to meet his or her needs under the current order. Under the applicable statute, “a substantial change in the cost of living for either party or as measured by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics may be sufficient to support a revision of the amount of maintenance, except that a change in an obligor’s cost of living is not by itself sufficient if payments are expressed as a percentage of income.” In other words, if the payment is based on a percentage of the paying spouse’s income, a cost of living change such as a pay cut may not be enough to modify the order.
Ending Spousal Maintenance
Certain events allow for the end of a maintenance obligation, such as when the receiving party remarries or either party dies. The parties can also agree to end the order and ask the court to terminate the agreement.