When spouses divorce in Wisconsin, the court will decide whether to require one spouse to pay alimony (now called spousal maintenance or just maintenance) to the other. Courts don't always award maintenance, and judges have a lot of discretion in deciding whether -- and how much -- should be paid. Here are some answers to common questions about maintenance in Wisconsin. To learn more about spousal maintenance generally, see all of our articles on Alimony; you can find more information on Wisconsin divorce on our Wisconsin Divorce and Family Law page.
In deciding whether to award maintenance, Wisconsin courts look at a number of factors. There is no definitive formula in Wisconsin for determining whether and how much maintenance should be ordered. This decision is within the court's discretion, which means the court has significant leeway in deciding what factors to consider and how much weight to give each. These factors often include:
It would be unusual for a court to award maintenance in a short-term marriage unless the spouse requesting maintenance has health problems or a significantly lower income level than the other spouse. Generally, the longer a marriage lasts, the more likely a court is to award maintenance.
Keep in mind that courts don't always award maintenance. A maintenance award is more likely if the marriage has lasted a long time, one spouse earns significantly more than the other, and that spouse has the ability to pay maintenance. In this situation, the court's goal will be either:
The court usually sets a definite term for maintenance (in other words, the award will have a start date and an end date). There are some exceptions to this rule, however: If the marriage has lasted a very long time or the spouse requesting maintenance is unable to work, for example, the court might order maintenance indefinitely.
If maintenance is ordered for a set period of time and the spouse receiving it believes it should continue beyond the end date, he or she can file a motion requesting an extension. This must be done before the maintenance award expires, however.
If the receiving spouse dies, remarries, or begins living in a marriage-like relationship, maintenance can be terminated. If the paying spouse dies, maintenance will also be terminated. The spouses can also agree that maintenance cannot be modified in either amount or duration. That agreement would be enforceable by the court. Otherwise, maintenance can always be modified based on a substantial change in the circumstances of either party.
The spouse receiving maintenance must declare that money as income on his or her income tax return and pay tax on it. The spouse paying maintenance will be able to deduct those payments on his or her income tax returns. You can also usually deduct any attorney fees directly attributable to your receiving maintenance.
The retirement of a paying spouse may justify modifying or terminating maintenance in certain circumstances. For example, if a paying spouse retires and has no other source of income except his or her retirement benefits, of which you received half at the time of the divorce, maintenance most likely would be terminated. However, that would depend on why your ex retired, whether he or she has other sources of income, whether he or she can still afford to pay maintenance after retirement, and whether you can provide for yourself.