Wisconsin Maintenance (Alimony) FAQs

Learn how Wisconsin courts decide who is entitled to alimony (maintenance) and how much to award.

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.

Who is entitled to maintenance payments?

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:

  • the length of the marriage
  • the age and the physical and emotional health of the spouses
  • how the couple's property is divided
  • the educational level of each spouse
  • each spouse's earning capacity
  • how likely it is that the spouse seeking maintenance can become self-supporting at a standard of living reasonably comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage and how long it will take to reach this goal
  • the tax consequences to each spouse
  • whether one spouse has contributed significantly to the education, training or increased earning power of the other
  • any agreement the spouses made before or during the marriage regarding their financial arrangements, including one spouse's financial or other contribution to the other made with the expectation of reciprocation or compensation in the future, and
  • any other factor the judge deems relevant.

Will I get maintenance if my spouse and I have been married only a short time?

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.

How much maintenance will the court award?

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:

  • to equally allocate the net disposable incomes of the spouses, or
  • to meet the budget needs of the spouse receiving maintenance (assuming they are reasonable), to allow that spouse to maintain a standard of living equal or similar to that enjoyed during the marriage.

How long does maintenance last?

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.

Can a maintenance award be modified or terminated?

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.

What are the tax consequences of paying or receiving maintenance?

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.

Will my maintenance end if my ex retires?

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.