How does a court decide spousal support in Wisconsin?

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Patricia L. Grove

Answered by:
Patricia L. Grove

Located in Milwaukee, WI
Halling & Cayo, S.C.

Patricia L. Grove - Family Law - Super Lawyers

Answered by: Patricia L. Grove

Halling & Cayo, S.C.
Milwaukee, WI

Fax: 414-271-3841

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If you are considering divorce, you may be wondering if you will be required to pay or will receive spousal support. Many factors are at play in making this determination. The Wisconsin Legislature has defined the factors that could result in spousal support.  

The biggest factors to consider are the income disparity between you and your spouse and the length of your marriage. Ultimately, the objective is fairness as determined by one spouse’s needs and the other’s ability to pay. Need is usually based on earning potential.

For example, if one spouse works a well-paying job in a professional career for 20 years while the other works part time in a low-skilled job, it is likely that there will be spousal support. The court does not want one spouse to maintain an elevated lifestyle while the other is at risk of falling into poverty or cannot take a vacation like they were used to.

Finding fairness

Situations arise during marriage that could affect one spouse’s earning potential, but still contribute to the marriage overall. These contributions could result in spousal support, including:

  • Working while the other goes to school. If one spouse worked to put the other through school, then that person may be entitled to compensation for working.
  • Taking time off work to raise children. Another common situation that can result in spousal support is when one spouse voluntarily exits the workforce to care for children. The court will examine the fairness of this arrangement and may consider how it affected personal career factors like job skills and retirement savings.
  • Age and health. If one spouse becomes mentally or physically disabled during marriage, it is something the court will look at.
  • Other career contributions. One spouse may work a high-profile or influential career (politician, athlete, business executive) while the other contributes by hosting, entertaining and networking to help their spouse advance socially and financially.

The amount and length of time one spouse is required to pay spousal support depend on the circumstances of your marriage.

Spousal support can be permanent or temporary

There’s no set period of time that a court will award support or maintenance. It could be permanent, or it could be limited based on ability to pay and need.

It is important to remember that spousal support and maintenance can be very discretionary. If the judge can give a reason for their determination of support, that is acceptable. However, support and maintenance are always modifiable. You and your spouse can always go back to court based on significant changes in financial circumstances, including job loss or retirement.

Could you end up paying or receiving spousal support? It depends on the length of your marriage and your earning potential. The court will work to determine what is fair based on the lifestyle of you and your ex-spouse during and after marriage.

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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