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The Basics of Determining Spousal Support


When a married couple builds a life together, it’s not uncommon for one spouse to take on the role of primary earner while the other forgoes an income to raise a family or care for the home instead. In the case of divorce, it may be challenging to redetermine how to live independently of one another and ensure each individual has adequate financial resources to retain the standard of living enjoyed prior to the divorce.


Here’s what you should know about spousal support in the event of a divorce.


What is spousal support?

Spousal support, otherwise known as ‘spousal maintenance’ or ‘alimony,’ is the practice of a former spouse providing financial support to their previous partner following a divorce.


Spousal support is commonly paid on a monthly basis, but can also be paid as a lump-sum or via property transfer, and the amount of spousal support to be paid is decided by a judge during divorce proceedings.


How much will I pay or receive in spousal support?

In Wisconsin, there is no consistent formula to determine the amount of spousal support paid. Rather, it is determined on a case-by-case basis by the presiding judge.


When determining spousal support, a judge considers a number of factors, including:

  • The length of the marriage;

  • The age of the spouses;

  • The health of the spouses;

  • The division of assets resulting from the divorce;

  • The education levels of the spouses;

  • The earning capacity of each spouse;

  • Child custody and placement determinations;

  • The proposed recipient’s feasibility of attaining the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage;

  • Mutual agreements made between the parties; and

  • Any other factor the court determines as relevant.

Although marital transgressions may be a reason for divorce, transgressions such as abuse or cheating are not taken into consideration when determining spousal support.


What if I need spousal support right now?

If legal fees or other living expenses render an individual incapable of making ends meet during divorce proceedings, temporary spousal support can be awarded. This temporary maintenance makes it possible for a former spouse to keep their head above water while expenses pile up during their divorce. Payments will end once the divorce case is closed.


Can spousal support be reversed?

While outright reversal of a spousal support order is rare, modifications are common. If there’s a significant change in circumstances to either party, such as job loss, a review of the spousal support order can be requested. A spousal support order review can result in an increase, decrease or indefinite suspension of a spousal support order. However, even after a significant change in circumstances, spousal support must remain ongoing until a new order is made. Failure to continue paying spousal support can result in fines, court hearings or jail.


When does spousal support end in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin judges can award spousal support on an indefinite or limited-term depending on the facts of the case. In such cases, spousal support will likely only end if the recipient of the support remarries or if either spouse passes away.


Limited-term spousal support is primarily awarded in cases where the recipient can feasibly become self-supporting following the divorce, such as in instances where one former spouse was a stay-at-home parent during the marriage, but can get a job in their field once again after receiving education or training. Limited-term support is typically meant to support the recipient through this education or training period.


The end date for a limited-term order is indicated on the final support order document. However, if the recipient remains financially dependent on the spousal support at the end date, the court may revisit the final support order document to consider if an extension is prudent and a motion is filed prior to the determination date.


Each situation is different, and the length of the marriage also plays an important role in determining if spousal support will be limited-term or indefinite. An experienced family law attorney can be a great asset and help navigate the nuances of a case.


Consult an Attorney

An attorney can provide valuable insight into the divorce process and be an advocate during spousal support determinations. Attorneys at The Everson Law Firm have extensive experience and knowledge to help you through even the most complex situations. Contact Everson Law today to schedule a consultation with a lawyer.