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Wisconsin Divorce: Long vs Short-Term Marriage, Filing, and Lawyer Costs

In Wisconsin, as in other states, one of the things the court must consider in a divorce case is spousal maintenance (alimony), and the duration of the marriage is a significant factor in these considerations. The final decrees in divorces of short-term marriages usually have no award of spousal support (or small awards), while long-term marriages (15 years or more) have significant awards of spousal support.

What Does the Court Consider When Deciding Spousal Support?

Typically, the court starts from the premise that a financially dependent spouse (one who is not working, or only partially employed) is entitled to half of the earnings of both parties. Because Wisconsin is a “no fault” divorce state, issues such as abuse, infidelity or other marital misconduct are not considered when determining spousal support obligations.

A spousal support order can be temporary or “rehabilitative” (meaning there is an expectation the receiving spouse becomes self-supporting), or it can be permanent. Wisconsin’s Statute 767.26 outlines the ten factors the court must consider when making an award of spousal maintenance:

(1) The length of the marriage.

(2) The age and physical and emotional health of the parties.

(3) The division of property made under s. 767.255.

(4) The educational level of each party at the time of marriage and at the time the action is commenced.

(5) The earning capacity of the party seeking maintenance, including educational background, training, employment skills, work experience, length of absence from the job market, custodial responsibilities for children and the time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party to find appropriate employment.

(6) The feasibility that the party seeking maintenance can become self-supporting at a standard of living reasonably comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage, and, if so, the length of time necessary to achieve this goal.

(7) The tax consequences to each party.

(8) Any mutual agreement made by the parties before or during the marriage, according to the terms of which one party has made financial or service contributions to the other with the expectation of reciprocation or other compensation in the future, where such repayment has not been made, or any mutual agreement made by the parties before or during the marriage concerning any arrangement for the financial support of the parties.

(9) The contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other.

(10) Such other factors as the court may in each individual case determine to be relevant.

Short Term Marriages Better Suited to Limited Scope Representation

Trial courts in Wisconsin have broad discretion over how much spousal support is awarded and how long it will have to be paid, making this one of the most bitterly contested issues in Wisconsin courts—especially with long-term marriages.

Because the stakes are so much higher with long-term marriages, there’s a far greater likelihood of disagreement between the parties. So, unless you and your long-term spouse are the rare exception, limited scope representation is not likely to work for you. There are just too many complications in a rancorous divorce.

On the other hand, if you and your spouse are splitting amicably and can come to an agreement on the financial matters the court will have to approve, limited scope representation will likely work fine for you and cost far less than if you retain an attorney.

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