When seeking a divorce in Wisconsin, you have the option of requesting both child support and maintenance, or spousal support. If the court awards a combination of both, the amount of the child support order may affect the amount of spousal maintenance. However, it is in the judge's discretion to take into account the amount of child support when awarding maintenance.
Types of Support
In Wisconsin, there are three forms of support that may be awarded as part of a divorce: child support, maintenance and family support. Child support represents the money a noncustodial parent is ordered to pay the custodial parent to help with the costs of raising and caring for a child. Maintenance, known as spousal support or alimony in other states, is financial support one spouse provides to the other spouse to help support and meet her needs. Family support is a combination of both maintenance and child support; in such cases, the child support amount may impact how much the court awards in maintenance.
Either spouse may request support, usually on the divorce petition or answer filed in response to it. The type of support requested depends on your individual circumstances. For example, if you want to receive maintenance and you and your spouse have children, you would request family support. If you don't have children, you would simply request maintenance. And if you have children, but don't want maintenance, you would request child support only. In Wisconsin, child support, family support and maintenance may be awarded in the form of temporary support orders while the divorce is pending. Temporary orders end when the final divorce decree is issued; permanent orders go into effect when the divorce is final.
Before the court awards support, either temporary or permanent, it must first determine if it is warranted by the circumstances and what amount is appropriate. In the case of child support, the court must first determine legal and physical custody. Legal custody represents a parent's right to make important decisions concerning a child's welfare, such as religion, schooling and medical care. Physical custody, known as placement in Wisconsin, represents the number of overnights a child spends with each parent. Either form of custody may be shared between parents or granted to one parent only. When it comes to placement, the parent who pays child support is typically the parent who spends less time with the child. If placement is shared and both parents spend roughly the same amount of time with their child, the spouse with a higher income usually pays child support. Therefore, which parent pays child support and the amount to be paid is determined by placement time, the income levels of both parents and the number of children to be supported.
After the court establishes the child support and custody arrangement, it moves on to awarding maintenance, if requested. To determine whether a spouse is entitled to maintenance and how much, the court looks at several factors, such as the length of the marriage, and the ages, health, income, education and earning capacity of the spouse. It also determines whether the requesting spouse can become self-supportive at the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage and how long that might take. If the court awarded you child support, it also may take this under consideration because it can affect the amount of a potential maintenance award. The court may award maintenance for a limited duration, such as two years -- until a specific event occurs, like completion of a college degree or job training program -- or it can order permanent maintenance. Permanent orders end when the recipient spouse dies or remarries. If the court awards you both child support and maintenance, it issues a family support order. Otherwise, only a maintenance order will be established.
If circumstances change after your divorce decree is issued, you may go back to court to have your support orders modified. However, the change must be substantial. For example, in the case of child support, a substantial change may be a job loss or significant increase or decrease in the placement time of each spouse. With respect to maintenance, a substantial change may be the paying spouse's unanticipated disability or the recipient spouse's remarriage. If maintenance was awarded pursuant to a marital settlement agreement reached between you and your spouse, maintenance can only be modified if not expressly prohibited by the agreement.