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What does it take to modify a Wisconsin spousal support (maintenance) order?

by | Sep 24, 2021 | Divorce, Post-Decree Modifications

Your divorce proceedings have come and gone, and you have been dutifully sending your ex-spouse their support payments in conformity with your divorce decree. In Wisconsin, spousal support is called “maintenance.”  These payments are for a fixed amount, and they’re set to last for many more years to come. Suddenly, a job loss, remarriage or some other substantial life event changes your financial situation, or your ex-spouse’s situation, drastically. Is it possible to get your divorce decree modified in Wisconsin, so that you can pay less to your ex-spouse each month, or stop having to pay altogether?

Modifying a maintenance order

If you or your ex-spouse have had a substantial chance in circumstances, either party can request that the court revisit your maintenance order. For example, if you lose your job or your income is reduced through no fault of your own.  Or, perhaps your ex-spouse is earning more income than they did when the order was originally entered.  This may mean that the spousal support order is no longer fair.

Or, if the party receiving maintenance remarries, maintenance automatically terminates in the State of Wisconsin.  The remarriage of the party paying maintenance has no effect on his or her maintenance payments.

Consequences of failing to pay

Wisconsin law is very clear on the penalties for failing to pay spousal support. You are only able to reduce the amount you pay each month if the court specifically modifies the order. Even if you lose your job, you must still seek court permission before you stop paying.

If you lose your job, you are expected to find new employment at a comparable income as soon as possible.  The court may award you some temporary relief to give you time to find a job.  However, if you are employable, but the court finds that you failed to make diligent efforts to find employment in order to be able to pay, they can still order you to continue to pay your prior maintenance order.

The party receiving maintenance can also seek a contempt finding with the court if you fail to pay which could mean significant penalties being imposed against that party.

In any of the above instances, the party seeking the change will have to hire an attorney and submit a motion explaining why the amount currently required is unfair in light of the circumstances. The other party will have a chance to respond and argue for why the modification would be unfair to them. If the court decides that justice demands that they modify the order, they have the discretion to do so.  The process can be tedious, but if you are successful, it will be worth it.

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