The Court of Appeals recently made a notable decision regarding Wisconsin maintenance in Brin v. Brin. In this case, after divorce, the husband had paid maintenance (otherwise known as alimony) for 20+ years, into his 80’s. He then asked the judge to terminate the maintenance to his ex-wife. The judge reduced his payments to $0, and of course the ex-wife appealed.
The Court of Appeals upheld the termination of maintenance. According to previous Wisconsin maintenance cases, a spouse should not be forced to use property awarded in the divorce to pay expenses instead of receiving maintenance. The Brin decision does not specifically overturn earlier case law. However, the decision does clearly state that the passage of time after the divorce supported an end to maintenance. This is an important, change in Wisconsin maintenance case law. Since the Court has formally published this case, it is clear that the Court recognized the importance of this decision.
The Court also distinguished the Brin case by stating that Mr. Brin need not pay maintenance simply because his investments had increased more after the divorce than Ms. Brin’s. Previous cases permitted payment of maintenance based on post-divorce increases in a spouse’s investments or retirement accounts. Again, although the Brin decision does not directly overturn those earlier cases, it does provide legally-approved reasoning for a decrease in Wisconsin maintenance.
In my experience, this case is part of a trend in Wisconsin maintenance analysis to decrease both the length and amount of maintenance. I believe that reasons for this trend are a combination of difficult economic times, the increasing likelihood that both spouses are educated and employable, and judges’ desires to ensure a clearer break from the marriage.
The Brin case may not easily apply to all long-term maintenance cases. The Brins both had over $2 million in assets. However, it is likely that any case involving very long-term maintenance would also involve a fairly substantial level of assets. Those who pay Wisconsin spousal maintenance should contact their attorneys to determine if the Brin case could apply to them.