Wisconsin maintenance law does not set specific limits on the amount or duration of spousal support (maintenance) after divorce. The court instead applies numerous factors to a request for maintenance before making a discretionary decision.
Other states set specific limits on spousal support. Texas, for example, limits support to 5 years in marriages of 10-20 years, 7 years in marriages of 20-30 years, and 10 years in marriages of 30+ years. Texas law states that maintenance shall be limited to the shortest reasonable time that would allow the spouse to meet his/her reasonable needs. Wisconsin maintenance laws provide for greater flexibility, but certainly more room for dispute between spouses. For example, what may be a typical award in Dane County may be different than an award in Sauk, Columbia, or other counties.
The trend in child custody cases is to remove wide discretion and vague guidelines. This trend is designed to limit parental disputes. The presumption of joint custody of children has certainly had that effect. On the other hand, attempts to limit discretion on child placement/visitation orders repeatedly fail. Those in favor of specific limits on Wisconsin maintenance awards would argue for greater certainty and less litigation over support issues. Those opposing such limits would claim that limiting judges’ discretion forces spouses into rigid boxes that fail to account for the particular circumstances of each marriage. Keep in mind that maintenance is only awarded in divorce matters-it is not available if parents were never married.
Personally, I see value in both arguments. However, an experienced Wisconsin divorce lawyer can usually apply some rules of thumb to advise on a likely maintenance award. Wisconsin maintenance orders may end up with somewhat similar results while still allowing for discretion in cases in which fairness requires a deviation from strict limits. An attempt to create Wisconsin maintenance limits would certainly be controversial. What are your thoughts on this issue?