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In Wisconsin, "maintenance" refers to what is commonly called "alimony" in other states. Essentially, maintenance refers to an obligation in a divorce or legal separation case in which one spouse is required to make payments to the other spouse in order to allow the recipient to maintain a reasonably comparative standard of living to that enjoyed during the time of the marriage.

Despite what you may sometimes hear, there is no simple rule of thumb or mathematical formula for determining whether maintenance is appropriate, and if so in what amount. A court is required to make decisions about maintenance based on a number of statutory factors, including but not limited to the length of the marriage, the age and health of the parties, the earning capacity of the party seeking maintenance, and 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 that goal. Other statutory factors include any agreements made by the parties before or during the marriage, and the contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other. There is a final factor, however, which is stated as “such other factors as the court may in each individual case determine to be relevant,” so there is ultimately very little limitation on the facts which can be considered.

The decisions of Wisconsin courts have further clarified that these factors are to be considered in light of two overall criteria, "support" and "fairness." However, a judge has extremely broad discretion in applying these factors to make a maintenance decision.