Financial Considerations in Wisconsin Divorces

Divorce in Wisconsin reveals a wide range of financial situations to consider. Is the marriage brief or long-term? Is there a marital property agreement? If there are children, are they minors or adults? Can either spouse afford the family home? Is there a lot of debt? Do parents agree on a placement schedule with minors? Does marital property include a family business?

It is important that the couple looks at the big financial picture as a single person/parent, as each spouse will initially live on a smaller income with additional expenses compared to when they were married.

Common financial questions in divorce include the following:

  • Who should get the house? 

    In the case of a divorce, there is usually one spouse who would like to retain the home in the divorce. However, due to financial constraints, it is also common for both parties to sell the family home and split the proceeds.

    If there is a marital property agreement, the house would typically be considered individual property, and therefore not subject to division in a divorce.

    If both parties own the home, and one person wants to keep it, consider the following:

    • The home will be re-appraised at today’s market value -- not the purchase price.

    • The spouse who keeps the house might owe a large sum of money to the spouse moving out. In general, the buyer will need to pay the ex-spouse for half of the equity in the home. (Equity is the difference between what is owed on the house and what the home is currently worth in today’s market.) 

    • The buyer of the home could also pay the seller by foregoing other marital assets, including cash or retirement accounts. This could reduce the amount of the new mortgage.

      For example, the spouse who is selling their ownership in the house might keep the (fully owned) family SUV valued at $25,000. That $25,000 asset could be subtracted from the purchase price of the house. Or the seller of the home might choose to keep 100% of his/her 401k in place of receiving part of the payment for the home.

    • Prior to the decision to purchase the family home -- or any new home -- each spouse should consider additional expenses of utilities, property taxes, homeowners insurance, and maintenance costs of the home.

  • Will someone be required to pay child support and/or maintenance?

    Generally, the person who makes more money will pay child support to the other parent until the children turn 18 or graduate from high school (whichever is later).

    A common misconception is that if the parties have a 50/50 placement schedule, there will not be a child support order. Wisconsin law has formulas to calculate appropriate child support payments, depending on the number of children, income levels, placement time, and other factors. The court will retrieve money owed by the payor and submit it to the payee through automatic payments set up through the Wisconsin Support Collections Trust fund.

    In addition to child support, many divorces also require the higher income earner to pay maintenance to the lower income earner for a pre-determined amount of time. Maintenance is common in marriages where the parties have been married for many years, there are no children, there is a significant income disparity, and if the children are emancipated and no longer in the home.

  • Have all living expenses been considered?
    In addition to a mortgage, home expenses, and child support, each spouse needs to consider additional cost of living expenses, including:

    • Vehicle costs (insurance, car loans, maintenance, gas)
    • Health insurance and expenses (co-pays, deductibles) for self and children
    • Dental insurance and treatments for self and children
    • Groceries, toiletries, and home products
    • Tuition and school costs related to minor children and/or children in college
    • Contributions to savings and investment accounts
    • Clothing, shoes, coats, sports apparel for self and children
    • Entertainment, dining, travel, recreation
  • Is a family business part of the marital property? 

    Family businesses are commonly characterized as marital property. However, a marital property agreement or a business operating agreement that has been drafted by an attorney might include language that excludes any marital property interest in the business. 

    Likely, the family business will need a professional valuation. Financial determinations will be made resulting from the valuation, the operating agreement, and any other agreements between all owners of the business.

Moving ahead financially after a divorce

A divorce involves numerous financial decisions and can be overwhelming. However, with careful guidance and thoughtful planning, individuals can recover financially after they are divorced. An experienced family law attorney can help parties in the divorce process, including identifying and dividing marital property.

Contact the family law attorneys at Murphy Desmond S.C. by calling us at 608.257.7181 or emailing us at email@murphydesmond.com. We have offices in Madison, Dodgeville, and Janesville, Wisconsin.

Published March 21, 2024