In reviewing our site stats for our blog, one of the most common searches or topic is regarding maintenance and how to calculate maintenance in Wisconsin. We have other blog posts which deal with the maintenance in general and the standards or law regarding maintenance in Wisconsin. However, many people are looking for a specific answer about how much maintenance will be awarded in their case.
Unfortunately, that is not an easy question to answer. There is no formula in Wisconsin for maintenance like there is for child support. Maintenance is a discretionary decision on the part of the court which means that the amount could greatly vary depending on the facts of your case, the judge, the amount of income of the parties, etc. In fact, what income to use for the parties is probably the most common area of dispute in a maintenance case.
With that said, since so many people are looking for answers on this topic, I thought I would at least try to address it. Besides income, the two other main considerations when calculating maintenance are the tax consequences and the percentage of net income allocated to the parties. Maintenance is taxable to the payee and deductible to the payor. When determining maintenance, we often try to equalize the parties’ net disposable incomes so they both have the same amount to live on, especially in a long term marriage. In fact, in a long marriage, the presumption in the law is to equalization incomes. Therefore, there are some spreadsheets and tax calculators that lawyers and judges have developed and most commonly use when trying to determine the appropriate amount of maintenance.
Some time ago, Judge J. Mac Davis from Waukesha County developed the first maintenance calculator in Wisconsin. When conducting a google search on how to calculate maintenance in Wisconsin, one of the top search results leads you to a website hosted by Attorney Ernesto Romero. On this website, he has links to various family law forms and to a maintenance calculator which we all refer to simply as “Mac Davis” (click for link). This calculator is fairly simplistic and automatically calculates taxes on income and maintenance. He updates it each year using new tax rates, credits which might be in effect or other changes in tax laws although he has not updated it for 2013 and may not do so again. To run the calculations, you need to input tax status (individual, joint, head of household), the number of exemptions, each parties’ annual income and other requested relevant information. Based upon these numbers, the program calculates the net monthly disposable income of each party. By then inputting various maintenance amounts (annual), you can attempt to arrive at a maintenance amount which most closely reaches the percentage of monthly income allocation that is appropriate, whether it is 50/50 or not.
Since the first calculator was developed, others have followed. The two most common other calculators are called Fin Plan and a newly revised and much more complicated Mac Davis format created by Garrick G. Zielinski CFP, CDFA, Divorce Financial Solutions, LLC (click here for download). Each attorney and judge has their own preference. Each calculator has their own strengths and weaknesses. The original Mac Davis version is free of charge. Mr. Zielinski’s version is available for purchase. Fin Plan ,which does also have other divorce planning functions, must also be purchased.
Mr. Zielinski’s calculator (called 2013 DFS TaxCalc) has just come out recently but more and more attorneys and judges are using this now. It provides much more information, allows you to also calculate child support, takes into account more complicated income situations than the original Mac Davis (such as non-taxable income) and allows you to plug in a target percentage of income (i.e. 50/50) which then automatically calculates maintenance for you. The original Mac Davis requires some hand calculations to convert monthly to annual amounts and a certain amount of guessing to get you to your target percentage of net income allocation.
WARNING: these calculators are not for amateurs! You might use Mac Davis to give you a general idea of what you might expect for a maintenance order. However, there are many aspects which must be taken into consideration when running maintenance calculations. You will need the assistance of an experienced divorce attorney and, possibly, a financial planner to arrive at a maintenance amount that is in your best interests and considers all possible consequences, tax or otherwise.
To discuss your maintenance case in detail with one of our experienced divorce lawyers, please call us for a free initial office consultation at 414-258-1644. You can also visit our website or look at our other blog posts regarding maintenance (see category link below) for more information.
–Teri M Nelson