Terese J. Singer

Wisconsin Court Finds No Substantial Change of Circumstances Despite Job Change

During the process of getting a divorce, most couples will consider whether either spouse should be entitled to receive spousal maintenance. Spousal maintenance is a payment that one spouse gives to the other in order for the spouse receiving the payment to keep up with the standard of living to which they are accustomed. Whether Wisconsin spousal maintenance should be awarded is based on the circumstances of the spouses at the time of the divorce, including the needs of the parties, the income of the parties, and the standard of living during the divorce.

When spousal maintenance is awarded, it is a finalized and defined amount of money that must be paid every month. However, spousal maintenance can be changed when a substantial change of circumstances occurs. Things like a medical condition, a special needs child, a job loss, or a move can all represent a substantial change of circumstances. A recent case before the Wisconsin Court of Appeals looks at whether a voluntary job change can also be a change of circumstances justifying a modification of spousal maintenance.

In Marriage of Purdy, Rande and Lisa Purdy divorced after 34 years of marriage. At the time of the divorce, Rande was working as a director of sales for a family liquor company and earning twice what Lisa was earning as a nurse at the Mayo Clinic. As a result of the disparity of their income, the court awarded Lisa $1,000 a month in spousal maintenance.

Two years later, Rande filed a motion to modify his spousal maintenance payments. He argued that since he had left his job as director of sales and taken a job as a cook and manager at a local bar and grill, which reduced his income by a third, he should be entitled to reduced maintenance payments. Rande also argued that Lisa’s income had increased by a fourth over the two years, so she should also be entitled to less income.

In response, Lisa argued that Rande now worked for a company owned by his fiancée, who had the ability to set his salary. She also noted that Rande had become part owner in a company that owned the land where the bar and grill was located and charged the bar and grill rent. Finally, Lisa noted that her hourly wage had actually decreased in the last two years, but she was working more hours to try to keep her income up. In response to these arguments, the court ultimately denied Rande’s motion, and Rande appealed.

On appeal, Rande argued that he had established a substantial change in circumstances based on Lisa’s increased income, regardless of the reason for her increased income. Rande also argued that although he technically received rent from the bar and grill, that money simply went to paying off the land on which the bar and grill was located, so it was not actual income that needed to be considered for spousal maintenance purposes.

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals disagreed. It noted that Rande had failed to provide sufficient evidence to allow the courts to figure out what his true income was. Rande did not provide information concerning the rent he received from the land that he owned. Nor was any evidence provided about the reason for the rent charged, why more rent couldn’t be charged, or why Rande’s salary accurately reflected his role at the bar and grill and wasn’t simply an attempt by him and his fiancée to artificially deflate his salary.

The appellate court held that it was Rande’s responsibility and obligation to provide sufficient evidence to support his claim for a substantial change in circumstances. Since he had failed to do so, the court concluded that he was not entitled to a modification of the spousal maintenance that he was paying.

Substantial changes in circumstances do happen, but they require serious changes to an individual’s livelihood. Courts will not simply take individuals who are seeking a modification at their word but will require extensive evidence to show why circumstances have changed. At Reddin & Singer, LLP, our spousal maintenance attorneys can help you evaluate whether you have a substantial change in circumstances justifying a modification and, if so, how to prove that your modification should be granted. To speak with a knowledgeable Milwaukee spousal maintenance lawyer today, do not hesitate to contact the law offices of Reddin & Singer, LLP online or give us a call at 414-271-6400.

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