WisBar News: Ex-Husband Can Stop Paying Spousal Maintenance, Appeals Court Rules:

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  • Ex-Husband Can Stop Paying Spousal Maintenance, Appeals Court Rules

    Joe Forward

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    May 13, 2014 – Bradley and Edith Brin divorced in 1992 after 35 years of marriage. At the time, a court ordered Bradley to pay spousal maintenance indefinitely. Recently, a state appeals court ruled that Bradley could stop paying alimony to Edith.

    The marital property agreement granted each spouse half of the marital property estate. But Bradley, almost 80 years old when he moved to terminate maintenance in 2012, had also been paying his ex-wife $2,500 per month since 1995. Bradley retired in 1999.

    In August 2012, the family court commissioner lowered maintenance to $500. Edith appealed, but the appeal backfired when the trial court judge ruled that Edith had enough money to meet her needs. The court reduced maintenance to $0, but left open the possibility for continued maintenance if something catastrophic happened to Edith.

    Again, Edith appealed. But in Brin v. Brin, 2013AP1739 (May 13, 2014), a three-judge panel for the District I Appeals Court ruled the trial judge properly exercised discretion to end the spousal stream to Edith, whose divorce from Bradley had surpassed 20 years.

    The appeals court noted that Bradley had been retired for almost 15 years and Edith had about $65,000 of yearly income from investments totaling about $2.5 million.

    “It makes little sense to have Bradley invade his assets to pay his former wife maintenance so that she need not deplete her estate,” wrote Judge Patricia Curley. “This analysis would not hold up if the parties were younger, but at age seventy-nine, both have enough to support themselves beyond their life expectancies.”

    Living on investments and social security income, Edith had gross monthly income of about $5,360 through 2012. Bradley had gross month income of nearly $9,000.

    The court noted that Bradley’s investment assets, valued at $4.4 million, had outperformed Edith’s assets after divorce. But this outperformance was not a reason to require that Bradley continue paying maintenance, the appeals court panel explained.

    The panel noted that Bradley’s circumstances had changed when he retired in 1999. At the time of his retirement, Bradley was taking a reduced salary of $80,000 per year.

    Despite this change, the panel noted that Bradley waited more than a decade after retirement to move for termination while continuing to pay Edith $2,500 per month.

    The appeals court also noted that the trial court’s decision was fair and equitable, despite Edith’s argument that her standard of living had suffered since the divorce and the court did not properly consider her need for continued maintenance.

    The court noted that Edith, who appeared to have a high standard of living, could invade her assets to further enhance her standard of living instead of relying on maintenance.

    The court also distinguished cases involving one spouse forced live on marital property assets while the other spouse has salary income and can preserve those assets.

    “This is not a situation where, shortly after the divorce Edith was without maintenance and forced into using her fifty percent of the property division to support herself,” wrote Judge Curley, noting that both have ample investment assets to support themselves.