The Wisconsin Department of Health Services recently published a report indicating that the divorce rate from 1960 to 2010 increased from .9 to 3.0 per thousand people. The median age for first marriages during that same period rose from 20-22 to 25-27 years of age. What implications does this delay in marriage have for the increasing possibility of divorce? Perhaps the greatest implication is that spouses are more likely to be advanced in their careers by the time they marry. It is far more likely that a 27 year-old spouse will enter the marriage with assets such as a car, 401k, IRA, CD, or even a home, than a 20 year-old just starting in the workforce. Wisconsin law presumes to divide all marital property equally, and makes no distinction between property owned prior to marriage and that acquired during marriage. However, the law also permits a spouse who owned premarital property to deviate from that equal presumption and request a greater share of the total marital estate to account for those earlier assets. In my experience, as it becomes more common for one or both spouses to own assets at the time of marriage, judges are increasingly willing to grant a spouse “credit” for such assets. The shorter the marriage, and the greater the amount of premarital property, the more likely that a “credit” will be granted.
Another implication for the delay in marriage is that a spouse is more likely to have completed her/his college education. This is an important point because, when considering spousal support, a judge will review a party’s contribution to the other’s education or earning power. If both spouses enter the marriage with degrees, and continue in their respective careers, it is less likely that a spouse could rely on such a “contribution” argument to claim maintenance. On the other hand, if a spouse had a career prior to marriage , and left that career during the marriage to provide childcare duties, the argument for maintenance is strengthened considerably.