When you are facing the possibility of a divorce, you are likely to have many questions. Where will you live? Who will get the furniture? How will you share parenting responsibilities for your children? All of these, of course, are very valid questions. Many who are considering a divorce may also wonder if they will be ordered to pay alimony—known as “spousal maintenance” under Illinois law. If you are headed for a divorce, it is important to understand how maintenance-related decisions are made in Illinois.
A Brief Background
Spousal maintenance, in general, is intended to help minimize the effects of a divorce on a spouse who is at a comparative financial disadvantage. In previous generations, alimony payments were practically standard in most divorce cases, because a significant percentage of households relied on the income of just one spouse—most often the husband. Meanwhile, the other spouse—most often the wife—usually worked substantially less, if she worked at all. Instead, her primary role was to maintain the family home and care for the couple's children.
When this type of “traditional” couple got divorced, it was effectively impossible for the spouse with hardly any income to support herself, especially if she was given primary custody of the children. As a result, the couple’s divorce judgment generally contained provisions that required the higher-earning spouse to make support payments. Such payments could be temporary or permanent based on whether the lower-earning spouse could eventually support herself....
Transitioning from a two-income household down to one, following divorce, is a large adjustment for most individuals. In most instances, though, each party is able to financially support himself or herself, excluding child support, without contribution from the former spouse. However, maintenance, or spousal support, is sometimes necessary to sustain a former spouse while he or she, for example, gains new skills or training to make him or her more employable.
Illinois amended the laws on spousal maintenance in 2015 to make these awards more predictable by removing any subjectivity on the amount and duration of the maintenance obligation — although, a Court's obligation to first determine if maintenance is appropriate remains the same. A set formula now determines how much and for how long maintenance awards will be, and only marriages of 20 years or more are eligible for permanent maintenance, which is left to the Court's discretion to decide.
However, even though maintenance awards are easier to predict under the new provisions, changes may occur once the Court order is in place that justify a modification or cancellation. Someone subject to pay maintenance should not be locked into this obligation if circumstances make this arrangement untenable or unfair....