Wheaton IL family law attorneyAlimony, formally known as spousal maintenance in Illinois, is sometimes ordered by a judge when two people get divorced. Spousal maintenance refers to payments one spouse will make to another, and it can be one of the most contentious issues in divorce cases. However, it is also one of the most misunderstood. If you are going through a divorce and want to seek spousal maintenance, or defend against claims for it, it is important to understand the truth behind some of the myths surrounding it.

Myth: Spousal Maintenance is Permanent

Spousal maintenance is meant to help one party get back on their feet after a divorce, and as such, it is usually ordered for a fixed time period rather than indefinitely. Maintenance can also end when the recipient remarries or starts living with a new partner, or after a petition for modification once the recipient is able to support themself. In some cases, spousal maintenance may be awarded only temporarily during the divorce proceedings, and payments will stop once the case is final.

Myth: Spousal Maintenance Orders are Final

It is true that spousal maintenance orders are legally binding. However, that does not mean the terms are always set in stone. When a spouse experiences a significant change in circumstances, one of the parties can petition the court to modify the original order. For example, if the individual paying maintenance loses their job and can no longer afford to make these payments, they can ask the court to modify the order to reflect that change.

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Wheaton spousal maintenance attorneyThose who are facing a divorce generally have many questions about both the process and what the future will look like after the divorce is finalized. One of the more common concerns is whether alimony is going to be a part of the divorce decree. In many situations, alimony—known as “maintenance” in Illinois—becomes a point of contention between the spouses. If a divorce is looking to be increasingly likely for you and your spouse, it is important to understand some basic things about spousal support in Illinois and when such support is awarded.

How Is Spousal Maintenance Used?

Spousal maintenance is intended to reduce the negative effects of a divorce on the lower-earning or otherwise financially disadvantaged party. Several decades ago, spousal support was a fairly standard part of many divorce cases. This was because most households typically relied on one spouse’s income—most often the husband—while the other partner—the wife, usually—worked significantly less or not at all. The spouse who worked less often focused on household and child-related responsibilities. When a couple in such a situation got a divorce, it was almost impossible for the spouse who earned less to support herself, particularly if she was awarded primary custody of the children. Therefore, it was common for a divorce decree to include an order for alimony to be paid by the higher-earning spouse, at least until the lower-earning spouse could support herself.

Spousal Support is Not Guaranteed

Today’s version of the typical marriage—if there is such a thing—looks much different than it did 50 years ago or even just 20 years ago. In many households, both spouses work full-time, either out of necessity or because both partners are invested in their careers. As a result, both spouses are often sufficiently equipped to support themselves in the event of a divorce. In recognition of changing social norms, Illinois law currently holds that there is no presumption that maintenance will be ordered in any divorce case. Instead, the court may order such support if the judge finds that maintenance is appropriate and there is no agreement in place between the spouses on the issue.

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spousal support, DuPage County family law attorneysAs a general rule, when a couple gets divorced in Illinois, spousal support payments are ordered if one spouse’s income is significantly higher than the other’s, in the interest of equity. However, most of the time, these support payments are not intended to last forever. There are several different ways that spousal support is granted to a husband or wife, and modifications may be made after certain criteria have been fulfilled by the obligor or the obligee (or both), or in certain situations which are provided for in statutory law.

Rehabilitative Maintenance

One situation where spousal support is granted with the express intention that there will come a point when payments will slow or cease entirely is when one spouse requires temporary aid. It is still fairly common for Illinois couples to adhere to the old model of marriage where one spouse is the primary breadwinner and the other stays home with the children. As such, upon divorce, many homemakers have no income and outdated skills, and they cannot just jump back into the workforce. In these types of situations, a court may grant rehabilitative maintenance, also known as reviewable maintenance. This will last for a fixed period, determined by a number of factors, including the size of the income disparity, the length of the marriage, and whether or not any children were born of the marriage.

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Posted on in Spousal Support

cohabitation, Wheaton divorce attorneyIn most cases, spousal maintenance is used as  a tool to help newly divorced people adapt from a two-income household to two single-income households. Eventually, maintenance ceases, usually after a financial goal or time limit is reached - however, in Illinois and a handful of other states, it can end earlier. Cohabitating after your divorce is final, in particular, can have unintended consequences.

A “Substantial Change in Circumstances”

Generally in Illinois, maintenance is ordered by the family court or agreed upon between the spouses. It will be granted to the spouse the court deems to be in the most need of it, based on a number of factors. Some of the most important include:

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Posted on in Spousal Support

spousal support, Wheaton divorce attorneysAside from child custody concern, spousal support is often among the most contentious issues in Illinois divorce cases. Unlike child support, which is subject to rigid state guidelines, judges have wider latitude to determine alimony or spousal support. The goal of spousal support is not to “punish” anyone, but to ensure the recipient spouse is not at a serious financial disadvantage once the divorce is final.

McHenry Court Considers $400,000 Per Month Alimony Request

Spousal support is exponentially more complicated when dealing with a high-asset divorce. Among other factors, the judge must take into account the couple's “standard of living” at the time of the divorce, as well as each spouse's current and future earning capacity. Put another way, the alimony award for a stay-at-home spouse married to a multi-millionaire may differ significantly from that of a working spouse who already has significant income.

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