In 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:
- Income and debt levels of both spouses;
- Current financial need (at the time of the divorce) and future earning capacity;
- The marital standard of living;
- The duration of the marriage; and
- Several other factors relating to each spouse’s ability to earn income and pay bills in the future.
It is possible that a court will not order maintenance if both spouses are fairly equal in financial terms, or if both have roughly equal ability to earn income in the present and future. However, once maintenance is awarded, it will last for a period set by the court in accordance with guidelines in the law. Maintenance orders can only end before the ordered expiration date if what the law refers to as a “substantial change in circumstances” occurs. The most common “substantial change in circumstances” is remarriage, but what many are not aware of is that it also may apply to some cohabitations.
Terminating Maintenance Based On Cohabitation
Cohabitating is fairly common in adults, especially among the divorced. The second time around, many people want to “try things out” first and live together before actually tying the knot. If a person receiving maintenance, however, cohabitates with a new partner in a specific manner, the maintenance obligation may be terminated by the court. It is important to realize that this does not mean that a divorced individual who moves in with a roommate runs the risk of losing their maintenance payment.
Illinois law states that maintenance obligations may end if the spouse receiving maintenance begins to cohabitate with another person on a “resident, continuing, conjugal basis.” The definition of this term is somewhat open to interpretation, and Illinois courts use a number of issues in deciding whether or not maintenance may be terminated. It is important to note that under current Illinois law, a ‘conjugal’ relationship does not necessarily have to be sexual. If two people are living together in a way that suggests they are a couple—for example, having joint accounts, spending significant amounts of time together, and the like—the arrangement may be found to be cohabitation regardless of whether or not the relationship is physically intimate.
Ask a Divorce Attorney
If you are considering moving in with a new partner and have questions about your eligibility to continue receiving maintenance payments, contact an experienced Wheaton family law attorney. Call 630-871-1002 for a free consultation at the Andrew Cores Family Law Group today.