One of the most contentious issues in many divorces is spousal maintenance, commonly also known as alimony or spousal support. Distinct from child support, spousal maintenance is intended to address differences in income between the spouses and maintain the standard of living.
Illinois law lays out specific criteria for awarding and determining spousal maintenance. Here's what you need to know.
Determining whether to award spousal maintenance
Section 504 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA) lists 14 factors that courts can use to determine whether spousal maintenance is appropriate. Those factors include, among others, each party's income and assets, their present and future earning capacity, the age and health of each party, the standard of living established during the marriage and tax consequences.
Notably, the law allows the court to account for any financially significant sacrifices that one spouse may have made during the marriage. For instance, if one spouse sacrificed work experience to spend time caring for children, delayed getting a degree, or turned down a career opportunity because of the marriage, that should be taken into account.
The final two listed factors are "any valid agreement of the two parties" and "any other factor that the court expressly finds to be just and equitable." In practice, Illinois courts usually give a good amount of deference if there is an agreement negotiated between the two spouses. That is, as long as that agreement seems reasonably fair. Likewise, the law leaves the door open for a judge to take other factors into account if we are able to make a strong case that they are "just and equitable" under the circumstances.
Calculating the amount and duration of spousal maintenance
If the court finds that spousal maintenance needs to be awarded, a specific formula is used to calculate the amount of maintenance: a third of the payor's net annual income minus one-fourth of the payee's net annual income. For example, if the payor's net annual income is $90,000 and the payee's income is $40,000, the calculation is $30,000 minus $10,000, for a final award of $20,000. The law also stipulates that the payee's total income after spousal maintenance is received cannot exceed 40 percent of the parties' combined income.
The duration of spousal maintenance (that is, the length of time payments need to be made) is calculated by multiplying the length of the marriage (measured from the day you were legally married to the day you filed for divorce) by a fixed statutory factor, ranging from 20 percent of the length of the marriage for marriages shorter than 5 years, up to 80 percent of the length of the marriage for marriages between 19 and 20 years. The duration of spousal maintenance for marriages longer than 20 years can be the entire length of the marriage, or indefinite.
Note that the Illinois laws regarding spousal maintenance were updated on January 1, 2019. If you were divorced prior to that date, different standards may apply to your spousal maintenance.
Enforcing payment of spousal maintenance
A divorce decree is a legally binding and enforceable court order. If one party violates the terms of the decree by refusing to pay spousal maintenance, the other spouse can file a contempt of court action to enforce the decree. Depending on the circumstances and the reasons for non-payment, this may result in a judge simply instructing the party to pay up. It may also lead to wage garnishment, intercepting tax returns, and even criminal charges.
Remember, one party's violation of a divorce decree is not a license for the other party to violate the decree in retaliation. You cannot, for example, decide to withhold parenting time because the other spouse isn't paying alimony. Your recourse is through the court.
The key is to take a holistic approach
Spousal maintenance is important. It is just one factor among many that can be worked out between the parties to a divorce, however. It's important to take a holistic approach. You need to consider spousal maintenance alongside property division, business division, and other parts of the financial puzzle. Too many divorces become needlessly contentious when one party focuses on one aspect to the exclusion of all else. We take a big-picture approach to smooth over those difficulties as much as possible. We're also prepared to fiercely advocate for your interests in court if that's what it takes.
If you're considering filing for divorce in Illinois, we'd be glad to meet with you. We can discuss spousal maintenance and any other aspects of your divorce. Contact Courtney Clark Law P.C. today for a free consultation.