Maintenance, frequently called alimony or spousal support, is financial support one spouse pays to the other following a divorce. Maintenance is intended to help minimize the financial impact of a divorce on a spouse that earns less income. Maintenance awards are gender-neutral: either a husband, or a wife, may request maintenance or be required to pay it. Maintenance is not awarded in all divorces.
Illinois divorce courts have discretion in deciding whether to award maintenance in any given case; the court is not obligated to award maintenance. Each party may argue in favor of, or against, a maintenance award. Section 5/504(a) of The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (“IMDMA”) sets forth fourteen factors the court may consider in deciding whether to award maintenance. Those factors are:
While Illinois divorce courts have discretion when deciding whether to award maintenance, the IMDMA, most recently updated in 2019, offers guidelines for determining the amount of maintenance that should be awarded and the duration of any award.
Maintenance can be awarded while a divorce is pending. This is often called a temporary support order. A request for temporary maintenance may be made as soon as a Petition for Dissolution (or Legal Separation) is served. An award of temporary maintenance is valid until the divorce is finalized (or it is superseded by another court order). The temporary support order may or may not be similar in amount to the maintenance order entered when the divorce is finalized.
The statutory maintenance guidelines apply to couples with a combined income of $500,000 or less. The court is not obligated to follow those guidelines in cases where the income exceeds the $500,000 threshold. The court in its discretion will make a determination as to whether maintenance is appropriate based on the factors previously discussed. If appropriate, the court will most likely apply the guideline maintenance formula. The court may deviate, either up or down, if it deems that guideline maintenance is inappropriate or unfair.
Generally, Illinois divorce judges prefer to permit both parties to move forward with their lives and allow them to cut all ties. For this reason, many judges strongly prefer to award a disproportionately larger share of the marital property to the financially dependent spouse in place of maintenance or in addition to a smaller amount of maintenance.
Maintenance can be paid in one lump sum or in periodic monthly payments. The domestic relations judge may order the payor spouse to make payments directly to the payee spouse or to the State Disbursement Unit (SDU) who will in turn forward the payment on to the recipient spouse so long as the maintenance payment is made in conjunction with a child support payment.
Unless the parties agreed to non-modifiable maintenance, an existing maintenance award may be modified if there is a substantial change in circumstances. A substantial change in circumstances means that the needs of receiving spouse or the ability of the supporting spouse to pay maintenance have changed. Not every change will be deemed substantial. Typically, a substantial change in income or a change in the health of either party will be deemed a substantial change in circumstances. If the court finds that a substantial change in circumstances exists, it must consider the fourteen factors previously discussed and the following nine factors provided in Section 5/510(a-5) of the IMDMA:
To protect against the risk of not receiving future maintenance payments, the parties may expressly agree to make their maintenance payments non-modifiable in amount, duration, or both. If the parties do not explicitly provide that maintenance is non-modifiable in amount, duration, or both, then those terms are modifiable upon a substantial change of circumstance. 750 ILCS 5/502(f).
If a payor spouse fails to make a court-ordered payment of maintenance, the payee spouse can file a Petition for Indirect Civil Contempt for an Order for Rule to Show Cause with the family law court that entered the original maintenance award. If the payor spouse can show that the failure to pay was not willful, the court will generally not punish the spouse for contempt of court. However, where the failure to pay is deemed willful, the court can hold the paying spouse in contempt of court. The court may impose fines or order jail time in an effort to seek compliance with its order.
At Goodman Law Firm our skilled divorce professionals work hard to favorably resolve your family law matter while educating you about the divorce process and preparing you for your future. If you are wondering whether you could receive a maintenance award, or be obligated to pay maintenance, contact our skilled divorce lawyer today and request a consultation. During our initial consultation, we will gather some key background information about you and your family. After listening and considering your unique situation, we will provide valuable guidance on how you can move forward. Contact us today to request an alimony consultation.
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