Once your divorce is final, the terms are meant to be permanent. Maintenance payments are one item that may be modified in the future. Maintenance (also known as spousal support or alimony) is a sum of money paid by one spouse to the other financially dependent spouse.
Unless the terms of the divorce judgment provide that maintenance is non-modifiable, maintenance payments are always modifiable as long as the party seeking a modification can demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances. What may constitute a substantial change in circumstances is discussed below.
Some maintenance awards are “reviewable.” This means that on a certain date following the divorce, either party may request that maintenance be terminated, modified, or reviewed again at a later date.
Reviewable maintenance awards do not require showing a substantial change in circumstances. The review date is the trigger that permits the court to review evidence about why maintenance should be changed. This is important because many requests to modify maintenance are denied because the requesting party cannot demonstrate a change in circumstances.
If a maintenance award does not provide a termination date or a review date, the paying spouse is obligated to continue making maintenance payments until the death of either spouse or the remarriage of the recipient spouse. Cohabitation is also grounds for terminating maintenance, but it can be difficult to prove cohabitation if it’s contested. Paying maintenance indefinitely might be untenable, especially if your circumstances have changed. How much of a change do you need to demonstrate?
The change in circumstances must be “substantial” to convince a judge to modify maintenance. A temporary reduction in income or a significant home repair bill is not typically considered “substantial.” Some factors that might meet the definition of “substantial” for support modification include:
A judge may also consider other factors that the judge deems relevant to decide if the maintenance order should be modified. Keep in mind that the paying spouse is legally obligated to continue paying alimony or maintenance until the maintenance order is modified by court order. Ceasing support payments before a modification of spousal maintenance is granted can result in contempt charges for the paying spouse.
If a spouse is ordered to pay spousal support or alimony in Illinois, that spouse could be held liable in court for falling behind in those payments. The spouse receiving alimony payments may file a petition with the court seeking enforcement of the court order requiring support. The spouse failing or unable to make previously ordered support payments may also petition the court requesting a modification of the prior order. An experienced attorney can make the process easier and less stressful.
A spouse who is found in contempt of court for failing to pay alimony may be ordered to pay fines and other damages. That spouse may be ordered to pay the recipient’s attorneys’ fees and costs for bringing the contempt action. In some cases, the court may order garnishment of assets or income to pay delinquent spousal maintenance payments.
A spouse may also face criminal penalties for failing to pay spousal maintenance payments. Whether to bring criminal charges for failure to pay alimony is up to the state. In some cases, an ex-spouse may face jail time, restitution, and fines.
If you are having problems receiving your spousal maintenance payments or you believe a change in circumstances warrants a modification of the final order, contact one of our Chicago divorce attorneys about taking the first step in the process of filing a motion with the court. By consulting with an attorney, you can learn more about the process, what information you need to gather, the evidence required to prove your case, and the likelihood of achieving the outcome you desire.
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