The term “alimony” is no longer recognized in Illinois law. Instead what was formerly known as “alimony” is now called “maintenance.” However, maintenance, alimony, and spousal support all refer to same thing: an amount of money determined by the court (or by agreement of divorcing spouses) to be paid to a financially dependent spouse from the other spouse upon the dissolution of their marriage. As such a spouse’s obligation to pay maintenance to the other spouse is independent of his/her child support obligations.
How Maintenance is Determined
Unlike child support, there are no statutory guidelines for setting the amount or duration of maintenance in Illinois. Instead maintenance may be awarded to either spouse, without regard to marital misconduct, in amounts and for periods of time as the court, in its discretion, deems fair after considering all relevant factors, including the following twelve factors enumerated in the section 504(a) of Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (the “IMDMA). Even if one spouse earns substantially more than the other, the Court may determine that a maintenance award to the lower-earning spouse is not appropriate, particularly if both spouses are or can become self supporting. In such cases, the courts may choose to offset the difference in earnings by giving the lower-earning spouse a greater share of the marital property rather than awarding that spouse monthly maintenance.
Types and Durations of Maintenance
A maintenance award can be comprised of various durations and types. Although the Illinois maintenance statute places an affirmative duty on the receiving spouse to become self-supporting, if the Court determines that the receiving spouse’s age, health or other circumstances prevents her/him from ever fulfilling that duty, the Court may order that the maintenance continue permanently. Such permanent
maintenance awards are infrequent. More often, a spouse’s maintenance obligation will be set for a specified period of time. Maintenance set for a specific period of time may terminate at then of that period without the possibility of an extension, the purpose being to enable the receiving spouse to pay for living expenses during that period while gaining the skills necessary to become self-supporting. Alternatively, maintenance set for a specific period of time may be reviewable by the Court at the end of that period in order to determine whether
maintenance should continue as ordered, be modified, or be terminated altogether.
In both cases, the underlying rationale is that the receiving spouse has the ability to become self-supporting and that the maintenance will be terminated at some point.
Modifications of Maintenance
A maintenance award can be non-modifiable, provided that the parties’ written agreement or the court order, which establishes the maintenance obligation, specifically sets forth that the maintenance obligation cannot be modified as well as any contingent circumstances that might alter its non-modifiable status. In all other circumstances an order for maintenance can always be modified upon either party showing that a substantial change in circumstances have occurred. In determining whether a modification of maintenance is warranted, the Court considers not only the twelve factors enumerated in section 504(a) of the IMDMA, but also nine additional factors set forth in section 510(a-5) of the IMDMA.
Termination of Maintenance
By statute, a spouse’s obligation to continue to pay maintenance terminates upon the death of either spouse, the receiving spouse’s remarriage, or the receiving spouse cohabiting with another person on a resident, continuing conjugal basis.
These terminating events apply automatically unless the parties in a written agreement or order, approved by the Court, have specifically waived application of any, or all, of these terminating events.