It's natural for married couples who are thinking about divorce to be concerned about the financial implications of leaving their spouse - both in the immediate future and down the road. In Illinois, an award of spousal maintenance can help alleviate some of that concern.
Spousal maintenance - also called alimony outside of Illinois - can be ordered by a court if the judge thinks one of the spouses will need financial support. In recent years, however, there have been some changes to spousal maintenance laws that couples may want to think about.
A shift from the old assumptions
One of the biggest changes in prior trends has been a shift in who receives spousal maintenance after a divorce. In the past, it was often assumed the husband was the chief wage earner in the marriage. As such, the wife (who, it was believed, sacrificed her career aspirations to stay home and take care of the family) would need to receive spousal support to maintain her standard of living since she would not be a competitive applicant in the job market and thus have trouble supporting herself financially.
Today, however, men and women both often have successful careers. This means we can't assume that women will receive support and men will pay it based solely on their gender.
What factors are considered?
When a judge is deciding the amount of spousal maintenance one of the spouses will need, there are several factors that are considered. Unlike child support, however, there isn't a formula that judges use. In fact, many couples agree to a spousal maintenance amount before finalizing their divorce proceedings.
If the two spouses cannot agree on an amount, a judge will weigh several factors to make this decision:
- They will consider the income that each spouse generates and the property that they hold.
- They will also project their current income out and weigh each spouse's potential earning capacity.
- The judge will also decide whether or not one of the spouses has had their career or earning power truncated due to the marriage.
- The total length of the marriage and any children involved will also be considered.
Spousal maintenance can be modified
After a divorce has been finalized, the spousal maintenance agreement can be amended by either spouse if there is a substantial change in circumstances. For example, an agreement might be subject to amendment if one of the former spouses loses their job and is unable to continue making payments. In some cases, a former spouse may not want to continue receive payments forever because they want to become independent. In any case, maintenance modification is a possible - yet complicated - process that deserves serious consideration.