As you begin the process of divorce, it’s important to become familiar with the basic principles of alimony. Below are answers to some common questions about this topic.
Who is entitled to alimony in Illinois, and what are the criteria for awarding it?
Alimony, also referred to as spousal support or maintenance, may be awarded to either spouse. In Illinois, courts don't consider fault, or marital misconduct, in setting the amount of alimony. Instead, a court will consider other relevant factors, including:
- both spouses’ income and property, including marital property, awarded to both spouses and any non-marital property awarded to the spouse requesting alimony
- the financial needs of each spouse
- the present and future earning capacity of each spouse
- any damage to the earning capacity of the spouse requesting alimony due to time spent on domestic duties (such as childcare), or a decision to delay or give up education, training, employment, or career opportunities because of the marriage
- the time it will take the spouse seeking alimony to obtain the education, training, and employment necessary to become self-supporting (if the requesting spouse is caring for children, however, the judge may find it inappropriate for that spouse to work)
- the standard of living established during the marriage
- the length of the marriage
- the age and the physical and emotional condition of both spouses
- the tax consequences of the property division for each spouse’s economic circumstances
- whether the spouse requesting alimony made significant contributions to the other spouse’s education, training, or career
- any valid agreement of the parties, and
- any other factor that the court believes is fair and equitable.
If both spouses can become self-supporting, a court may not award any alimony, even if one spouse earns substantially more than the other. Courts can deal with any major difference in earnings by distributing more of the marital property (like bank accounts, mutual funds, and any tangible assets) to the lower-earning spouse.
Can I receive temporary alimony during the divorce proceeding?
Yes. An Illinois court typically won’t issue a permanent alimony order until the end of the divorce proceedings. So what are you supposed to do if you need financial support while the divorce is still underway? First, you and your spouse can agree to some amount of temporary alimony. If you cannot agree on this issue, a judge can order one spouse to pay temporary alimony. A temporary alimony order typically ends when the final judgment of divorce is entered.
How long does alimony last?
There are a number of different types of alimony, which continue for varying periods of time. Short-term rehabilitative alimony enables the receiving spouse to pay for living expenses while gaining the skills necessary to become self-supporting. Longer-term alimony may be ordered for a set period and then reviewed again so the court can determine whether it should continue as is, or be increased, decreased, or terminated altogether. A spouse receiving longer-term alimony is still expected to make good faith efforts (taking into account age, skills, and life experience) to become employed and self-supporting. The idea behind this is that, generally speaking, alimony payments will be terminated at some point rather than go on indefinitely. However, if a spouse can show a permanent inability to become self-supporting (the person can never obtain gainful employment), a court might order that alimony payments will continue permanently.
Can the alimony payment amount or schedule be changed?
Yes. Spouses in Illinois can agree to make alimony payments non-modifiable or modifiable under specified circumstances. If they do not agree to make alimony non-modifiable, the payment obligation will terminate automatically upon the supported spouse’s death, remarriage, or cohabitation with a new partner.
In order to change or modify alimony payments, the spouse asking the court for a modification will need to show a material change in circumstances. This could include an increase or decrease in the ability to pay due to a promotion or a job loss, or a major change in either spouse’s needs. In deciding whether to modify an alimony award, a court will consider the same factors it considered in setting the original alimony award.
Will my alimony terminate if my spouse decides to retire?
Whether voluntary retirement will justify an Illinois court modifying the alimony award depends upon the circumstances of the individual case. Relevant factors include the age, health status, motives and timing for the retirement, ability to pay alimony after retirement, and the other spouse's ability to become self-supporting. The issue of retirement, and its effect on alimony, should be fully addressed in the marital settlement agreement or judgment so there are no surprises once the paying spouse retires.