This article provides an overview of alimony in Illinois and reviews whether adultery might impact an alimony award. If you have specific questions after reading this article about your own case, you should contact an experienced family law attorney in your area.
When a marriage ends in divorce, many spouses find that they must evaluate exactly what they’ve been giving to the common marital cause. Sometimes both spouses work outside the home and have relatively equal earning power. Other times one spouse contributes time and energy to raise the couple’s children and maintain the family home while the other spouse works at a high-powered, lucrative professional career. Or one spouse might even work at a series of menial jobs to put the other spouse through expensive professional schooling.
Alimony (which is technically called “maintenance” in Illinois) is the money that one spouse ("the obligor") pays to the other ("the obligee") to ensure that both spouses are on relatively equal economic footing when they split up. Fundamental fairness dictates that one party shouldn’t be enriched while the other is impoverished. Alimony is a legal method for allowing a lower-earning spouse to continue covering living expenses.
Judges in Illinois have the authority to order alimony payments while the divorce is proceeding, in the final order, or even during an appeal that’s filed after the divorce is complete. In addition, there are four basic types of alimony available in Illinois:
The modern trend in American divorce law is toward “no-fault” divorce. No-fault divorce is the kind of divorce you get when the marriage is over but you don’t want to explain why in a courtroom. Generally speaking, you can get a no-fault divorce by explaining in your divorce paperwork that the marriage is “irretrievably broken” (so damaged that it can’t be fixed) or that you have “irreconcilable differences” (you and your spouse can’t resolve your arguments). That’s all there is to it.
Before no-fault divorce started gaining traction, the dominant legal approach to divorce was “fault-based.” In a fault-based divorce, the judge would consider evidence of “marital misconduct” committed by a “guilty spouse” against an “innocent spouse.” Some of the grounds (meaning, legal reasons) for fault-based divorce included things like fraud, chemical dependency, abandonment, abuse, and of course, adultery. Adultery occurs when a legally married spouse has a sexual relationship with a person who isn’t the other spouse.
Illinois is neither a no-fault nor a fault-based state. Instead, the law contains elements of both. You can get divorced if you and your spouse have “irreconcilable differences” and the following statements are true:
Illinois also allows divorce for fault-based reasons, including adultery. So adultery may be a consideration when a judge decides whether to allow a couple to divorce.
Even though adultery is a ground for divorce, judges in Illinois can’t consider adultery at all when it comes to alimony. The relevant alimony statute specifically says that alimony awards have to be calculated “without regard to marital misconduct.” Instead, these decisions have to be “just,” which means they have to be fair and reasonable.
To ensure that alimony decisions are rational, judges are required to consider a list of objective factors, including:
If you have questions about alimony and adultery in Illinois, please contact an experienced family law attorney for help.
For self-help purposes, you can look at the Illinois Courts' Citizen Self-Help site and at court forms tailored to your local court. You can also browse the Illinois Legal Aid Online site for resources and assistance designed to help low-income Illinois residents with legal problems. Finally, you can review the Illinois Compiled Statutes to read the applicable laws for yourself.