Illinois Alimony FAQs

Learn more about whether you qualify for alimony and if so, how much you should expect.

By , Attorney

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.

What Is Alimony?

Alimony, also called spousal support or maintenance, is a payment that one spouse makes to the other during or after a divorce. Generally, spousal support is appropriate in cases where there is a discrepancy in the income of each of the parties. The court's goal in awarding alimony is to put each spouse in an equal (or as close to it as possible) financial situation after the divorce.

What Types of Alimony are Available in Illinois?

Illinois law permits a spouse to request temporary alimony while a divorce case is pending. Temporary alimony is meant to aid the supported spouse in maintaining the financial status quo during the divorce process. Before the judge awards support, the court must evaluate each spouse's income, whether the paying spouse will also pay child support, and whether the recipient spouse needs financial assistance. Typically, the award for temporary support ends when the judge finalizes the divorce and creates a new order.

Final support orders may include rehabilitative maintenance, which the judge can order for a short or long-term period, or an indefinite period with a periodic review. Rehabilitative alimony gives the recipient spouse the benefit of financial assistance while working on job skills or otherwise provides the supported spouse time and incentive to become financially independent after the divorce. The court expects the spouse receiving longer-term alimony to make good faith efforts (considering age, skills, and life experience) to become employed and self-supporting.

Sometimes, the court will order that one spouse permanently support the other. Permanent alimony is typically reserved for spouses that are unable— due to illness, age, or other factors—to support themselves after the divorce.

Do I Qualify for Alimony?

It depends. Either spouse in a divorce proceeding can request financial support from the other, but the court will only grant the request in cases where the petitioning spouse demonstrates a need for financial assistance during or after the divorce.

If both spouses are self-supporting, the court may deny the request for alimony, even if there is a large discrepancy in income. The court's goal in awarding support is for each spouse to maintain the standard of living after the divorce. Courts can deal with any significant difference in earnings by distributing more of the marital property (like bank accounts, mutual funds, and any tangible assets) to the lower-earning spouse.

What Factors Will the Court Consider When Deciding Alimony?

Before a court in Illinois can consider the amount and duration of alimony to grant in a case, the judge must first determine that maintenance is appropriate by evaluating the following factors:

  • each spouse's income and property, including marital property, awarded in the divorce
  • each spouse's need for support
  • the realistic present and future earning capacity of each spouse
  • any impairment of the current and future earning capacity of the party requesting support due to decisions made during the marriage (for example, a stay-at-home parent leaving the workforce will have a more difficult time becoming financially stable after a divorce)
  • the standard of living established during the marriage
  • the length of the marriage
  • the time the requesting party needs to obtain the appropriate education, training, and employment to become financially independent
  • each spouse's age and physical and emotional health
  • both spouses' income, including disability and retirement
  • tax consequences of property division in the divorce
  • whether or not one spouse contributed to the other spouse's education during the marriage
  • any agreement for support between the parties, and
  • any other factor the court wishes to consider.

In addition to the above factors, the court may use a standard formula as a starting point in creating the final award. Judges have discretion when it comes to alimony, and the judge will decide the final amount and duration of any award.

What Are the Payment Methods for Alimony?

Like most states, Illinois generally requires a monthly payment of alimony. Typically, the court will issue an income withholding order to the paying spouse's employer. The employer must cooperate with the process to deduct the payments directly from the employee's paycheck. The payments are then routed directly to the supported spouse.

In some situations, paying spouses opt to make a lump-sum payment instead of years of monthly support payments. Most ex-spouses aren't in a financial position to surrender a large sum of money for support, but for those that can, it eliminates the mess that comes with court-involved monthly payments. Certain cases also permit a paying spouse to turn over valuable personal property in exchange for removing alimony.

If you're receiving monthly payments and your ex-spouse fails to pay as required, you can file a motion for enforcement. Failure to abide by the court order comes with significant consequences. The court may order any of the following if it finds the paying spouse in violation:

  • require your ex-spouse to pay fines
  • garnish wages or bank accounts
  • extend the duration of support
  • add interest to the total award
  • intercept tax refunds, or
  • consider more severe consequences, like jail.

Can I Change Alimony Later?

Maybe. Illinois courts understand that circumstances often change after the court issues an alimony award, so you may be able to ask the court to modify the support amount or duration if you demonstrate that one or more proper grounds exist.

Automatic Termination.

There are three grounds in Illinois that allow for automatic termination of spousal support awards, including:

  • cohabitation- meaning the supported spouse is living with another person in a conjugal relationship
  • remarriage- when the supported spouse remarries, the court will terminate the support order, and
  • death of either spouse.

Non-Automatic Termination Grounds

In some cases, the court will modify or terminate spousal maintenance if the petitioning spouse can demonstrate that there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the court created the order. (750 ILCS 5/510.)

To prove a change in circumstances, the requesting party may introduce evidence of any of the following:

  • a change in either spouse's employment status
  • lack of effort from the recipient spouse to become self-supporting
  • either party's impairment to earning income due to disability, health crisis, or other acceptable reason
  • the tax consequences of the maintenance payments upon the economic circumstances of the parties
  • the duration of the support payments previously paid and remaining to be paid in relation to the length of the marriage
  • the property, including retirement benefits, divided in the divorce
  • an increase or decrease in either party's income
  • the property either party acquired after the court finalized the divorce, and
  • any other factor the court finds to be just and equitable.

What Are the Tax Consequences for Alimony in 2019?

In divorces that the court finalized on or before December 31, 2018, the paying spouse can deduct the payments for tax purposes, and the recipient spouse must include the payments as income on tax returns.

However, under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, beginning on January 1, 2019, the supported spouse no longer needs to claim alimony payments as income for tax purposes. Additionally, the alimony payments are no longer tax-deductible by the payor spouse.