Illinois Alimony FAQ

Illinois judges must consider a long list of factors when deciding whether to award spousal maintenance.

By , Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law

Alimony—known as "maintenance" in Illinois—is intended to provide some financial assistance for a spouse who needs it during the divorce process and for a period of time after the final divorce. If you're planning to get divorced or are already in the process, you and your spouse may agree (in writing) that one of you will pay the other a certain amount of support for a certain amount of time. If you and your spouse can't agree, one of you will need to request alimony as part of the process for filing for divorce in Illinois. The judge will decide whether alimony is appropriate, as well as the duration and amount of the award.

Even if you hope to reach a settlement agreement with your spouse, you should understand how alimony works in Illinois, and the rules judges must follow when they make maintenance decisions.

Types of Spousal Support in Illinois

Basically, there are two kinds of alimony in Illinois:

  • temporary maintenance for a spouse during the divorce process, and
  • long-term spousal support after the divorce is final.

All alimony is based on one spouse's need for support and the other spouse's ability to pay. Beyond that fundamental principle, the rules are different for temporary and long-term maintenance.

Temporary Spousal Support

Illinois judges may order one spouse to pay temporary spousal support while the divorce process is underway. Either party may file a petition requesting maintenance, and the petition must include an affidavit supporting why the maintenance is necessary. Supporting documents, such as income tax returns, pay stubs, and banking statements, must support the affidavit. The court might hold a hearing to review the petition and the supporting evidence. (750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/501 (2022).)

Long-Term Spousal Support

There are three types of post-divorce-decree maintenance in Illinois:

  • Fixed-term maintenance. The court designates a termination date on which maintenance payments will end. After this date, the ex-spouse is no longer eligible for maintenance.
  • Indefinite maintenance. The court determines that maintenance is warranted until the award is modified or terminated due to a substantial change in circumstances.
  • Reviewable maintenance. The court grants a maintenance award for a specific term, but specifies in the order that the court can revisit the award at a later time. At that time, the court can decide to renew, modify, or cancel the award.

(750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/504 (2022).)

How Is Spousal Support Calculated in Illinois?

Before calculating a maintenance award in Illinois, judges must first decide if maintenance is appropriate given the parties' circumstances. The judge must consider all relevant factors, including:

  • the parties' incomes
  • the needs of each party
  • the realistic present and future earning capacity of each party
  • any impairment of the present and future earning capacity of the party seeking maintenance due to devoting time to domestic duties or having given up or delayed education, training, employment, or career opportunities due to the marriage
  • any impairment of the realistic present or future earning capacity of the party who would be paying maintenance
  • the time necessary to enable the party seeking maintenance to acquire appropriate education, training, and employment, and whether they can support themselves through appropriate employment
  • the effect of parental responsibilities and their effect on a party's ability to seek or maintain employment
  • the standard of living during the marriage
  • the duration of the marriage
  • the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities, and the needs of each of the parties
  • all sources of public and private income including disability and retirement income
  • the tax consequences to each party
  • contributions and services by the party seeking maintenance to the education, training, career or career potential, or license of the other spouse
  • any valid agreement of the parties, and
  • any other factor the court expressly finds to be just and equitable.

(750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/504(a) (2022).)

If the court finds that maintenance is appropriate, it orders either "guideline maintenance" or "non-guideline maintenance." Illinois Legal Aid's website has a detailed breakdown of how Illinois spousal maintenance is calculated.

Guideline Maintenance

So long as the gross annual income of the parties is less than $500,000, and the payor doesn't have to pay child support or maintenance from another relationship, the court will calculate maintenance to be 33.3% of the payor's net annual income minus 25% of the receiving spouse's (payee's) net annual income. The final maintenance amount can't be more than 40% of the combined net income of the parties.

After calculating the amount, the court uses a formula based on the length of the marriage to determine how long the payor must pay maintenance. For marriages that lasted 20 or more years, the court can order maintenance for a period equal to the length of the marriage or for an indefinite term.

(750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/504(b-1)(a) (2022).)

Non-Guideline Maintenance

An Illinois judge can deviate from the guidelines if the factors they considered in awarding maintenance warrant a deviation. However, the judge must give a written explanation of findings the amount of maintenance or duration that would have been required under the guidelines, along with the reasons for varying from the guidelines. (750 Ill. Comp. Stat. §§ 5/504(b-1)(2) and (b-2) (2022).)

Illinois judges must issue written findings about all maintenance decisions. The written findings must include references to each of the factors the judge considered in making the decision, and must state whether the maintenance is fixed-term, indefinite, or reviewable. (750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/504(b-2) (2022).)

How Long Does Spousal Support Last?

When a court orders guideline maintenance, the duration of the award depends on the length of the marriage. For marriages that lasted 20 years or longer, guideline maintenance can last indefinitely.

The length of non-guideline maintenance awards depends on what is written in the judge's order.

Automatic Termination of Maintenance in Illinois

Unless the parties have a written agreement stating otherwise, the requirement to pay spousal maintenance in Illinois automatically ends when:

  • one of the parties dies
  • the party receiving maintenance remarries, or
  • the party receiving maintenance lives romantically with another person on a regular and continuing basis ("cohabitation").

(750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/510(c) (2022).)

Can I Modify Spousal Support?

Illinois maintenance awards can always be reviewed and possibly modified unless the parties have a written agreement making it clear that it was their intent that the award not be reviewable. Courts won't modify spousal support unless there's been a significant change in the circumstances of the parties, though.

The judge in the matter has the discretion to decide whether a maintenance award should be modified or terminated. The judge must look at the same factors examined to make the original award of maintenance, as well as:

  • any change in employment of the parties and whether the change was made in good faith
  • the efforts of the party receiving maintenance to become self-supporting
  • any impairment of the present and future earning capacity of either party
  • the tax consequences of the payments on the parties
  • the duration of the previously payments relative to the length of the marriage
  • the property each party received during the divorce
  • the increase or decrease in each party's income since the prior maintenance order
  • the property acquired and currently owned by each party, and
  • any other factor the court expressly finds to be just and equitable.

(750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/510(a-5) (2022).)

To request a modification of your maintenance award, you will need to file a motion to modify (or terminate) maintenance in the court that issued the order.

How Is Spousal Support Paid?

Most Illinois spousal maintenance awards must be paid monthly. When a payor is paying maintenance and child support together, Illinois law requires the payor to make payments to the State Disbursement Unit rather than directly to the former spouse. (750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/507 (2022).) However, if the payor is ordered to pay spousal maintenance only, the judge's order will specify how and when payments should be made. It's not uncommon for the payments to be sent directly to the receiving ex-spouse.

Taxes and Alimony

If your divorce was final before 2019, the paying spouse may continue to deduct alimony payments for purposes of federal and state income taxes, and the recipient spouse must report those payments as income. However, for all couples who divorced in 2019 and beyond, the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated any tax deduction or income reporting requirements for spousal support. (The state of Illinois' maintenance laws account for the elimination of the tax deduction, too.) That means the Internal Revenue Service and the state of Illinois won't count spousal support payments as income for the recipient, and the paying spouse won't get a deduction.