Getting a divorce in Illinois can be very stressful, not only because of the emotions involved, but also because of the unfamiliar legal terminology and issues that arise throughout the process. Commonly asked questions by people starting the divorce process are, “What exactly is spousal maintenance? How does it work?”
Spousal maintenance is financial assistance (money) that one spouse is ordered by the court to pay to the other spouse after a divorce. You’ve probably heard it referred to as alimony, but in Illinois it’s called maintenance.
While two people are married, it is assumed that they share their wages and support each other. In most cases, one spouse’s income is greater than the income of the other. The other spouse may work full-time at a lower-paying job, work part-time, or take care of the children and not have a job outside the home.
With spousal maintenance, the spouse who earns the higher income often must make payments to the spouse who earns the lower (or no) income so that he/she can be at a similar standard of living as to when the couple was married. When both spouses work and have similar incomes, spousal maintenance may not be called for.
The next step is to determine the amount and duration of spousal maintenance. The primary factors considered are: 1) the spouses’ income levels and standard of living; 2) the earning potential of both spouses; and 3) how long the couple has been married.
For example, let’s say there are two couples, Couple A and Couple B. Both couples have one spouse that works full time and the other is a stay-at-home parent. The income for Couple A is $150,000/year, and the income for Couple B is $50,000/year. If all else is equal, the stay-at-home parent in Couple A will get a higher amount of spousal maintenance than the stay-at-home parent in Couple B.
However, if the income levels of both couples are similar, and the stay-at-home parent in Couple A has a master’s degree, and the stay-at-home parent in Couple B only has a high school diploma, the stay-at-home parent in Couple A has the potential to get a higher-paying job. Therefore, he/she will get spousal maintenance for a shorter duration than the stay-at-home parent in Couple B.
Finally, how long the marriage has lasted influences the amount and duration of spousal maintenance. If all else is equal, and Couple A has been married for 18 years and Couple B has been married for 2 years, spousal maintenance will be higher in Couple A. In fact, the judge may not award any spousal maintenance in the case of Couple B because of the short length of their marriage. It’s to maintain a lifestyle you’ve grown accustomed to and that’s hard to do in two years.
Every couple’s situation is unique. If you’d like to confidentially discuss divorce or spousal maintenance with an attorney for free, please call us any time at 312-346-5320.