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How Are Disputes Over Spousal Support Handled in an Illinois Divorce?

Posted on in Spousal Maintenance/Alimony

DuPage County Divorce AttorneyThe end of a marriage will involve many different financial issues. Since couples will typically combine their finances while they are married, they will both need to determine how they will be able to meet their needs on their own after their divorce. However, this can sometimes be difficult, especially if one spouse has been the primary or sole income earner for their family, and the other spouse has less work experience, is a stay-at-home parent, or will be unable to fully support themselves for other reasons. 

Spousal support, also called spousal maintenance or alimony, may be an issue in a divorce case when one spouse has been financially dependent on the other during the marriage. However, the issue of spousal support can lead to contentious disputes during the divorce process. One spouse may believe that they deserve to receive support, while the other may be unhappy about the prospect of making regular payments to their ex-spouse, and they may be concerned about how this will affect their ability to meet their own ongoing needs. When addressing this issue, it is important to understand how Illinois law determines when a spouse may be eligible to receive spousal maintenance and how long support will be paid.

At Weiss-Kunz & Oliver, LLC, we understand the financial issues that will often need to be addressed in complex divorce cases. While the matter of spousal support can lead to contentious disputes, we work to protect the rights of our clients by ensuring that they fully understand how the law applies in their situation. We can advocate on our client's behalf when negotiating a divorce settlement or pursuing litigation, and we will help find solutions that will allow for continued financial success in the years following the end of a marriage.

The Purpose of Spousal Support

There are many misconceptions about spousal support, including why it may be awarded to a spouse and what it may be used for. Some may believe that alimony is always paid by an ex-husband to an ex-wife and that it is either a punishment for committing infidelity or other actions that led to the end of a marriage or a reward for services performed during a couple's relationship. In reality, spousal support is based on a couple's financial circumstances and needs rather than any positive or negative actions performed during their marriage or divorce.

In fact, Illinois law specifically states that "marital misconduct" should not be considered when determining whether spousal maintenance should be awarded, and the laws are gender-neutral, meaning that either a husband or wife may be required to pay support to their ex-spouse. The purpose of maintenance is to ensure that both parties will have the necessary financial resources to meet their needs. When a couple has become accustomed to a certain standard of living, they should both be able to continue living at this standard after getting divorced. If the disparity between the spouses' incomes has made it impossible for one spouse to maintain these standards, ongoing financial support may be necessary.

Spousal support may also be appropriate if one spouse is voluntarily unemployed. This may be the case if a couple has agreed that one spouse will be a stay-at-home parent who provides childcare for the couple's children and manages household responsibilities. In these cases, spousal maintenance may allow the stay-at-home parent to continue in this role until the children are old enough to attend school full-time. It may also provide a spouse who has not worked for multiple years with the means to pursue education and begin seeking employment that will allow them to once again support themselves.

Demonstrating Eligibility for Spousal Maintenance

During an Illinois divorce case, decisions about spousal support will generally be based on the needs of the recipient and the ability of the payor to provide ongoing support while meeting their own needs. In an uncontested divorce, a couple may agree on whether spousal support will be paid. If this issue was addressed in a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, the terms of the agreement will usually be followed. However, if there are disagreements about whether spousal maintenance is appropriate, the decision of whether to award support may be left up to a family court judge. 

When reviewing a case, a judge will consider multiple factors to decide if a spouse should receive spousal support. These factors include:

  • Income, property, and financial resources - The income that is currently earned by each spouse will be one of the primary issues that affect spousal support. Each spouse's "earning capacity," or the amount of income they should be able to earn based on their level of education and their previous work experience, will also be considered. The spouse seeking support may need to show that they do not earn enough on their own to fully support themselves and that the other spouse earns enough to be able to provide support. The marital assets and debts allocated to each spouse, the separate property each spouse owns, and other financial obligations may also be considered when determining the resources available to each party going forward.

  • Each party's needs - To determine whether spousal support will be appropriate, a judge may look at each party's ongoing living expenses, as well as any other costs they may be required to pay. The spouse seeking support may be able to show that they are unable to earn enough to cover rent payments, utilities, and other expenses, such as payments on an auto loan, transportation costs, and groceries. The needs of the spouse being asked to pay support may also be considered, and a judge may look at whether they can provide support using the disposable income they have left over after they pay their own living expenses.

  • Impairments to earning capacity - Decisions made by a couple during their marriage may affect the spouse who is seeking support and limit their ability to earn a sufficient income. A spouse who decided not to pursue education or did not work for an extended period of time because they chose to focus on raising children or managing household responsibilities may be able to receive support that will address their ongoing expenses and allow them to pursue future employment. If there are any issues that have affected the income-earning capacity of the spouse who is being asked to pay maintenance, such as health issues or disabilities, these may also be considered.

  • Child custody decisions - The decisions about the allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time made during a couple's divorce may affect spousal support. For example, if children will be primarily living with one parent, that parent may be required to provide childcare during the day, and they may need to be available to pick children up and drop them off at school or other activities. If these requirements limit a parent's ability to work, support may be needed to ensure that they can meet their needs.

  • Contributions made by the spouse seeking support - In many situations where one party earns a larger income than the other, they are in this beneficial position because they have received help from the other spouse. One party may have supported the other while they were attending college or graduate school by assisting with tuition, helping with homework or other assignments, and managing household responsibilities so that they could devote time and energy toward their education. During a person's career, their spouse may also have provided support by taking care of the majority of the childcare for a couple's children and handling chores and duties around the home. These contributions to a spouse's career advancement may be an important factor to consider, ensuring that the other spouse will be able to reap the benefits of the work they put in to help their family during their marriage.

  • Other applicable factors - Any other relevant issues affecting the parties may be considered. These may include the age and health of each spouse, their debts and liabilities, the amount of time they were married, the standard of living they enjoyed during their marriage, the tax consequences of decisions about spousal support and other financial matters, and any sources of public income that either party is eligible to receive, such as disability benefits.

Types of Spousal Maintenance

Generally, disputes about spousal support will focus on whether a spouse is eligible to receive support, whether the other spouse has the ability to pay, whether support is needed to provide for the recipient's needs, and how long it will take for the recipient to become self-supporting. Each spouse may provide evidence and arguments related to the factors described above. If a judge determines that spousal support is appropriate, one of the following types of maintenance may be awarded:

  • Fixed-term maintenance - In most cases, spousal support will be paid for a limited period of time. This will usually be based on the amount of time a couple was married, and it will provide the recipient with financial resources and give them enough time to be able to support themselves in the future. Illinois law details the specific percentages that are used to determine the duration of maintenance. For example, if a couple was married for 12 years, spousal support will be paid for 52 percent of the length of their marriage, or about six years and three months.

  • Indefinite maintenance - In some situations, a judge may order that spousal support will be paid on an ongoing basis, with no specified end date. This may be appropriate if a couple was married for at least 20 years or if the recipient has a disability or other health issues that will prevent them from earning an income in the future.

  • Reviewable maintenance - If the recipient of spousal support will need some time to ensure that they will be able to pursue employment, maintenance may be awarded for a certain amount of time, after which the case will be reviewed to determine whether support is still necessary. For example, if a spouse will be attending college and pursuing a degree, reviewable maintenance may be awarded for four years, and at the end of this period, a judge may look at the person's situation and consider whether support should or should not continue. The judge may decide to terminate maintenance if support is no longer necessary, they may extend maintenance for a certain amount of time and plan to review the case again in the future, they may extend payments for a fixed amount of time, or they may decide that maintenance will continue to be paid indefinitely.

Contact Our Elmhurst Spousal Support Lawyers

If you are considering divorce or are in the midst of the divorce process, it is important to understand your rights and options related to spousal support. The DuPage County spousal maintenance attorneys at Weiss-Kunz & Oliver, LLC can help you determine the best ways to approach disputes over spousal support. We will advocate for you during the divorce process to ensure that the decisions made will protect your financial interests. Call us at 312-605-4041 to set up a consultation and get the legal help and representation you need.

 

Sources:

https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/documents/075000050k504.htm

https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/documents/075000050k510.htm

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