Spousal support, also known as alimony and maintenance, is the financial support paid from one spouse to the other. It may be ordered on a temporary basis during a divorce and is often ordered following a divorce for a prescribed period. The purpose of maintenance is to enable a spouse who is not capable of supporting themselves to continue to have the lifestyle to which they became accustomed during the marriage. The Illinois maintenance statute requires the court to consider several factors to determine if an award of maintenance is appropriate. If the court deems that maintenance is warranted, the next step is calculating the payment’s amount and duration.
The Illinois legislature has enacted a statute that provides a formula for calculating this amount in cases where the parties’ combined gross income is less than $500,000. This formula considers each party’s respective net income from all sources. The statutory formula calls for 33.333 percent of the payor’s net income minus 25 percent of the recipient’s net income. The outcome of this formula equals the yearly support that should be paid. The statute imposes a cap on this formula so that one spouse cannot earn more than 40 percent of the couple’s combined income.
In cases with a combined gross income of $500,000 or more, the court has broad discretion in determining maintenance. Courts often follow the statutory formula described in the above paragraph on the first $500,000 and then often order a lower percentage to be applied to income over $500,000 per year. Even though there is a statutory formula, the calculated amount can be negotiated by the spouses if they agree or if there are unusual circumstances. However, it is unlikely that a court will deviate from the formula.
Once the amount of spousal support is determined, then the question turns to how long that support must be paid. This question is answered by determining how long the couple was married. The years of marriage are measured from the ceremony date to the divorce filing date. Those years correspond to a specific multiplier. For example, for parties married less than five years, a multiplier of .2 times the number of years is used. For the parties married eight to nine years, a multiplier of .36 is used. These multipliers increase incrementally up to 20 years of marriage. After 20 or more years, the length of spousal support equals the number of years of the marriage.
If the marriage lasted ten or more years, spousal support does not automatically end when this initial period is over. Once the initial period is over, the court will determine if support should continue based on the needs of the receiving spouse, the paying spouse’s ability to pay, and the total circumstances at the time of the review.
Spousal support can be modified based on a substantial change in circumstances like a significant increase or decrease in either party’s income. The parties can agree to a modification of maintenance themselves through negotiation or mediation. However, if the sought-after change cannot be agreed upon, either party can file a petition with the court and a judge will decide how much, if any, change is appropriate.
Prior to January 1, 2019, an ex-spouse paying support could deduct the expense from their federal taxes while the ex-spouse receiving maintenance payments had to claim the payments as taxable income. Following a significant revision of the Illinois statute, spousal support is no longer deductible by the payor or taxable to the recipient. This change is not retroactive and only applies to spousal support awarded after January 2019.
If the spouse receiving support dies, remarries, or cohabitates, spousal support is terminated.
Have any questions about how to calculate maintenance in Illinois? Wondering how the unique aspects of your situation may impact spousal support? Seeking to modify an existing maintenance agreement? Strategic Divorce’s skilled attorneys can ably handle the issue of spousal support along with every other aspect of divorce.
Michone J. Riewer is an attorney with Strategic Divorce in Lake Bluff, 847-234-4445, strategicdivorce.com.