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When a divorcing couple fails to negotiate an asset division settlement and takes the matter to divorce court, they are leaving much of the outcome in the hands of the judge. Illinois state law gives divorce court judges a wide degree of latitude when it comes to splitting marital assets. While an individual’s attorney can certainly fight for specific assets or a split arrangement, the final decision is ultimately up to the judge’s discretion.

When deciding how to split the assets, judges in Chicago and other parts of Illinois can consider many factors. They may consider the value of the assets, the financial situation of each spouse, the duration of the marriage, and any valid agreements that excludes specific assets from the divorce. They may also consider awarding assets in lieu of extended spousal maintenance.

Spousal maintenance is what was formerly known as alimony. In many divorces, one spouse may have foregone their own professional success in support of the other spouse’s career. This is common when one spouse stays home to manage children and the home so the other spouse can focus on advancing their career.

If the couple gets divorced, the court’s common view is that both spouses should exit the marriage on equal financial footing, regardless of their roles during the marriage. If there is a large disparity between the two spouses’ incomes, the court could choose to order the higher-earning spouse to pay alimony to the spouse with less earnings. There was a time when alimony was nearly a lifelong commitment. Today, it’s usually in place for a predetermined number of years until the spouse can establish himself or herself financially.

In some instances, the court may decide that alimony is not a preferred solution. The higher earning spouse may have an unpredictable income or may also have child support obligations to meet. In these cases, the court could opt to compensate the other spouse with a higher percentage of the split of the marital assets rather than with alimony.

If the court did compensate the spouse with assets in lieu of alimony, they’d likely do so with assets that are relatively liquid. The court generally wouldn’t want to put a spouse in the position of being asset-rich, but cash-poor. Therefore, they may choose to award the spouse with assets like cash, investments, or even retirement assets rather than things like real estate or business interest.