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What Is Reasonable Spousal Maintenance?

Divorcing couples may wonder, “what is reasonable spousal maintenance?” Whether spousal maintenance is reasonable depends on information such as the parties’ backgrounds, each spouse’s finances, the acquisition of wealth before or during the marriage, and the duration of the marriage. Several factors regarding each spouse’s circumstances are used to determine if spousal maintenance should be awarded. Often, spousal maintenance is used as a tool to balance the financial scales during a divorce. If a court decides to grant spousal maintenance to the party requesting it, the divorcees’ circumstances are used to calculate the amount of maintenance the lower-earning spouse receives and the duration of an award.

What Is Spousal Maintenance?

Spousal maintenance is another way of describing alimony. Spousal maintenance is a financial payment that is paid by one spouse to the other spouse. It is intended to assist the spouse that earns less money in achieving financial stability after divorce. Specifically, spousal maintenance is meant to help the lower-earning spouse transition out of the marriage while maintaining the lifestyle he or she enjoyed during the marriage. Additionally, spousal support is meant to discourage people from remaining in unwanted marriages simply to avoid poverty. Accordingly, spousal maintenance is sought by the lower-earning spouse when they file for divorce

There are four types of spousal maintenance: temporary maintenance, rehabilitative maintenance, permanent maintenance, and lump sum payments.

Temporary support is intended to support the lower-earning spouse until the divorce is finalized. Rehabilitative maintenance is designed to be temporary. Specifically, rehabilitative maintenance is meant to help the lower-earning spouse stabilize his or her life in the short term after a divorce. Permanent maintenance is typically a product of high net worth divorces where the marriage has lasted for a significant duration of time. Permanent maintenance is also awarded if a court determines a lower-earning spouse will not be able to support himself or herself. The final type of maintenance is a lump sum payment, which is made by the higher-earning spouse to the lower-earning spouse.

In some cases, a judge may award a reviewable permanent maintenance award. Under this award, the judge will periodically review the status of each party to determine if maintenance should be modified or terminated.

When Is Spousal Maintenance Awarded?

Spousal maintenance is not automatically awarded. Instead, a court must decide if spousal maintenance is warranted. Pursuant to Illinois law, courts use several factors to determine whether spousal maintenance should be awarded. Courts look at:

  • Each party’s income
  • Each party’s financial needs, and the lifestyle maintained during the marriage
  • The age and physical condition of each party, with regard to his or her ability to earn income, and the time needed to obtain additional training and education
  • The length of the marriage
  • Any “homemaker contributions”

No single factor is dispositive. Additionally, courts do not take fault or marital misconduct into account when deciding a maintenance award in Illinois.

How Is Spousal Maintenance Calculated

There are two methods a court can use to calculate spousal maintenance, the guideline method and the non-guideline method. Under the guideline method, the formula for determining spousal maintenance involves subtracting 25% of the recipient’s net income from 33% of the payor’s net income. For example, if a husband earns $120,000 and a wife earns $40,000, and the wife seeks spousal support, the combined income is $160,000. The breakdown is as follows:

  • $120,000 x .33 = $40,000
  • $40,000 x .25 = $10,000
  • $40,000 – $10,000 = $30,000

In this scenario, the husband would have to pay the wife $2,500 per month. There is one exception to this formula. Illinois law does not permit the recipient to receive an award that exceeds 40% of the parties’ combined income. If the award exceeds the combined income, it will be reduced by the court.  

The non-guideline method is used if the parties’ income exceeds $500,000 per year, or if one of the spouses pays spousal maintenance or child support from a prior marriage or relationship. If the court utilizes the non-guideline method, it must issue a finding stating why it deviated from the guidelines and the amount of the spousal maintenance that would have been awarded under the guidelines.

How Long Does Spousal Maintenance Last?

Unless the recipient receives a permanent maintenance award, the length of the marriage determines the duration of spousal maintenance. Illinois State law uses a sliding scale to determine the duration of spousal maintenance. If the marriage lasted less than five years, the award generally lasts one year, i.e., 20% of the length of the marriage. 

If a court awards permanent maintenance, the payor is obligated to pay spousal maintenance indefinitely. Permanent maintenance typically lasts until the receiving spouse dies, remarries, or begins living with a new partner. If none of these conditions are fulfilled, the payor can petition the court to modify or terminate spousal support. Due to the financial consequences, representation by an experienced divorce lawyer should be obtained prior to filing a petition. In order to obtain a modification or termination, the payor must demonstrate that there has been a material change in circumstances. 

Spouses writing a divorce request with their lawyer.

He helps clients resolve issues relating to family law, including divorce, parenting time and parental responsibilities, paternity, and child support. As a skilled real estate attorney as well, Scott also provides advice and legal representation to clients who are purchasing or selling residential or commercial property in Illinois.

Years of Experience: Approx. 30 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illiois Courts Northern District of Illinois Federal Courts Illinois State Bar Association Chicago Bar Association

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