How is spousal support calculated in Illinois?

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Monika M. Blacha - Family Law - Super Lawyers

Answered by: Monika M. Blacha

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Before explaining how spousal support is calculated, it is important to distinguish between the two types of maintenance. Temporary maintenance is designed to assist a spouse financially prior to a divorce being finalized. It is calculated separately from spousal support that is paid once a divorce is final. For our purposes here, we are addressing how spousal maintenance that is paid after a divorce is final is calculated.

For couples that earn less than $500,000 annually in combined income, Illinois uses a formula to calculate spousal support. In cases where the two parties’ combined annual income is more than $500,000, the same formula may be used as a guideline. 

If one spouse earns significantly more than the other, the higher wage earner will be required to pay alimony. The purpose of maintenance is to help the lower-earning spouse maintain a standard of living during the transition from married life to living on a single income. The formula takes 30 percent of the higher wage earner’s gross income and subtracts 20 percent of the alimony recipient’s gross income. The difference is the amount of alimony due, typically in monthly payments. A caveat: A support payment cannot result in one spouse earning more than 40 percent of the couple’s combined income. 

The court has discretion to deviate from the formula and increase or decrease the amount paid. Factors that may result in the court doing so include the age of the parties, how marital and nonmarital property is divided, how long the parties have been married and a spouse’s ability to earn income going forward. 

Length Of Spousal Support 

The length of time that spousal support will be paid also follows a formula, which the court may also deviate from. If your marriage lasted longer than 20 years, the spouse paying support will likely do so until he or she retires. If your marriage lasted less than 20 years, support is commonly paid based on the length of the marriage. For a marriage that lasted five years, alimony may be paid for 20 percent of that length, or one year. 

Modifying Spousal Support 

Unless otherwise stipulated in a divorce decree, spousal support can be modified in the months and years following divorce if a “substantial change in circumstances” occurs for either party. This is commonly defined as an increase or decrease in income of 10 percent. Either party can petition the court to modify spousal maintenance payments. 

Life events that may be reason to modify alimony include a change of employment that results in increased or decreased income, or a long-term health issue that impacts one spouse’s ability to work and earn income. A modification may be temporary or permanent. 

Finally, there are events that lead to the termination of spousal support. These include when a receiving spouse remarries or enters into a conjugal, cohabitation relationship with another person.

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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