What Is Spousal Maintenance in Illinois?

Spousal maintenance, or alimony, in Illinois is a sum of money paid to one spouse by another after a divorce, separation, or dissolution of a civil union, or during annulment proceedings. Spousal support developed as a method to prevent the economic ruin of a spouse who earns less money than the other after a divorce or during dissolution proceedings.

The process a family court in Chicago uses to determine whether to issue a spousal support order is highly complex. The analysis involves consideration of many factors beyond whether one spouse earns more than the other. Therefore, having a tough, accomplished Chicago spousal maintenance attorney represent you in your alimony case will help ensure the spousal support maintenance order is just.

What Determines If a Spouse Gets Alimony?

The Illinois legislature recently amended the state’s alimony statute, and the changes became effective on January 1, 2019. The amendments to Illinois’s Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act align Illinois’s law with the prevailing trend in the U.S. regarding the dissolution of a marriage.

The new law now refers to spousal support as “maintenance” instead of alimony. The premise of the law remains unchanged. Illinois law requires maintenance payments based on the length of time the parties were married in an amount that the court determines is “just and equitable.” The court’s order does not take into account the behavior of the parties during the marriage.

Why You Need a Chicago Spousal Maintenance Attorney to Represent Your Best Interests

Spousal support is extremely contentious in Chicago divorces. Spouses who have a larger salary or own more property may have to pay the other party maintenance well after their union is over. Spouses entangled in the throes of an alimony dispute can form feelings of mistrust and contempt toward their former spouse.

Former spouses could become suspicious of whether the other is truthfully disclosing all their finances. As a result, formerly married couples allow their bitter feelings to manifest themselves when litigating maintenance payments. The hostility could prolong negotiations or force the parties to trial. 

If your spouse filed for divorce or legal separation in Chicago, having a strong, dedicated, and experienced Chicago spousal support lawyer represent you will help ensure that the maintenance order is legally justified in the case and that the amount is equitable for both parties.

How Long Is Alimony Paid in Illinois?

Section 750 ILCS 5/504 of Illinois’s Uniform Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act lists factors that a judge must consider when deciding whether one spouse must pay maintenance.

The statute requires the judge to examine the factors without considering whether any misconduct occurred during the marriage. The list is not exhaustive. The judge could weigh other factors not included in the statute to determine if maintenance is appropriate.

The list of maintenance factors include:

  • The income, property, and financial obligations of each spouse;
  • The needs of each spouse after the marriage;
  • The present and future earning capacity of each spouse;
  • Whether the requesting spouse’s earning capacity is impaired because they gave up educational or career opportunities to take on domestic responsibilities during the marriage;
  • Whether the requesting spouse’s present and future earning capacity is impaired for other reasons;
  • Whether the requesting spouse can get a job to support themselves;
  • Whether the requesting spouse needs time to obtain education or training necessary for suitable employment, and how much;
  • The effect of parental responsibilities on the requesting spouse’s ability to obtain suitable employment, education, or training;
  • The standard of living the parties enjoyed during the marriage;
  • The length of the marriage;
  • The needs of each party;
  • The health, age, place in life, occupation, vocational or educational level, income sources, and employability of each spouse;
  • All sources of income, including wages, salary, interest, dividends, commissions, retirement income, and public relief such as disability payments;
  • The income tax liability of either party;
  • The extent to which the requesting spouse contributed to the education, employment, career development, and professional licensing of the other spouse; and
  • The existence of any valid agreements made between the parties.

The judge will determine the appropriate amount and duration of the maintenance payments after deciding whether maintenance payments are warranted. A knowledgeable Chicago spousal maintenance attorney can help you achieve a just alimony amount and protect your rights.

How Much Is Spousal Support in Illinois?

Section 750 ILCS5/504(b-1) of Illinois’s Uniform Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act describes the methodology courts must employ to determine the appropriate amount of alimony and the duration of the alimony payments. Illinois family court judges commonly apply Illinois’s spousal maintenance guidelines to determine the amount of alimony.

Spousal Support Calculations Under the Maintenance Guidelines

The court must apply the maintenance guidelines when the parties have less than $500,000 of gross annual income and the spouse paying spousal maintenance—who is also known as the payor—has no previous maintenance orders or child support in effect from a prior marriage. The guidelines first determine the amount of alimony due. Next, they calculate the duration of the alimony payments.


The guidelines calculate maintenance based on each party’s net monthly income. The court takes the payor’s net income and divides that sum by 3. The amount remaining is the payor’s presumptive obligation. The court then calculates 25% of the payee’s net income and deducts that amount from the payor’s obligation to arrive at the maintenance amount. However, the payee’s net income plus maintenance payments can’t be greater than 40% of the parties’ combined net income.


The duration of maintenance depends on the number of years the marriage lasted. The guidelines apply a formula for calculating the number of alimony payments the payor must make. A judge must multiply the number of years the marriage lasted by a predetermined factor specified by the statute.

For purposes of this calculation, the length of the marriage runs from the date of the marriage to the date the divorce complaint was filed. However, the court can credit temporary maintenance payments made by the payor before the final alimony order against their obligation.

For shorter marriages, the multiplier is smaller. For example, a marriage of less than five years uses a multiplier of only .20. So if spousal maintenance were ordered in a three-year marriage, payments would continue for only 7.2 months (36 months x .20 = 7.2). On the other hand, a marriage of 18-19 years uses a multiplier of .78, so alimony for an 18-year marriage would continue for just over 14 years (18 years x .78 = 14.04).

If the marriage lasted 20 or more years, the judge could order the payor to pay spousal support for an indefinite amount of time or the number of years the marriage lasted.

The court enjoys discretion to deviate from the guidelines; however, the judge must specify the reasons for deviating from the guidelines. 

Alimony Classifications

Courts that issue alimony orders must classify them as fixed-term, reviewable, reserved by the court, or indefinite. If the court awards fixed-term maintenance, the judge will specify the last alimony payment date. Conversely, indefinite alimony payments continue until terminated or modified. The judge will schedule fixed payments but review them if the court rules the maintenance payments are reviewable.

Termination of Alimony

Alimony terminates by court order or operation of law. Alimony terminates when either party dies or the payee remarries or cohabitates with another individual as if they were married.

What Happens If You Cannot Pay Alimony in Illinois?

You must contact a Chicago spousal maintenance attorney right away if you think you might fall behind on your maintenance payments. Speaking with an experienced Chicago spousal support lawyer before you default on your alimony obligation, who could help you modify or terminate your alimony obligation, is a better option than going into default.

If you are entitled to receive maintenance payments and your ex is not paying, you will need to apply to the court for an order to show cause why the payor has not paid.

Failing to appear at the show cause hearing or providing an insufficient response to the court could result in heavy sanctions. The court could hold the payor in contempt of a court order.

As punishment, the court could charge interest, suspend your driver license, or even put you in jail. They will also likely enter a judgment for unpaid support, which would allow the payee to garnish wages or seize assets. A person can even face criminal charges for failing to pay alimony.

Consult a Chicago Spousal Support Lawyer Today

Determining spousal support in Chicago can be exceedingly tricky. Aligning yourself with a seasoned, knowledgeable, and skilled Chicago spousal support lawyer from Vantage Group Legal could give you the guidance and expertise you need to navigate the challenges associated with your divorce.

Call (773)-938-4747 to discuss your alimony concerns with one of our Chicago spousal maintenance attorneys right now. We offer free, no obligation consultations. Don’t wait too long to speak with a Chicago spousal support lawyer.