Considering a divorce but unsure how you will be able to support yourself? Curious about your
obligation to support your ex-spouse who has been out of the workforce during the entirety of
your marriage?

When one spouse passes on opportunities to develop his/her career in order to stay home and
provide care-taking functions for the family and/or to help foster the other spouse’s professional
development, of course, that spouse’s income-earning capabilities will be stifled. After a lengthy
marriage, and a long period of time out of the workforce, the thought of having to now support
oneself can be debilitating.

The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act gives courts the authority to award
maintenance, otherwise known as spousal support and commonly referred to as alimony, in
divorce proceedings.

There are generally four types of maintenance a court can award, or parties can agree to, in a
divorce case: (1) permanent maintenance (which does not necessarily mean permanent, as
addressed below), (2) temporary or rehabilitative maintenance for a set duration, (3) temporary
or rehabilitative maintenance with a review date (also known as reviewable maintenance);
and/or (4) maintenance in gross, which is a lump sum payment.

Whether or not one spouse is entitled to an award of maintenance is largely based on the
circumstances and specific facts of each individual case. The statute lists a number of factors
that are to be considered when making this determination, including such things as how much
income each party is earning, how the assets and debts will be divided, the needs of each party,
the standard of living the parties enjoyed during their marriage, the length of the marriage, and
the contributions the parties have made towards the marriage and towards each other’s
education, training or career.

Once it has been determined that one spouse is entitled to receive support from the other, there
are guidelines and a specific formula that are applied in most cases to determine what the
support amount should be and for how long the support should be paid. The guidelines are laid
out in Section 504(b-1) of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. The amount is
based on the parties’ gross income and is calculated by subtracting 20% of the income of
spouse receiving maintenance from 30% of the income of the spouse paying maintenance.
However, there is a cap; the spouse receiving maintenance cannot receive more than 40% of
the parties’ combined gross income when the maintenance amount is added to his/her own
gross income. The duration of the maintenance obligation will depend on the length of the
marriage, and upon which of the above four types of maintenance is being awarded.

Unless the parties agree otherwise, maintenance is always modifiable, including permanent
maintenance, as to amount and duration, upon a showing of a substantial change in
circumstances. This could include a substantial change in either party’s income or any other fact
that may effect one’s ability to support oneself or one’s ability to support the other party.

The specific facts of each case have to be assessed to determine whether and how the statute,
the factors, and the guidelines should be applied.