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How does alimony work in Illinois?

Have questions about how alimony works in Illinois? Read on for details about the types of alimony in Illinois, how it is calculated, and more.

evident Editorial Team
February 14, 2024
Illinois flag, alimony in Illinois

Have questions about how alimony works in Illinois? If so, it is important to note that alimony in Illinois is technically called maintenance, and is also commonly referred to as spousal support. 

This article covers what spousal maintenance is, how Illinois courts decide whether to award someone spousal maintenance, and other key details you should know.

Key Takeaways

What is spousal maintenance?

Spousal maintenance, also referred to as alimony or spousal support, provides financial support to one spouse from the other during or after a divorce.

If one spouse is unable to support themselves, spousal maintenance helps them make ends meet with an eye towards becoming financially independent following a divorce. 

How much, and for how long, spousal maintenance is awarded varies based on the circumstances of the parties. We’ll cover the nuts and bolts in greater detail below, but keep in mind that spousal maintenance also depends on the receiving spouse’s need for support and the paying spouse’s ability to pay.

Types of alimony in Illinois

In Illinois, there are two different types of spousal maintenance: temporary maintenance and long-term maintenance. The main difference between the two types of alimony is when they are paid. 

There are also several sub-categories of long-term spousal maintenance, which we’ll explain below.

Temporary maintenance in Illinois

Temporary maintenance in Illinois is awarded while a divorce is pending. 

That is, from when someone files for divorce until the divorce is finalized.

Long-term alimony in Illinois

Long-term, or permanent, spousal maintenance in Illinois consists of three different types:

  • Fixed-term maintenance 
  • Indefinite maintenance 
  • Reviewable maintenance 

Fixed-term maintenance is when the court sets a date on which the payments will end. 

Indefinite maintenance is when the court decides that the support will continue indefinitely until the death of one party or until the award is modified or ended due to a substantial change in circumstances. 

Reviewable maintenance is granted for a specific period of time, but the order specifies that the court can revisit the case and decide to either renew, modify or cancel the alimony.

How does alimony work in Illinois?

So, how is spousal maintenance calculated in Illinois? 

First, judges must decide whether maintenance is appropriate. Then, they must calculate the award's details, including the maintenance amount and how long it should be paid.  

When is alimony awarded in Illinois?

Maintenance in Illinois is awarded either during or after the divorce process. But maintenance is only awarded when a judge determines it is warranted under Illinois’ divorce laws.

Illinois courts consider numerous factors when determining whether or not to grant maintenance, including:

  • The length of the marriage 
  • The present and future income of each party 
  • The earning capacity of each party 
  • The age, physical and emotional condition of each party 
  • “​​Any other factor that the court expressly finds to be just and equitable”

After considering the relevant factors, the court determines whether maintenance is warranted. If the court determines that maintenance should be paid, it then considers the amount that should be paid and other details of the award.

How much alimony should be paid

Illinois uses two different methods when calculating maintenance. Guideline maintenance is based on a clear set of rules, and non-guideline maintenance deviates from that formula. 

The court will grant either guideline maintenance or non-guideline maintenance based on the circumstances of the couple and the same factors laid out in Illinois' alimony laws relating to whether maintenance should be awarded at all.

Guideline maintenance in Illinois

Guideline maintenance calculates how much alimony to award through a simple test that takes 33.3% of the paying spouse’s net income and subtracts 25% of the receiving spouse’s net income.

It is important to note that courts in Illinois only use this formula when the couple’s combined gross annual income is less than $500,000 and the paying spouse doesn't pay child support or spousal maintenance from another relationship. Circumstances such as these may affect the amount of spousal support awarded.

Additionally, the alimony award can’t be more than 40% of the parties’ combined net income.

Non-guideline maintenance in Illinois

The court could deviate from this calculation and award non-guideline maintenance depending on the circumstances, though. 

The court considers the same factors noted above when determining whether to deviate from guideline maintenance. (And keep in mind there is a catch-all factor judges may consider when evaluating alimony in Illinois: “​​any other factor that the court expressly finds to be just and equitable.”).

If a judge deviates from guideline maintenance, Illinois alimony laws require them to state in their written decision what factors led them to deviate from the guidelines and to award alimony in the amount and duration they did.

Reaching your own spousal maintenance agreement 

Illinois courts allow couples to mutually agree upon a maintenance plan that works best for them. If you and your spouse can agree, you can decide how much alimony should be paid and how long it should last for yourselves. 

The court will generally not interfere with such agreements, and reaching your own maintenance agreement gives you more control over the process and the outcome. It also helps avoid time-consuming and stressful court battles. 

Working out issues with your ex-spouse can be challenging. But for those who are able to do so, it can save time, money, and headache.

How long does alimony last in Illinois?

Illinois alimony laws determine how long post-divorce maintenance will last based on a sliding scale tied to the duration of the marriage. 

For instance: 

  • If the marriage lasted less than 5 years, the alimony would last for 20% of the duration of the marriage
  • If the marriage lasted between 9-10 years, the support would last approximately 40% of the length of the marriage 
  • If the marriage lasted longer than 20 years, maintenance could be granted indefinitely or for as many years as the marriage lasted

Is it possible to modify alimony in Illinois?

Yes, it is possible to modify spousal maintenance arrangements in Illinois. Note, though, that Illinois courts are generally only willing to do so if there has been a significant change in circumstances since the first order was made.  

Some circumstances that might justify modifying alimony in Illinois are: 

  • Changes in the financial circumstances of either party (such as losing a job)
  • Either party retiring or becoming disabled 
  • New health conditions that make it hard or impossible for either party to work

To modify a spousal support arrangement, one of the parties must file a motion to modify the maintenance award in the court that issued the original order. 

Note also that parties can agree that they do not want their order to be reviewable.

How is spousal support paid?

Spousal support is generally awarded monthly in Illinois, with the court deciding how and when payments are made. Usually, spousal support is paid directly to the receiving spouse, but different factors (such as child support payments) might change this.

FAQs About Alimony in Illinois

Who qualifies for alimony in Illinois?

In Illinois, either spouse can petition for alimony, but the court will only award it to individuals who are unable to support themselves.

The court considers various factors to decide whether someone is qualified, such as age, physical and emotional condition, and earning capacity.

How long do you have to be married to get alimony in Illinois?

Illinois has no set time for how long a couple must be married to qualify for alimony. However, the longer the couple is married, the more likely that alimony will be awarded, and the longer the payments will last.

The Final Word on Alimony in Illinois 

So how does alimony work in Illinois? Let’s recap some key takeaways. 

Alimony, technically called spousal maintenance in Illinois, provides financial aid to one spouse from the other during or after a divorce. 

Spousal maintenance in Illinois can be temporary or permanent. Permanent maintenance consists of three types: fixed-term, indefinite, and reviewable maintenance.  

The court decides whether or not to award maintenance during the divorce process after looking at several factors, including the couple's earning capacity, need for support, and age/health status.  The court then decides whether to award guideline maintenance or non-guideline maintenance, depending on the circumstances.

But remember, you and your spouse can also come to an agreement on your own terms, shaping the outcome to best fit your particular circumstances. 

If you have other questions about alimony in Illinois, it may be helpful to speak with a divorce attorney to evaluate the best path forward for you.