Alimony in Illinois: A Practical Guide

In 2015, Illinois lawmakers significantly reworked the state’s spousal maintenance, or alimony, laws, which first appeared in 1977 and were liberalized in 1993. Many people felt that the existing subjective test gave judges too much discretion. These advocates wanted a system that made alimony payments more like child support obligations, which is largely based on objective factors like income, and, for the most part, they got what they wanted.

Setting Alimony

Maintenance is not automatic in Illinois. Instead, the requesting party must prove that maintenance is appropriate based on several factors, including:

  • Obligor’s ability to pay,
  • Obligee’s economic need,
  • Duration of the marriage,
  • Current and future earning capacity,
  • Standard of living during the marriage, and
  • Amount of time the obligee needs to become self-sufficient.

Next, assuming that the couple’s income is less than $250,000 a year, there are no other alimony obligations, and the following formula does not exceed a cap, the amount of spousal maintenance is presumably 30% of the obligor’s gross income minus 20% of the obligee’s gross income. The duration is presumably a multiple based on the length of the marriage.

Assume that husband and wife have been married 15 years. He earns $100,000 a year and she earns $30,000. Husband’s guideline annual spousal support would be $24,000 ($30,000 minus $6,000) for 12 years (15 times 0.8). The formula does not apply to those earning over $250,000 a year.

If the judge determines, based on the evidence and arguments of counsel, that the guideline amount is insufficient, the judge may order higher monthly payments, a longer duration of payments, or both.

Paying Alimony

The State Disbursement Unit usually garnishes an obligor’s paycheck to pay child support. Some people do not like this system, but it is usually for the best, since obligors do not have to make separate payments and there is no dispute as to the amount paid.

Unless the alimony obligation is coupled with a child support obligation, the SDU does not garnish payments and obligors are on their own. Paying alimony through the court clerk eliminates disputes as to the amount paid, but the clerk usually charges a fee. A better method may be the automated bill payment that most banks offer.

Modifying Alimony

Under 750 ILCS 5/510, spousal maintenance payments automatically terminate upon any of the following:

  • Remarriage: Spouses are supposed to give thirty days’ remarriage notice to ex-spouses so that these individuals may file termination claims.
  • Death: Unlike child support, alimony obligations fully terminate upon the obligor’s death and the estate has no obligation to continue payments.
  • Cohabitation: This factor is very much evidence-based. If the obligor convinces a judge that the obligee is cohabitating with another person based on factors like the length of that relationship and the interrelationship of personal and financial affairs, the judge will terminate the obligation.

Alimony obligations may also be reduced or increased based on a number of factors, including:

  • Good faith employment change, including retirement (an obligor cannot quit a job to reduce alimony payments),
  • Lack of progress toward self-sufficiency,
  • Duration of prior payments, and
  • Other income or property available.

Typically, neither increases nor decreases are retroactive to the date of change. They take effect when the judge signs the order.

Rely on Experienced Lawyers

Alimony payments are part of most divorce cases. For a confidential consultation with an experienced family law attorney in Schaumburg, contact Glasgow & Olsson.

(image courtesy of Brandon Morgan)

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