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How Illinois judges set the amount and duration of maintenance

On Behalf of | Jul 26, 2023 | Family Law

Although people often marry those who come from similar backgrounds and who share personal priorities with them, it is still very typical for spouses to have very different economic circumstances from one another.

Oftentimes, lengthy marriages, in particular, lead to a significant discrepancy in the earning potential and personal property of two spouses. When the marriage ends, the spouse who earns less may worry about their ability to live independently or maintain the same standard of living that they enjoyed during the marriage. Spousal maintenance ordered by the Illinois family courts can help even out the financial circumstances of spouses. What determines how much one spouse pays the other and how long the payments last?

State law provides clear maintenance guidelines

Some spouses have a written agreement about maintenance in place, and that contract can guide maintenance matters in an uncontested divorce. Other times, spouses have to ask a judge to set  maintenance terms. Many factors influence the maintenance order that a judge might issue during Illinois divorce proceedings. The need for maintenance based on the difference in financial circumstances is important. The law provides a very specific formula based on income. The courts subtract a quarter of the recipient’s net income from a third of the payer’s net income.

When it comes to the length of the order, there are statutory considerations in play for this determination as well. The longer the marriage lasted, the longer the maintenance order may potentially continue. Shorter marriages often only result in temporary or rehabilitative maintenance that will last a set number of months. Long-term or permanent maintenance is often only available after a marriage that lasts at least 20 years under Illinois statute.

Orders are subject to change

Generally, the spouse paying maintenance will need to continue making payments in full until they complete their obligations as ordered by the courts. However, sometimes the spouse paying maintenance can return to court and ask to reduce what they pay or end the payments early. Circumstances that may justify such changes include a sudden and likely lasting reduction in income or the remarriage of the spouse receiving the maintenance payments.

Understanding the rules for maintenance may help those hoping to collect maintenance during a divorce or those worried that they may end up ordered to pay maintenance when they divorce to make more informed decisions during negotiations or litigation.