Spousal support, also called alimony, is payments that are made from one spouse to another following a divorce. During divorce proceedings, the court will consider situations where spouses have unequal earning power, especially if they have been married for many years.

The court will also assess a spouse’s financial needs and whether or not the other spouse has the ability to pay spousal support. The purpose of spousal support is to equalize the financial situation and resources of the couple that is divorcing.

It is important to note that spousal support is not awarded automatically and it is not awarded in every divorce case. In certain cases, a judge may award temporary spousal support while a divorce is pending.

Spousal support payments are made from one spouse to the other following the divorce. This is different from child support, where payments are made for a child or children of the marriage that are under the age of majority in order to provide for their essential needs. These include healthcare, education, and housing.

How Do I Request Spousal Support?

The procedures for requesting spousal support vary by state. Generally, an individual may file a petition and the required documents in family court. An attorney will be able to assist with any paperwork and court filings.

The spouses are permitted to draft their own agreement regarding spousal support. If they are unable to do so, the court will determine their eligibility and analyze their case to determine the amount that should be awarded.

In general, there are three different types of spousal support. Depending on what types are offered in a state, the individuals can petition the court for the type that best suits their situation and needs. The types of spousal support include:

  • Temporary support while a divorce is pending;
  • Short-term and rehabilitative support; and
  • Long-term or permanent support.

Temporary support may be necessary in cases where a non-earning spouse is in need of immediate support following the separation of the spouses. In some cases, a court may award temporary support while a divorce is being resolved.

Short term spousal support may be ordered in cases where the marriage was short in duration. This type of support only lasts a few years. The termination date for the support is included in the court order.

Rehabilitative support is a specific type of short-term support that is provided in order to allow the dependent spouse to obtain training and education needed to reenter the workforce. It typically terminates when the recipient returns to work. The recipient is held accountable for pursuing the necessary training and education and then employment.

In cases where the marriage was long in duration, typically lasting more than 10 years, permanent support may be ordered. If the court determines that the dependent spouse will likely not be able to return to the workforce, the court may order indefinite support. It is important to note, however, that some states do now permit permanent spousal support.

How Does the Court Determine Whether to Grant Spousal Support?

The court will examine the situation of the divorcing spouses, including:

  • The spouse’s ability to support oneself;
  • The time needed to acquire a job or get training in order to gain employment;
  • The standard of living that the spouses had during the marriage;
  • The length of the marriage;
  • The circumstances that lead to the separation;
  • The age of each spouse;
  • Physical and mental condition of each spouse;
  • The ability of the spouse paying alimony to support themselves while making payments and;
  • Other financial responsibilities and resources of each spouse, including:
    • previous awards of child support;
    • financial obligations of each party;
    • rights of each spouse to receive retirement benefits; and
    • taxability or non-taxability of income.

Spousal support may be paid in one lump sum or on a temporary or permanent basis, as noted above. A court will consider the circumstances of each spouse when determining how long support will be necessary.

Who Qualifies for Spousal Support?

Spousal support is ordered on a case-by-case basis. Every case will be different in terms of spousal support analysis.

In many cases, only spouses who were in a longer duration marriage, typically over 5 years, qualify for spousal support. The court will also examine factors, including:

  • The earning capacity of each spouse;
  • The assets and property owned by each spouse;
  • If one party has significant debt;
  • Whether the spouses were engaged in a shared business;
  • Each spouse’s contribution to the relationship, for example, if a spouse was a homemaker, or in terms of joint careers or education;
  • Whether the parties have spousal support provisions in a prenuptial agreement; and
  • Various other factors, including mental and physical health conditions.

Can Spousal Support be Modified?

Yes, spousal support orders may be modified in some cases. These orders are issued by a court and are legally enforceable.

However, support orders may be modified due to unique or special circumstances that present themselves at a later time. For example, if a spouse is receiving support payments but begins cohabiting with another partner who supports them financially. A second example includes a case where one spouse is experiencing an extreme hardship.

What are the Requirements for Spousal Support?

There are requirements that must be satisfied in order for a payment to be considered spousal support. These include:

  • The payment is made using cash or checks. Providing an assets or paying off a debt is not considered payments for support;
  • The payment must be provided for in a divorce or a written support agreement;
  • Any payments made prior to divorce or agreement for payments are not considered;
  • Spousal support cannot be claimed during the same year joint tax returns were filed;
  • Payments cannot be paid during the time both spouses live in the same residence; and
  • The payments terminate if one spouse marries or dies.

What are the Types of Spousal Support in Illinois?

Unlike child support, there is not a strict formula that is used to calculate spousal support in Illinois during and after a divorce. In Illinois, spousal support may also be known as alimony or spousal maintenance.

There are three types of spousal support in Illinois, including:

  • Temporary maintenance, which is provided during the divorce proceedings;
  • Rehabilitative maintenance, which is provided until the spouse becomes self-sufficient; and
  • Permanent maintenance, which lasts for the remainder of the spouse’s life until the occurrence of a terminating event, or until the court decides it is no longer necessary.

When a divorce is pending, the non-earning spouse may seek temporary maintenance. This type of support will terminate when the divorce is finalized. At that time, the spouse may seek either rehabilitative or permanent maintenance.

How Will the Court Decide Which Type of Spousal Support Is Right for Me?

When determining an award of spousal maintenance in Illinois, the court will consider the following factors:

  • The income and property of each spouse;
  • The needs of each spouse;
  • The current and future earning capacity of each spouse;
  • Any impairment of earning capacity of the spouse that is seeking support because they served as a homemaker;
  • The time necessary for the spouse that is seeking support to find employment;
  • The standard of living during the marriage;
  • The duration of the marriage;
  • The age and health of both spouses;
  • Contribution of the spouse seeking support to the education, training, or career of the other spouse; and
  • Any valid agreement between the spouses, including a prenuptial agreement.

An Illinois court may also consider any other relevant factors, which may include issues such as the physical and mental health of the spouses.

Do I Need an Attorney to Help with My Spousal Support Issues?

It is important for your case to have the assistance of an experienced family lawyer with any spousal support issues you may have in Illinois. Your lawyer can review your situation, determine if you may be eligible for spousal support, and assist you in petitioning the court for an award.

If you are a paying spouse, your lawyer can ensure that your rights are protected and the payment amount is fair. Having a lawyer on your case makes what may be a painful process a little easier to bear.