After a divorce, a judge can order the higher-earning spouse to make payments to the lower-earning spouse to help them achieve financial independence and protect their quality of life. This was once called alimony or spousal support. Now, it is called “maintenance.”
If you are going through a divorce, chances are that you’re wondering if your quality of life will decrease, either because your ex-spouse was the breadwinner or because you may have to pay your ex-spouse maintenance. At the law offices of Schierer & Ritchie, our Peoria spousal maintenance lawyers can help you protect your interests—whether it is receiving maintenance or reducing your exposure to it.
How Spousal Maintenance is Determined
Spousal maintenance is based on need. The court will consider each spouse’s financial situation, as well as the specifics of the marriage. Financial factors taken into consideration include each party’s:
- Ability to work
- Present and future earning capacity
- Income, including retirement and disability income
In addition, the judge will look at certain characteristics of the marriage, including:
- Parental responsibility
- Whether one spouse took care of the household instead of working
- Whether one spouse contributed to the other’s education or career
- The standard of living held during the marriage
If, after considering these variables, the court determines that spousal maintenance is appropriate, it will move on to the next step, which is calculating the amount of spousal maintenance that will be ordered.
How Spousal Maintenance Payments are Calculated
Prior to the start of 2019, spousal maintenance in Illinois was calculated using the following formula:
(30% of the higher-earning spouse’s gross income) – (20% of the lower-earning spouse’s gross income) = The annual spousal maintenance payment
On January 1, 2019, however, the new Illinois Spousal Maintenance Law (section 504 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act) went into effect. The new law calculates spousal maintenance according to net income, not gross income, and the formula is:
(33.3% of the higher-earning spouse’s net income) – (25% of the lower-earning spouse’s net income) = The annual spousal maintenance payment
You might be wondering which spouse benefits under the new law. The answer is that it depends. The new formula may favor either the higher-earning spouse or the lower-earning spouse, depending on each person’s individual circumstances.
Duration of Spousal Maintenance
The duration of spousal maintenance payments is calculated using a certain percentage of the duration of the marriage. The length of the marriage in years is multiplied by what is called a “statutory factor” to determine how long spousal maintenance payments will have to be made. The statutory factors are:
- .20 for less than 5 years of marriage
- .24 for 5 to less than 6 years of marriage
- .28 for 6 to less than 7 years of marriage
- .32 for 7 to less than 8 years of marriage
- .36 for 8 to less than 9 years of marriage
- .40 for 9 to less than 10 years of marriage
- .44 for 10 to less than 11 years of marriage
- .48 for 11 to less than 12 years of marriage
- .52 for 12 to less than 13 years of marriage
- .56 for 13 to less than 14 years of marriage
- .60 for 14 to less than 15 years of marriage
- .64 for 15 to less than 16 years of marriage
- .68 for 16 to less than 17 years of marriage
- .72 for 17 to less than 18 years of marriage
- .76 for 18 to less than 19 years of marriage
- .80 for 19 to less than 20 years of marriage
For example, the duration of maintenance for a marriage that lasted five years would be .20 x 5 = 1 year. The duration of maintenance for a marriage that lasted 20 years would be .80 x 20 = 16 years.
Modifying or Terminating Spousal Maintenance
If the parties’ circumstances change substantially, they may petition to modify or terminate the maintenance order. Circumstances that might justify a modification of orders include a significant increase or decrease in income, job loss, disability, or illness.
In general, circumstances that would justify termination of the maintenance order would include the receiving party remarrying, moving in with someone in a marriage-like relationship, or dying.
Unpaid Spousal Maintenance
Even if you feel that the amount of spousal maintenance you have been ordered to pay is unfair, you must continue to make payments unless the order is modified. A failure to pay spousal maintenance can be seen as a civil contempt of court, with penalties such as fines and the loss of your driver’s license.
Refusing to pay spousal maintenance can also be seen as a criminal offense. Under the Illinois Non-Support Punishment Act, the first refusal to pay maintenance is a Class A misdemeanor. Repeated, intentional refusal to pay maintenance is a Class 4 felony, carrying penalties of up to three years in the state penitentiary and a fine of up to $25,000.
To collect unpaid spousal maintenance, the recipient has several options. They might try mediation as a first step. They may sue the payor by filing a petition with the family court that originally issued the order. If all else fails, they may resort to wage garnishment.
Tax Implications of Spousal Maintenance
Prior to 2019, spousal maintenance payments were tax-deductible to the payor. Conversely, the payee was required to claim the payments as taxable income.
Under the 2019 federal tax laws, however, the tax implications of spousal maintenance have been removed. The payor can no longer claim a tax deduction for spousal maintenance payments, and spousal maintenance payments now qualify as tax-free income for the recipient.
Get Help from a Peoria Spousal Maintenance Lawyer
In divorce negotiations, the topic of spousal maintenance is often particularly emotionally charged. Navigating the new laws surrounding spousal maintenance in Illinois and determining maintenance on your own can be difficult, if not impossible.
If you have questions about spousal maintenance, your rights, or any other divorce-related issue, the experienced family law attorneys at Schierer & Ritchie can help. Please contact us today to set up your free and confidential case evaluation and learn more about how we can assist with your spousal maintenance and divorce law matters.