Every divorce is riddled with stress that stems from emotional turmoil and financial upheaval. Many couples struggle to openly communicate, but these circumstances only increase when the subject of alimony is broached.

In a matter of moments, alimony can quickly escalate a divorce from relatively amicable to hostile. One spouse requests financial support that the other does not believe they are entitled to. If the entire divorce goes before a judge, things can become rather acrimonious.

While it is true that alimony can add another layer of stress to your pending divorce, it helps to be prepared. You should know how alimony functions, and what the court will take into consideration before your hearing. Alimony functions differ in each state, so here is what you need to know about alimony in Illinois.

What is Alimony?

Alimony is a payment made from one spouse to another, in order to help cover living expenses during the aftermath of a divorce. This outcome is usually achieved when two spouses do not have equal incomes, and one spouse is a significantly higher earner than the other.

For example, a receiving spouse might have been a stay-at-home parent throughout the course of the marriage. This result would substantially lower his or her earning potential, and limit his or her options for living a newly single lifestyle. To help get this stay-at-home spouse back on his or her feet following the split, alimony payments might be ordered.

Spousal support can be ordered on a permanent or temporary basis. Permanent alimony might be considered for cases in which one spouse suffers from a long-term disability that limits his or her income. However, temporary alimony is far more common; it is sometimes referred to as rehabilitative alimony, because it is meant to provide a financial buffer until the disabled spouse is able to support himself or herself. It may cover him or her for several years, until he or she can go back to school, receive more training, or obtain a better-paying position.

You may also be entitled to temporary alimony payments during the divorce proceedings. In the direct aftermath of your separation, they can be a major help when it comes to establishing your financial footing. Temporary alimony payments will cease when the divorce is officially finalized. After the divorce proceedings are finished, they may be replaced by permanent or rehabilitative alimony after the divorce proceedings are finished.

Every spouse is entitled to these alimony payments. The court has a distinct set of criteria that its used to determine whether alimony payments can be justified. Without these considerations, it would be difficult to decide whether a spouse genuinely needs the financial support, or if he or she is simply requesting alimony to be vindictive.

Who is Entitled to Alimony in Illinois?

A judge must review the entire case before making a final decision about who is entitled to alimony payments. In other words, he or she will look at the history of the relationship, the earning potential of each spouse, and many other variables. The court system is well-equipped to review your relationship history and determine whether alimony is justified in your unique situation.

Keep in mind that Illinois is one of the states that will not consider marital misconduct when issuing alimony. This misconduct can include a spouse who was unfaithful, had a substance abuse problem, or was guilty of domestic violence. While these issues may have ultimately led to the end of the marriage, they cannot be used to determine the amount of alimony that you may be entitled to. Only the court can examine the factors listed below:

The Earning Potential of Both Spouses

The first thing that the judge reviews is the earning potential of both spouses, even if they do not currently work. Present salaries will be considered, as well as the potential incomes, which could be associated with raises, bonuses, or promotions. Keep in mind that these estimates are based on what you have the potential to earn, even if you choose to work at a job that pays you far less. Many people attempt to take a lesser-paying position to avoid alimony payments, but this tactic can backfire if the judge determines that you are capable of earning substantially more.

At this point, a stay-at-home spouse may need to have an objective evaluation, in order to determine what his or her potential income could be if he or she returns to the workforce. The evaluator may decide that this spouse needs more schooling or training, in order to earn a reasonable living in his or her field. In this case, alimony could be granted on a temporary basis, until he or she can obtain a better-paying position in his or her field.

Individual Property of Both Spouses

In addition to income, the judge must consider the individual assets that belong to each spouse. They may include property that was awarded during the divorce settlement, or individual property that was brought into the marriage. Specifically, income-generating assets (such as rental property), could influence the final verdict of an alimony payment.

Age and Physical and Emotional Condition of Both Spouses

At this point, the judge will stop to consider the individual condition of each spouse. Age may play a major role in alimony payments, particularly if one spouse is nearing retirement but needs to return to school to learn a new trade.

Physical and emotional disabilities also play a role in this decision, because they can prevent a spouse from maintaining a full-time income that would sustain him or her. When considering the possibility of alimony, age and overall health are important factors.

Contribution to the Household

A stay-at-home spouse may be eligible for alimony payments, based on the overall contribution he or she made to the household and his or her sacrifices. He or she has helped further his or her spouse’s career, which will make the working spouse a significantly higher earner by watching the kids while he or she attended extra classes.

By making the choice to stay home so that the other spouse could work freely, the stay-at-home individual may have delayed his or her own education, training, or employment opportunities. These sacrifices will be taken into account when making a decision about alimony.

Marital Standard of Living

Whenever possible, the court aims to allow both individuals to achieve a standard of living that was similar to the one maintained during the marriage. This tactic might include the type of home you live in, your grocery budget, and how frequently you dine in fancy restaurants. Alimony can sometimes be used to help supplement the disadvantaged spouse and bring both spouses closer to the standard of living they had during the marriage.

Length of the Marriage

While there are no set criteria about how long a marriage should last, the length will be considered by the court when alimony comes into play. Longer marriages are more likely to receive alimony payments. In particular, they are more likely to receive longer payments in comparison to those received by couples who were in shorter marriages.

Tax Benefits of Each Spouse

The tax benefits of each spouse should be a major consideration for all parties who are interested in alimony payments. These funds will be claimed differently for the paying spouse and the receiving spouse, so you should know how to identify whether alimony payments will help or hinder your overall finances. For example, paying spouses can claim these payments as tax deductible. Depending on his or her overall income, this deduction has the potential to put him or her into lower tax brackets and reduce his or her overall tax liabilities for the year.

On the other hand, the receiving spouses must claim these funds as taxable income. If they are close to the upper limits of their current tax brackets, these claims could bump them into the next category. Effectively, this simple move can increase these spouses’ overall tax liability and take a major chunk out of the alimony payments they receive.

How Is Alimony Calculated?

Once you determine that you might be eligible for alimony payments, it is important to understand how those payments are going to be calculated. The court has to come up with a fair way to divide the money that is available. In general, they tend to use specific guidelines based on how much your spouse makes, compared to your own salary. While this formula is not used in every circumstance, it could give you a more realistic expectation about what your alimony payments could be.

First, the judge will take a look at the paying spouse’s income, in order to determine what 30% equals. They will then subtract 20% of the receiving spouse’s income from this number, and come up with a total amount for the spousal support payment.

There is an exception to this guideline, which prevents one spouse from asking for too much money. The payment cannot be greater than 40% of his or her combined gross income, when added to the receiving spouse’s current salary.

How Long Does Alimony Last?

In addition to a formula for calculating alimony, Illinois has standardized the length of time that you may be entitled to receive spousal support payments. The amount of time that you will receive these payments is based on how long your marriage lasts.

Longer marriages tend to receive longer alimony awards than shorter marriages. Of course, exceptions are sometimes made, but here are the general rules:

  • Marriages lasting 0-5 years: 20% of the duration of the marriage
  • Marriages lasting 5-10 years: 40% of the duration of the marriage
  • Marriages lasting 10-15 years: 60% of the duration of the marriage
  • Marriages lasting 15-20 years: 80% of the duration of the marriage
  • Marriage lasting 20 years or more: Permanent alimony or 100% of the duration of the marriage

To give you a better idea of how this situation works, we can take a closer look at a marriage that lasted 8 years. Alimony would then last 3.2 years, which is 40% of the duration of the marriage.

It should be noted that alimony payments could potentially be modified in the future, unless otherwise noted in the court agreement. When this situation occurs, alimony can be permanently stopped whenever the receiving spouse begins cohabitating with a new partner, gets remarried, or passes away. Therefore, it is essential to make sure that you keep in touch with your ex-spouse and keep tabs on his or her whereabouts and new relationships. Having this information could save you quite a bit in alimony payments.

Alternatively, you can head back to court after requesting a modification, based on an adjustment in your salary or a major life change. If you begin earning less money than you did when the award was initially calculated due to an unfortunate event, you can petition the court to reduce your obligation to your spouse. When the judge reviews your current income by using the same formula, you might be able to come to an agreement about a smaller regular payment.

You may also choose to ask for a modification if you know that your spouse has become self-supporting without your alimony payment. Proving to the court that he or she no longer requires these spousal support payments could be grounds for modifying the support or getting rid of it altogether. The court will review the same factors it originally used to determine whether there was a need for the support payments in the first place.

Understanding the Basics of Alimony in Illinois

No matter which side of the argument you happen to be on, becoming well- educated about the finer issues of alimony should be considered essential. Alimony is an important topic that you will need to discuss with your divorce attorney and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst. Are you likely to receive these payments, and would there be any tax consequences for you? If so, you need to consider many different factors. The best thing you can do is arm yourself with all of the knowledge about the basics of alimony payments before you head to the courtroom.