For most couples, marriage requires sharing responsibilities and being able to rely on each other. Whether by unspoken agreement or regular discussions, each partner tends to become responsible for certain aspects of maintaining the life they share. In previous generations, for example, the husband worked full-time to provide financial support and while the wife may have worked part-time, she took primary responsibility for raising children and upkeep of the family home. If such a marriage were to end in divorce, the wife may have a great deal of difficulty in supporting herself as she works toward becoming self-sufficient. Spousal maintenance, or alimony, may provide the wife in this situation with the resources she needs to regain her independence. In Illinois, a spousal support may negotiated between the divorcing parties prior to the case reaching a judge but such an agreement is only one factor the court is required to consider in making a decision regarding maintenance awards. Other considerations include:
- Assets and property of both spouses;
- Each partner’s individual needs;
- Current and future earning potential, including the impact of putting off education or training due to marital or family responsibilities;
- The likelihood, ability, and timeline for the supported spouse to become self-sufficient;
- Standard of living for the couple during marriage; and
- Each spouse’s age, as well as physical and emotional health.
Once the court has determined that spousal maintenance is appropriate in a particular case, state law provides guidelines for calculating the amount and duration of the award. The recommended amount to be paid should be based on the parties’ gross income, and is equal to 30 percent of the payor’s annual income minus 20 percent of the payee’s annual income. When added to the payee’s income, the resulting amount may not exceed 40 percent of the couple’s combined income. The law also provides a formula to calculate the duration, or length, of a maintenance award. The duration should be equal to the length of the marriage multiplied by a specified percentage factor. Values for the percentage factors are set forth in by statute, and are relative to marriage length, thus allowing longer marriages to typically result in longer or permanent awards as compared to shorter marriages.
Consider a situation in which a couple is divorcing after 14 years of marriage and the court has decided that spousal maintenance is appropriate. The husband’s gross annual income is $100,000 and the wife’s is $25,000. The calculation for the amount of the award would be: 30 percent of $100,000, or $30,000, minus 20 percent of $25,000, or $5,000, equaling $25,000. Adding the award to the wife’s $25,000 income totals $50,000 which is 40 percent of the couple’s combined income of $125,000, and is therefore compliant with the law. The calculation for the length of the award would be: 14 years multiplied by .6, the percentage factor indicated in the law, equaling 8.4 years, or about 8 years 5 months.