No matter what you call it, understanding the ins and outs of this financial lifeline post-divorce can be both complex and emotionally charged. In Illinois, spousal support is referred to as “maintenance,” and it plays a crucial role in helping spouses maintain their standard of living attained during the marriage.
The Heart of the Matter
At its core, maintenance protects the economically disadvantaged spouse in an attempt to minimize the financial impact the divorce may have on their post-divorce life. This does not mean that one spouse may be enriched at the expense of the other. Nor does it mean maintenance is an automatic right. However, where one spouse has, for example, a lower earning capacity, has forgone career opportunities to raise a family, has relied on the other spouse during the marriage for their financial support, that spouse will likely be considered a maintenance candidate by the court and afforded ongoing support post-divorce.
The Legal Landscape
Maintenance is governed by statute in Illinois. Where the spouses’ combined incomes total less than $500,000 gross per year, the amount and duration of maintenance is typically determined by a statutory formula. In such cases, 33.33% of the payor’s net income (after taxes) is calculated and from that 25% of the recipient’s net income is subtracted. This results in the amount of maintenance to be paid by one spouse to the other. For example, if Spouse A earns $200,000 net per year and Spouse B earns $40,000 net per year, the maintenance amount to be paid by Spouse A to Spouse B would be $56,666 per year (or $5,555.55 per month). Maintenance is currently non-taxable to the recipient and non-deductible for tax purposes for the payor.
The Duration Dilemma
The duration or term of maintenance is determined by the length of the marriage at the time of filing of the petition for dissolution of marriage. For example, if the parties have been married for 10 years as of the filing of the petition for dissolution of marriage, the duration of maintenance to paid is approximately 4 years and 5 months. If the parties have been married 15 years, the duration of maintenance is 9 years and 7 months. And if the parties have been married in excess of 20 years, maintenance is deemed “indefinite.” This does not mean forever but until such time as one party seeks to modify or terminate based on a substantial change in circumstances such as reasonable retirement age, illness, disability and the like.
The High-Stakes Game
For households where the combined income of the parties is more than $500,000 gross per year, the amount of maintenance is in the discretion of the court and certainly subject to negotiation. Typically, in high income cases, the lifestyle needs of the recipient are reviewed to determine the appropriate level of maintenance to be paid. Financial affidavits attesting to income and expenses of the parties are critical to review when making such an assessment.
The Fine Print
Unless otherwise agreed between the parties, maintenance terminates upon the remarriage of the recipient spouse and/or the death of either spouse. It also terminates upon the cohabitation on a conjugal basis by the recipient spouse (i.e. living with someone else in a marriage like relationship). The spouse seeking to terminate their maintenance obligation will typically carry the burden of proof to show the other spouse has in fact been cohabiting with someone else.
Maintenance often triggers a gamut of emotions for those going through a divorce. Burden. Resentment. Distrust. Antipathy. Anxiety. However, maintenance should not be viewed as a punishment for one spouse and a reward for the other. It is an economic necessity for many spouses to even out the otherwise detrimental financial effects of a divorce.