Maintenance length in Illinois

Russell Knight

Russell D. Knight has been practicing family law as a Chicago divorce lawyer since 2006. Russell D. Knight amicably resolves tough cases while remaining a strong advocate for his client’s interests.

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How Long Does Maintenance Last After An Illinois Divorce?

Maintenance length in Illinois

Maintenance (formerly known as alimony) is the direct payment of support from one spouse to another during and after an Illinois divorce.

“[T]he court may grant a maintenance award for either spouse in amounts and for periods of time as the court deems just, without regard to marital misconduct, and the maintenance may be paid from the income or property of the other spouse.” 750 ILCS 5/504(a)

An Illinois court first makes a determination whether maintenance is appropriate in the divorce. Maintenance is almost always appropriate if there is any significant discrepancy between the two parties’ incomes.

If the court finds that maintenance is inappropriate, it does not matter how long you were married, there will be no maintenance awarded.

“Unless the court finds that a maintenance award is appropriate, it shall bar maintenance as to the party seeking maintenance regardless of the length of the marriage at the time the action was commenced.” 750 ILCS 5/5024(b-1)

If the court finds maintenance is appropriate, the length of the maintenance will either be determined by the “guidelines” or the court will have to make a non-guideline determination of the length of maintenance.

“Only if the court finds that a maintenance award is appropriate, the court shall order guideline maintenance in accordance with paragraph (1) or non-guideline maintenance in accordance with paragraph (2) of this subsection (b-1)” 750 ILCS 5/504(b-1)

Guidelines Maintenance Length In An Illinois Divorce

Guidelines maintenance length is the default and is statutorily mandated based on the length of the marriage at the time the divorce was filed.

“The duration of an award under this paragraph (1) shall be calculated by multiplying the length of the marriage at the time the action was commenced by whichever of the following factors applies: less than 5 years (.20); 5 years or more but less than 6 years (.24); 6 years or more but less than 7 years (.28); 7 years or more but less than 8 years (.32); 8 years or more but less than 9 years (.36); 9 years or more but less than 10 years (.40); 10 years or more but less than 11 years (.44); 11 years or more but less than 12 years (.48); 12 years or more but less than 13 years (.52); 13 years or more but less than 14 years (.56); 14 years or more but less than 15 years (.60); 15 years or more but less than 16 years (.64); 16 years or more but less than 17 years (.68); 17 years or more but less than 18 years (.72); 18 years or more but less than 19 years (.76); 19 years or more but less than 20 years (.80). For a marriage of 20 or more years, the court, in its discretion, shall order maintenance for a period equal to the length of the marriage or for an indefinite term.” 750 ILCS 5/504(b-1)(1)(B)

The length of the maintenance award can be reduced based on any temporary maintenance which has already been paid.

“In the discretion of the court, any term of temporary maintenance paid by court order under Section 501 may be a corresponding credit to the duration of maintenance set forth in subparagraph (b-1)(1)(B)” 750 ILCS 5/504(b-1)(1.5)

Non-Guidelines Maintenance In An Illinois Divorce

Non-guidelines maintenance awards require the court to explain why they made a non-guidelines maintenance determination.

“[I]f the court deviates from applicable guidelines under paragraph (1) of subsection (b-1), it shall state in its findings the amount of maintenance (if determinable) or duration that would have been required under the guidelines and the reasoning for any variance from the guidelines” 750 ILCS 5/504(b-2)(2)

This additional homework required of the judge is one of the reasons that non-guidelines maintenance awards are so rare.

A non-guidelines maintenance award must state some kind of length or process for terminating or reviewing the length of the maintenance award.

“[T]he court shall state whether the maintenance is fixed-term, indefinite, reviewable, or reserved by the court.” 750 ILCS 5/504(b-2)(3)

These maintenance length terms are later defined in the statute.

“Fixed-term maintenance. If a court grants maintenance for a fixed term , the court shall designate the termination of the period during which this maintenance is to be paid. Maintenance is barred after the end of the period during which fixed-term maintenance is to be paid.” 750 ILCS 5/504(b-4.5)(1)

Fixed term maintenance is over on the deadline the court sets.

“Indefinite maintenance. If a court grants maintenance for an indefinite term, the court shall not designate a termination date. Indefinite maintenance shall continue until modification or termination under Section 510.” 750 ILCS 5/504(b-4.5)(1)

Indefinite maintenance is permanent maintenance until a substantial change in circumstances modifies or terminates the maintenance.

“Reviewable maintenance. If a court grants maintenance for a specific term with a review, the court shall designate the period of the specific term and state that the maintenance is reviewable. Upon review, the court shall make a finding in accordance with subdivision (b-8) of this Section, unless the maintenance is modified or terminated under Section 510.” 750 ILCS 5/504(b-4.5)(1)

Reviewable maintenance has a date certain where the parties must return to court to determine if maintenance is still necessary.

“Review of maintenance. Upon review of any previously ordered maintenance award, the court may extend maintenance for further review, extend maintenance for a fixed non-modifiable term, extend maintenance for an indefinite term, or permanently terminate maintenance in accordance with subdivision (b-1)(1)(A) of this Section.” 750 ILCS 5/504(b-8)

The purpose of reviewable maintenance is to allow an Illinois divorce court to reserve the final length and amount of an award of maintenance “to encourage a spouse to become self-sufficient while providing the court with an opportunity to review the award at the end of a fixed period to determine what efforts the spouse has made toward achieving this objective and whether those efforts have been successful.” In re Marriage of Pearson, 236 Ill. App. 3d 337, 348 (1992)

Modifiying The Length Of Maintenance In An Illinois Divorce

Two 20 years old who get married and then divorced at age 40 could get an award of permanent maintenance under Illinois maintenance guidelines. That could be another 40 years of maintenance.

While the period of time a court awards maintenance can seem phenomenally long, in reality, maintenance can always be modified as to amount and duration.

“Under Illinois law, all maintenance awards are reviewable.” In re Marriage of Kasprzyk, 2019 IL App (4th) 170838, ¶ 23

“An order for maintenance may be modified or terminated only upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances.” 750 ILCS 5/510(a-5)

“Courts in Illinois have held that “substantial change in circumstances” as required under section 510 of the Act means that either the needs of the spouse receiving maintenance or the ability of the other spouse to pay that maintenance has changed” In re Marriage of Anderson, 409 Ill. App. 3d 191(2011)

Sooner or later, one of the parties is going to experience a job loss, a job gain or a change in income.

Modifying a maintenance award based on a job loss, job gain or change in income, requires an Illinois divorce court to consider “(1) any change in the employment status of either party and whether the change has been made in good faith;(2) the efforts, if any, made by the party receiving maintenance to become self-supporting, and the reasonableness of the efforts where they are appropriate” 750 ILCS 510(a-5)

If the maintenance award was pursuant to guidelines, any change in income which would result in the maintenance receiver earning 40% of the total income of the parties will automatically terminate maintenance.

“Maintenance…shall not result in the payee receiving an amount that is in excess of 40% of the combined net income of the parties”750 ILCS 5/504(b-1)(A)

Illinois divorce courts should strike a delicate balance in determining whether to end the period of maintenance. Maintenance receivers must make efforts to improve themselves in an attempt to be independent.

The “optimal goal of the maintenance act is for the dependent former spouse to become financially independent. However, under circumstances involving former spouses with grossly disparate earning potentials, this goal is often not achievable in light of the dependent former spouse’s entitlement to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage.” In re Marriage of Lenkner, 241 Ill.App.3d 15, 25, 181 Ill.Dec. 646, 608 N.E.2d 897, 904 (1993).

However, the efforts at financial self-improvement may, realistically, only take the maintenance receiving spouse so far in order to maintain their marital standard of living.

“[The goal of financial independence for the maintenance receiving spouse], however, must be balanced against the realistic appraisal of the likelihood the spouse will be able to support herself in a reasonable approximation of the standard of living established during the marriage. Limited maintenance is appropriate only where the spouse is employable at an income that would provide the approximate standard of living enjoyed during the marriage.” In re Marriage of Selinger, 814 NE 2d 152 – Ill: Appellate Court, 4th Dist. 2004 (Citations Omitted)

Some events will automatically terminate the length of a maintenance award no matter what.

Death of either party terminates maintenance in Illinois.

“[T]he obligation to pay future maintenance is terminated upon the death of either party” 750 ILCS 510(c)

Remarriage of the maintenance receiver will terminate maintenance in Illinois.

“[T]he obligation to pay future maintenance is terminated upon…the remarriage of the party receiving maintenance” 750 ILCS 510(c)

The maintenance receiver living with someone in a supportive relationship will terminate maintenance in Illinois.

“[T]he obligation to pay future maintenance is terminated…if the party receiving maintenance cohabits with another person on a resident, continuing conjugal basis.” 750 ILCS 510(c)

The moment of death or marriage automatically terminates the maintenance.

The obligor’s obligation to pay maintenance…terminates by operation of law on the date the oblige remarries” 750 ILCS 510(c)

Any payments made after the date of death or marriage will have to be refunded to the maintenance payor.

The moment cohabitation began between two parties is, often, more vague and will require a court’s determination. An “obligor’s obligation to pay maintenance or unallocated maintenance terminates by operation of law on…the date the court finds cohabitation began.” 750 ILCS 510(c)

This retroactive court-ordered change in the maintenance length actually provides the maintenance payor with enormous leverage in that they can demand a refund of maintenance which has been previously and inappropriately paid.

The length of maintenance should be seen as a multiplier of the amount of maintenance. $ 1000 a month may be manageable but $ 1000 a month for 15 years is $ 180,000. $ 1000 invested in the stock market for 15 years at a 7% average return is $ 319,118.

So, if you can’t change the maintenance amount…change the maintenance length.

To learn more contact my Chicago, Illinois family law firm to speak with an experienced Illinois divorce attorney.