Calculating Fair Spousal Support Payments

The obligation of one spouse to support another is often one of the most contentious issues of a divorce or legal separation. But the award of maintenance (formerly known as alimony) can take different forms in Chicago and throughout Illinois. Each type of maintenance has its own benefits and detriments as outlined below:

  1. Rehabilitative Maintenance. This is generally the maintenance awarded for shorter term marriages. The recipient of alimony has an affirmative obligation to rehabilitate himself/herself from the marriage which usually means finding adequate employment. It is usually for a fixed term, say 3-5 years, at which time the court will hold a hearing to determine whether further maintenance is warranted. The benefits of rehabilitative maintenance is that there is no fixed end date and should continue until the spouse is fully rehabilitated and able to support himself/herself. The detriment is that the receiver of support will have to keep detailed records of his or her efforts at rehabilitation which may include keeping a weekly job diary, creating a "rehabilitation" plan, selecting a career and pursuing it actively. It binds both parties together after the divorce for an indeterminate amount of time. This type of maintenance is modifiable by the Court upon petition showing a change of circumstances.
  2. Permanent Maintenance. The longer the marriage, and the greater the age of the recipient spouse, the Court may choose, or the parties may agree, to award permanent maintenance. If a spouse is, perhaps, sixty years of age, it is not reasonable to believe that spouse can have a rehabilitation plan. The award of permanent maintenance is modifiable if the needs of the recipient spouse increase and the ability of payor to pay increases, the court has the authority to increase the support. If the payor loses his or her job, the support can abate. So, a benefit of this type of maintenance is that, there is no fixed term of support and will usually continue until the payor retires. The detriment is that the support is tied to the income of payor and, if the payor experiences a financial reversal, the reversals will be shared with the recipient spouse.
  3. Non-Modifiable Maintenance. The law allows the parties to reach agreement that the spousal support award may be non-modifiable. This means that the support must be paid even if the payor suffers financial reversals. Likewise, if the recipient spouse is in need of greater support, she cannot get it. It is a "guaranteed" amount for a fixed period of time. The benefit is that the spouses know exactly what is to be paid and can plan accordingly. The detriment is that this type of spousal support does allow for any changes in circumstances if either spouse experiences such a change. The recipient gets the fixed amount of support, nothing more, nothing less. This award is particularly good for the recipient in cases where the payor's income is unstable or uncertain.

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