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Illinois system of alimony leaves much room for ambiguity

In some marriages, one spouse earns far more than the other. When the marriage ends in divorce, the higher earning spouse may have to make payments to the lower earning spouse.

In Illinois, this financial support is officially known as "maintenance." More colloquially, it may also be referred to as "alimony" or "spousal support."

Several factors considered in determining whether alimony must be paid

Unlike child support, there are no formal guidelines that indicate whether alimony should be awarded, and there is also no set formula for determining the amount of alimony. Either spouse may ask a family law court to award alimony, and the judge will consider a dozen relevant factors. Some of the most important include the income and earning potential of each party, the standard of living during the marriage, the duration of the marriage, the age and relative health of each party, and whether the party seeking maintenance delayed or forwent education or career opportunities due to the marriage.

Duration of maintenance depends on length of marriage

For shorter marriages, maintenance is typically set for only a relatively short period after the divorce. For especially long marriages, maintenance may continue indefinitely, even for a lifetime, unless the recipient becomes self-sufficient and the alimony payer convinces the court that payments should be stopped.

As with the amount of alimony, there are no set guidelines for setting the duration of maintenance in Illinois. Even given the exact same case, two different judges or two different lawyers could have vastly different opinions about how much maintenance should be awarded and for how long.

Spousal support terminates automatically in three scenarios, but one is not always apparent

There are three scenarios in which maintenance terminates automatically. The first two are relatively straightforward: death or remarriage of either party. Someone is either dead or alive, married or unmarried. The third scenario, cohabitation on a conjugal basis, is not as clear cut.

After divorce, it is only natural for people to want to move on and start dating again. But when does dating turn into living together on a conjugal basis? Different Illinois courts have struggled with this issue and come to different results. When one party seeks to end alimony on this basis, the court will look to all the facts and circumstances to determine whether a marriage-like relationship exists. But, since there are no clear, statewide standards for making this determination, ending alimony due to cohabitation is a tricky prospect.

Talk to an Illinois family law attorney about alimony

Because the standards for awarding maintenance, setting its duration and terminating payments are so open for interpretation in Illinois, it is important to have an experienced legal advocate on your side. Your family law attorney can make strong legal arguments to promote your best interests based on your unique circumstances. Get in touch with an Illinois family law attorney today for help with your spousal maintenance concerns.

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