Spousal Support - Divorce and Alimony

Spousal Support, Alimony and Maintenance: Who Gets It?

Spousal support goes by a lot of different names in the world of divorce law: maintenance, alimony, and spousal support can all be used interchangeably. Maintenance is the more modern, most common term that courts use today, though the concept of maintenance has been around for quite some time. In fact, the idea of alimony dates back to the Middle Ages. But modern maintenance has changed a lot since then. Here’s a breakdown of what you should know about maintenance and how it works today. 

What is “Maintenance” Spousal Support and Who Pays It? 

Maintenance is when one spouse provides financial spousal support to his or her Ex. Maintenance helps ensure that the spouse with lower income can still support themselves after the divorce. Courts want to make sure that after a divorce, each spouse lives the same type of lifestyle they had during their marriage, which can sometimes lead to legal issues in the alimony agreement negotiation. To do this, courts approximate the “marital standard of living” and make sure the maintenance payment provides you and your Ex the proper funds to maintain that standard of living on your own.  

Historically, the wife received maintenance because the husband had a duty to support his wife financially. Maintenance used to also account for whose “fault” the divorce was and would make that spouse pay the other. Today, the more modern rationale for maintenance is rooted in “economic partnership”. Courts now look less at the traditional male and female roles within a marriage, and instead, look at the amount of money each person makes. So yes, if you are a woman, the breadwinner, and the primary caretaker of your children, you may have to pay your Ex maintenance. 

If you are a Stay-At-Home-Mom, discover more must-knows by reading “How to Prepare for Divorce if You are a Stay-At-Home-Mom.”

If you make more money than your spouse, check out “Breadwinning Women Face an Uphill Battle When Marrying and Divorcing.”

Is This Related to Child Support?

Maintenance is completely separate from child support and parental responsibilities. You can receive child support but have to pay your Ex maintenance. This would be most likely if you were the both primary caretaker of your children and the breadwinner of the family. This may seem like a shock, but as more mothers become the primary income earner, paying spousal support maintenance to their husband is becoming more and more common. If you are the breadwinner of your family, it is important to have your financials organized and in check. Your attorney will ask for your financial documents almost immediately at the beginning of your divorce journey. 

Maintenance statutes are present in every state, but the way courts go about them in each state can differ. Maintenance is typically a factor test. Courts look at the length of the marriage, the ages of the couple, the job skills they have, the income gap between the couples, and much more. Not every couple going through a divorce are “eligible” for maintenance payments. For example, if a couple married for 15 years has one partner who makes $300,000.00 a year and the other who did not go to college and stayed home to raise the kids, this would definitely be a maintenance case.

This means that the higher-earning spouse would have to pay maintenance to the other. But, if a couple was married for 2 years and had pretty equal levels of income, the likelihood of this being a maintenance case is much lower. These are just a few details that contribute to the legal issues of determining alimony and spousal support.

Changing Your Maintenance

Maintenance can also change over time. Originally, maintenance was a lifetime commitment, meaning that once someone was on the hook for maintenance, they were on the hook for the rest of their life. Now, it’s harder to obtain permanent maintenance, but not impossible. Instead, courts usually award temporary maintenance. Maintenance can change based on the circumstances you and your Ex fall into after your divorce becomes final. These circumstances can range from you or your Ex marrying someone else to a change in financial earnings, both of which can affect spousal support.

How to Modify Maintenance

The key to modifying maintenance is to prove that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred. Whoever wants to modify the maintenance has to prove that a substantial change in circumstances has in fact occurred. Either spouse can ask the court to modify maintenance. For example, if you are paying your Ex maintenance and your Ex gets a huge promotion at work and their salary increases, this would be a substantial change in circumstances. You could argue they do not need as much spousal support anymore, and that your maintenance payment should be modified to a smaller amount. On the flip side, if your Ex in that same situation got laid off, they can argue that there was a substantial change in circumstances and that they need more maintenance from you because now they have no income. 

Nobody likes paying maintenance. You can contract out of maintenance during your divorce journey if you want. Within your divorce settlement agreement in Illinois, for example, you can “waive” your right to maintenance, and your Ex can too. If you choose to do this, in your marital settlement agreement, you would have a section that states you do not want maintenance, and you will not ask for it in the future. This is a great option if you and your Ex earn about the same income, or for whatever reason you agree that there is no need to pay spousal support. You may want to consider getting a financial consultation to look at your options with the help of an expert and to better understand the details involved in these legal issues.

Maintenance and Taxes

One thing of note is that maintenance is taxed to the recipient, so keep that in mind if you are awarded maintenance. It’s important to ensure you have your finances in check during and after your divorce. Because things like maintenance can change, it’s a good idea to have your finances organized in case anything comes up later down the line.  

Conclusion: Spousal Support Varies

Spousal support maintenance is not something to be afraid of or embarrassed by whether you receive it, or pay it to your Ex. Maintenance is something that comes up in any divorce in some way, shape, or form. The modern approach to maintenance is to ensure that you and your Ex can maintain the same standard of living you two had during your marriage. Maintenance is a huge part of the financial elements of your divorce journey, so you and your attorney will definitely discuss this issue early on in your conversations so you adequately negotiate what is right for you. 

NOTES

Alexa Valenzisi is a rising 3L student in Chicago committed to the legal issues that arise in child law and education law. She aims to work in education law or family law after graduation. 

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