Money that one spouse pays to another spouse for support, both during and after divorce, may be called many different things. Depending upon the state you live in, such support may be referred to as alimony, maintenance, or spousal support. (I will use these terms interchangeably in this article.) No matter what you call it, though, the laws surrounding spousal support are often extremely complex.
How Maintenance Works
Whether one spouse will have to pay spousal support/alimony/maintenance to another as part of a divorce depends upon the law of the state the couple lives in. A court can order one spouse to support the other spouse both during and after the divorce. The parties can also agree to such payments.
While most people think of alimony as something a divorcing husband pays to his soon-to-be ex-wife, the concept of alimony/maintenance/spousal support is, in fact, gender-neutral. In today’s society it is not uncommon for a divorcing wife to be ordered to pay to support her soon-to-be ex-husband. The question is not which gender pays the other, but which spouse needs support from the other, and who is able to pay it.
The first question to answer before you try to calculate alimony/maintenance/spousal support is whether granting that kind of support is warranted in a particular case.
To make determine whether support is appropriate in a case, courts will look to a variety of factors. These factors may include the income and property of each spouse, the needs of each spouse, the length of the marriage, and the standard of living established during the marriage, among other things. The exact factors a court will consider depends upon the law of the state the court is in.
Unlike child support, many states do not have specific guidelines setting forth a formula for determining how much support one spouse will have to pay the other in a divorce. In those states, the questions of whether one spouse will have to pay to support the other during or after divorce and, if so, how much and how long that spouse will pay are often left to the judge’s discretion.
In Illinois, spousal support is referred to as maintenance. Illinois has specific maintenance guidelines which apply in any case in which the court deems an award of maintenance is appropriate.
In Illinois, in cases in which a couple’s combined gross income is less than $250,000.00, maintenance is calculated by taking 30% of the payor’s gross income minus 20% of the payee’s gross income. That amount will be the amount of maintenance one spouse pays to the other so long as that amount is not more than 40% of the couple’s combined gross income.
Illinois law also governs the length of time one party must pay the other maintenance. In general, you multiply the length of the marriage at the time your divorce is filed by the following factors in order to figure out the length of time in which maintenance should be paid:
1. 5 years or less: multiply by .20;
2. More than 5 but less than 10 years: multiply by .40;
3. More than 10 but less than 15 years: multiply by .80;
4. 20 or more years – maintenance may be permanent.
What Affects Alimony?
In some states, marital misconduct affects whether one spouse will have to pay alimony to the other. In those states, if one spouse cheats on the other, the non-cheating spouse may no longer be required to pay alimony to the cheating spouse. Many states, however, have no such law.
In Illinois, marital misconduct has no effect on whether you are entitled to receive, or have to pay maintenance.
Tax Implications of Supporting Your Ex
Unlike child support, which is not tax deductible to the person who pays it, alimony is tax-deductible to the spouse who pays it. It also must be claimed as income by the spouse who receives it. Since the payor spouse presumably has a higher income tax rate than his/her spouse, paying alimony can result in a tax advantage to the payor spouse.
How Long Does Spousal Support Last?
In Illinois, the maintenance guidelines determine the length of time alimony is to be paid in cases where the parties have a combined income of $250,000 or less per year. In cases where a couple’s income exceeds that amount, the guidelines don’t apply.
The length of time during which one spouse has to support the other in Illinois cases where the guidelines don’t apply, as well as in other states, can vary. In general, alimony may be paid for a fixed period of time, or an indefinite period of time. It may be permanent, or it may be reviewable after a certain period of time.
If you believe you or your spouse may need to pay or receive spousal support, you really need to consult with an experienced attorney in your area to determine whether one of you will have to pay support to the other and, if so, how much and for how long.