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Spousal Alimony Modifications

In a divorce, courts go to considerable lengths to figure out how much spousal support one spouse should pay to the other. This initial decision is based on a variety of factors. It might include the parties’ financial situations and any non-monetary advantages that one partner may have provided to the marriage. But what about after that? What if one former spouse suddenly starts making drastically higher income, years after the divorce? Conversely, what if a divorced spouse’s income decreases? Simply put, alimony may change as well. This article explains spousal alimony modifications in greater detail.

What is Spousal Support Alimony?

Spousal support is money paid from one former spouse to the other after a divorce.

Following a divorce, a court may order one person to pay spousal support or alimony to the other. This is typically done through a spousal maintenance order.

Determining Spousal Support

A divorcing spouse may be obligated to pay spousal maintenance in a few different ways.

The court will usually maintain guidelines found in a valid prenuptial agreement that clarifies spousal support obligations.

Even if there is no prenuptial agreement, a spouse may also be expected to pay spousal support if that spouse’s income and assets are substantially different than the other’s. During spousal maintenance determinations, the standard of living developed during the marriage, each spouse’s health and age, any reduction in the recipient spouse’s potential earning power, and many other factors are considered.

According to Illinois law, courts can use a formula to measure the amount of spousal support in most divorce cases where alimony is necessary. According to this formula, the court will subtract 25 percent of the higher earning spouse’s net income from 33.3 percent of the paying spouse’s net income. The spousal support sum is the remaining amount. The court will use this model for most couples with a combined income of less than $500,000.

However, if either party’s financial circumstances drastically alter, the spousal maintenance order can become ineffective. This may prompt a court to make a modification. But courts only grant spousal support modifications in Illinois under certain conditions.

Spousal Alimony Modifications in Illinois

Since the situation may change after spousal support orders are initially granted, the law allows for alimony modifications.

The party requesting a reduction of the maintenance sum or complete termination of the payments must file a petition with the court that issued the order. This will trigger a hearing where that party will have to clarify why he or she is demanding the change. This can be a complicated procedure with many steps, so it is best to seek guidance and advice from an experienced spousal support attorney first.

Unless the court approves the motion to cancel or change the support payments, the paying spouse must still make the payments as requested.

If the party receiving support remarries or if either party dies, the spousal maintenance obligation usually ends. The paying party can petition the court to have his or her maintenance duty terminated if the receiving party is cohabiting with a partner in a marriage-like relationship. If there is a “substantial change in circumstances,” Illinois courts may change the amount or length of spousal maintenance.

Courts will weigh the following considerations when deciding whether or not to grant a spousal maintenance alteration:

  • Changes in either party’s income and/or jobs made in good faith
  • Assets gained by the spouses since the divorce
  • Damage to either party’s earning power, such as a significant illness or disability
  • The amount of maintenance already paid and the number of payments left

The court will hear all parties’ arguments and examine relevant evidence before determining whether or not the spousal maintenance order should be amended. After looking at the new circumstances, the court can decide to amend the terms of the spousal maintenance obligation. The court can be very flexible in how it moves forward with alimony modifications.

Changing Support Alimony

If you wish to modify your spousal maintenance, you must ask the court for the change. You’ll have to demonstrate that the circumstances have changed significantly, as discussed above.

What constitutes a major or important shift in circumstances? For example, the court will change the order if the paying party loses his or her job or is forced to take a substantial pay cut. This might happen if the paying party learns that the receiving spouse has accepted a new job with a significant pay increase. The receiving spouse could successfully petition the court for a change to reduce spousal maintenance payments.

It’s important to note, though, that a decrease in income cannot be the result of the paying spouse attempting to intentionally minimize the amount owed to the other spouse. That is, each spouse must still act in good faith. The court will consider whether a partner deliberately quits his or her job or takes a lower-paying position to try and pay less in alimony.

Consult with an Illinois Family Law Attorney

If you have had a substantial change in your circumstances since your spousal support order, it may be worthwhile to review the spousal support modification options available to you. An experienced family law attorney can help you weigh those options and design a strategy.

When you have a well-defined strategy, you will be more likely to protect your legal interests through the proceeding. Without an attorney, you risk making avoidable mistakes in an often complicated legal process. That could prevent you from getting a successful alimony modification.

Divorces can be difficult to navigate, emotionally and legally. Even years after an initial alimony ruling, the situation may feel no less difficult. The experienced attorneys at Johnston Tomei Lenczycki & Goldberg LLC understand this tough position. We will help you design a legal strategy that best fits your needs, whether for alimony modifications or something else. Call us today at (847) 549-0600 or email us at info@lawjtlg.com to schedule a free consultation.

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