Formula for Calculating Maintenance Payments in Illinois

On top of being emotionally trying, divorce can be a complex and confusing process for all parties involved. This is particularly true when you consider the many financial aspects that must be considered in divorce, including maintenance — formerly known as “spousal support” or “alimony.” 

If marriage is about entwining two lives together, then divorce is the process of disentangling those strands. That includes finding ways for both spouses to move forward financially after they dissolve their marriage. As you start to consider everything that goes into divorce in Illinois, it’s important to factor in maintenance — including what it means, how it works, and how it is typically calculated. 

What Does “Maintenance” Mean In Illinois Divorce?

Maintenance refers to money that one spouse must pay the other, on an ongoing basis, following a divorce. Generally speaking, maintenance is ordered by a judge; it can also be factored in as a part of a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, in which spouses may agree to a predetermined length and duration for maintenance, or waive it altogether. 

The purpose of maintenance is to help an ex-spouse support themselves and live independently after the dissolution of their marriage. In Illinois, our maintenance statute is gender-neutral, meaning that both spouses, regardless of gender, can be awarded maintenance, depending on their circumstances. 

The threshold determination is whether a case is appropriate for maintenance. Assuming a case is appropriate for maintenance, the Court will either apply statutory calculation guidelines, which are based solely on the parties’ income and the length of the marriage; or, deviate from said guidelines, with a specified reason for the deviation. Alternatively, the Court may apply the traditional maintenance guidelines – for cases that fall outside of the $500,000 cap – as described below. 

Changes to Illinois Maintenance Statutes: What to Know In 2019 and Beyond

Traditionally, Illinois courts considered a number of factors specific to the marriage in question, including: 

  • The income and property held by each party
  • The needs of each party
  • The present and future earning capacity of each party
  • Contribution to household duties 
  • Any impairment of the present or future earning capacity of the party against whom maintenance is sought
  • The time necessary for the party seeking maintenance to obtain appropriate education, training, and employment
  • The standard of living during the marriage
  • The duration of the marriage
  • The age and physical and emotional condition of both spouses
  • All sources of public and private income, including disability and retirement income
  • The potential tax consequences of property division
  • Contributions of one spouse to the other’s education or career
  • Any agreements between the parties (such as prenup or postnup) 
  • Any other factors that the court finds to be just and equitable

In Illinois, maintenance is guided by Section 504 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA). You can read the full text of the IMDMA here, with the relevant statutes available to peruse here. It’s important to know that Illinois maintenance guidelines were significantly altered in 2019. These changes will impact all parties who filed for dissolution of marriage in Illinois in 2019 and beyond. 

Some of the notable changes made to Illinois maintenance laws in 2019 include: 

  • Updating the formula and guidelines used to calculate spousal maintenance 
  • Changing how spousal maintenance payments are treated for tax purposes
  • Increasing the income threshold for the application of maintenance guidelines
  • Revising guidelines for the duration of maintenance payments
  • Replacing certain outdated or unclear terminology, such as substituting “indefinite maintenance” for “permanent maintenance” 

As we discuss maintenance guidelines and calculations in more depth below, we will be referring to relevant values for 2019 and beyond. We will be sure to clarify if we’re referencing any prior maintenance guidelines. 

How Is Maintenance Calculated During an Illinois Divorce?

Once the court has made the decision that awarding maintenance will be appropriate, it must determine the amount and duration of the award, pursuant to Illinois statutory guidelines. 

Calculating the Amount of Maintenance

Broadly speaking, the Court typically applies statutory guidelines to determine the length and amount of maintenance when the parties’ combined income is less than $500,000. The Court has discretion to deviate from the statutory calculation guidelines regardless of the parties’ income. However, if the parties’ combined income is under $500,000, the judge has to make specific findings of the reason for the deviation, and state the amount of maintenance and duration that would have been required under the guidelines (if determinable).

Here in Illinois, the guidelines for calculating maintenance call for using a specific formula. In simplest terms, annual maintenance is calculated by taking 33.33% of the paying spouse’s net income, and subtracting 25% of the recipient’s net income.

With this formula in mind, Illinois statutes also require that “the amount calculated as maintenance, however, when added to the net income of the payee, shall not result in the payee receiving an amount that is in excess of 40% of the combined net income of the parties.” In other words, the party receiving maintenance is not to be awarded more than 40% of the couple’s combined net income. 

Here’s how this looks as a basic formula: 

(Payer’s net annual income x .3333)

– (Recipient’s net annual income x .25)

= Amount of spousal maintenance due from payer to payee each year

Determining Duration of Maintenance

Under Illinois statutes, “the duration of an award” using the formula above “shall be calculated by multiplying the length of the marriage at the time the action was commenced by whichever of the following factors applies:”

  • less than 5 years (.20)
  • 5-6 years (.24)
  • 6-7 years (.28)
  • 7-8 years (.32)
  • 8-9 years (.36)
  • 9-10 years (.40)
  • 10-11 years (.44)
  • 11-12 years (.48)
  • 12-13 years (.52)
  • 13-14 years (.56)
  • 14-15 years (.60)
  • 15-16 years (.64)
  • 16-17 years (.68)
  • 17-18 years  (.72)
  • 18-19 years (.76)
  • 19-20 years (.80)
  • 20 or more years (a period equal to the length of the marriage or for an indefinite term)

Types of Illinois Spousal Maintenance

Under the IMDMA, support to a spouse can be awarded as “fixed-term, indefinite, reviewable, or reserved by the court.” 

Fixed-term maintenance is terminated at the end of a specific period, typically based on the duration of the marriage. Indefinite maintenance does not have a specific end date, and must continue to be paid unless there is a significant change in circumstances — such as if either spouse passes away, one retires, or if the maintenance recipient remarries or agrees to modifying the terms of the marital settlement. 

If a court grants reviewable maintenance for a specific term, the court shall designate the period of the term and state that the maintenance is reviewable. At the point of review, the court will determine if the maintenance period should be terminated, or if it should continue for a fixed term or indefinitely into the future. 

Tax Considerations of Spousal Maintenance

One of the biggest changes in maintenance laws to take effect in 2019 has to do with the tax implications for the payor. For 2019 and beyond, maintenance payments are not tax deductible for the payor, and maintenance does not count as taxable income for the person receiving payments (the payee). Prior to January 1st, 2019, the payor’s spousal maintenance payments were tax deductible, and did constitute taxable income for the maintenance recipient.

Looking for Help Understanding Spousal Maintenance In Illinois?

Divorce can be a daunting prospect, particularly if you’re attempting to navigate this complicated and emotionally loaded time alone. Having an experienced and empathetic family law attorney on your side can make it easier to handle the many moving pieces that go into divorce, including all of the crucial questions and considerations that go into maintenance (a.k.a “alimony” and “spousal support”). 

Have any more questions about how to calculate maintenance in Illinois? Curious about the unique variables of your situation? Our skilled attorneys can help handle your contested or uncontested divorce, including issues of property division, maintenance, and allocation of marital debt.

At the Law Offices of J. Jeltes, Ltd., one of our most important goals is ensuring that our clients understand the divorce process at each and every step of the way, including the definition of maintenance  and the statutory guidelines for determining maintenance payments. 

Our legal professionals are driven, attentive, and dedicated to achieving the best results possible. We truly understand that every situation is unique, and before hiring our firm our attorneys will provide you with a comprehensive one-on-one consultation to discuss your legal concerns and goals. If you have any more questions about any aspect of divorce in Illinois, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team of experienced and compassionate advocates to continue the conversation.