In the past, when women had fewer career options, alimony was a common feature of divorce. The expectation was that after the divorce, men would be able to continue their careers, while women would not be able to earn an independent salary that allowed them to live in a manner anything like the one they had in marriage. Alimony was intended to help balance the situation so that women were not always financially disadvantaged by divorce.
Since those days, a lot has changed in the workplace, marriage and divorce. The old justifications for alimony do not apply as commonly as they once did. That said, sometimes alimony — now known under Illinois law as maintenance — is sometimes still the best way to avoid a grossly unfair result in divorce.
Today, maintenance can come about through agreement between the parties or by court order. Both men and women can be ordered to pay maintenance, and both men and women can be the recipients.
When a court decides whether maintenance is necessary, it looks at a number of factors, including:
- Duration of the marriage
- The needs of the parties
- The health and ages of the parties
- The financial resources and potential income of the parties
- Time needed for the disadvantaged spouse to secure gainful employment
If, after considering these and other factors, the court determines maintenance is necessary, it typically bases the amount on a mathematical formula based on the income of each spouse. A second mathematical formula determines how long the maintenance obligation will last, based upon the length of the marriage. If the marriage lasted 20 years or more, the court may decide the maintenance should last as long as the marriage did, or it may decide the obligation should remain indefinitely.
Courts consider several other factors, and every case presents its own unique issues, so results can vary greatly from one divorce to the next.