Learning More About Spousal Maintenance Modifications

Learning More About Spousal Maintenance Modifications

By M. Scott Gordon

When you get divorced in the Chicago area, the judge may order that one of the spouses makes spousal maintenance payments (also known as “alimony” or “spousal support”) to the other spouse. A set of recent changes to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA) included new guidelines for spousal maintenance payment amounts. As an article in the Illinois Bar Journal explained, the guidelines, which include a formula for determining spousal maintenance payments when the couple’s combined income falls below a specific amount, are “enacted to provide clarity and uniformity in maintenance calculations.”

While the relatively new guidelines may indeed provide some uniformity in the amount of spousal maintenance payments ordered by a judge, Chicago area residents may still have some unanswered questions. Specifically, how do modifications of spousal maintenance orders work? What happens, for instance, if the payor spouse (the one making the payments) loses his or her job? Will she or he still be required to pay spousal support? The answers to these questions depend, in part, upon prior agreements that the spouses made at the time of their divorce. Generally speaking, however, most alimony awards are modifiable in the event that there is a “substantial change in circumstances,” according to the IMDMA.

Making an Agreement About the Non-Modifiability of a Spousal Maintenance Award

In general, there is a presumption that a spousal maintenance award will be modifiable—meaning that the parties can change the terms of it—if one of those parties can prove that there has been a “substantial change in circumstances.” We will explain what that term means shortly, but first, it is important to recognize that some couples agree to make alimony awards non-modifiable. Under Illinois law (750 ILCS 5/502), divorcing spouses can essentially enter into a contract with one another in which they agree that spousal maintenance cannot be modified, even if there is a substantial change in circumstances.

This is not the only way in which a divorcing couple can come to an agreement about changing spousal maintenance awards. In addition to making the award non-modifiable, Illinois law also permits couple to agree to a specific date or event upon which the award will be modified (for instance, if the couple knows of a specific date or event in which one of the couples will begin earning substantially more money). Also, couples can agree that a maintenance award will terminate at a specific time. Just as they can choose a particular date upon which to review the spousal support award, they can also agree that spousal support payments will terminate upon a specific date or upon the occurrence of a specific event.

Reviewing Spousal Support Awards for Modification

If the parties do not have an agreement in place about the non-modifiability of a spousal maintenance award, the law says that it must be reviewable by a court. In order to have an award modified, the court will have to decide whether there has been a “substantial change in circumstances” such that the award amount should be changed or terminated altogether. The law cites the following as examples of a “substantial change in circumstances”:

  • Change in employment status;
  • Payee spouse’s efforts to become self-sufficient;
  • Impairment of one of the party’s earning capacity;
  • Increase or decrease in each of the parties’ income since the spousal maintenance award; and
  • Property acquired after the divorce.

There are numerous other factors, as well, and the court has discretion to consider anything that will result in a just and equitable spousal maintenance award. In other words, if you lose your job, you may indeed be able to have your spousal maintenance order modified.

Contact a Chicago Spousal Maintenance Attorney

If you have questions about modifying a spousal maintenance award, an experienced divorce lawyer in Chicago can help. Contact Gordon & Perlut, LLC today.