Misconceptions About Spousal Maintenance

Misconceptions About Spousal Maintenance

By M. Scott Gordon

When couples in Chicago file for divorce, judges often have to make a decision about whether to award spousal maintenance, which was also known as alimony. As many Chicago residents know, Illinois recently changed a number of its laws related to divorce and family law, and those amendments included a new formula for calculating spousal maintenance. While the use of such a formula should disabuse people of the notion that one of the parties—namely, the payee spouse—is making out much better in the divorce than the payor spouse, a recent article in The Atlantic addresses this common misconception as well as some others. In short, neither spouse typically is the “winner” in a divorce, and it is important to think carefully about financial implications before you dissolve your marriage.

Stay-at-Home Moms Do Not Receive Windfalls in Divorce

One of the most frequent misconceptions about spousal maintenance and divorce is that stay-at-home moms tend to receive a lot of money through child support and spousal maintenance payments. Indeed, as the article explains, there is “a common perception that women siphon off the wealth of their exes and go on to live in comfort.” For an overwhelming majority of divorced couples, this is simply not a reality.

Under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA), judges are asked to consider a number of factors in deciding whether or not to award alimony (spousal maintenance is not simply a given in every divorce). Some of the factors that judges consider in making this decision include but are not limited to:

  • Length of the marriage;
  • Standard of living of the couple during the marriage;
  • Income and needs of each of the spouses; and
  • Whether one of the spouses sacrificed educational or career opportunities for the benefit of the other spouse or for the family.

Once a judge decides that spousal maintenance is appropriate, assuming that the couple’s combined income is under $250,000 per year, the judge can rely on the new spousal maintenance formula, which involves a basic calculation (and is an objective one).  You can use the Maintenance Calculator at www.FamilyLawAdvocate.com for guidance.

Women Have Less Money After Divorce, Regardless of Spousal Maintenance

Why, then, do some commentators continue to suggest that payee spouses—often women who have stayed at home with children—are the “winners” in divorces in which spousal maintenance is awarded? While we cannot say for certain why this myth persists, the article does make clear that “women who worked before, during, or after their marriages see a 20 percent decline in income when their marriages end.”

This statistic comes from the research of Stephen Jenkins, a professor of economics at the London School of Economics. In addition to women seeing a salient decline in their incomes after divorce, Jenkins’s research also notes that men, who are typically the payor spouses, “tend to see their incomes rise more than 30 percent post-divorce.” And for another sobering fact to dispel this misconception about spousal maintenance and divorce, “the poverty rate for separated women is 27 percent, nearly triple the figure for separated men.”

In other words, spousal maintenance is aimed at helping payee spouses to get back on their feet after a divorce and to get into a position where they can begin earning enough money to support themselves. Spousal maintenance, or alimony, is often essential for spouses who have forgone certain educational or career opportunities in order to support the other spouse or to raise the couple’s children.

Contact a Chicago area Spousal Maintenance Lawyer

If you are considering divorce and have questions about spousal maintenance, an experienced family lawyer in the Chicago area can assist you. Contact Gordon & Perlut, LLC today to learn more about how we can help.