Updated: Mar 15
Spousal Support & Maintenance Modification Basics
Spousal support is essentially the money paid by one spouse to the other spouse, after the two parties separate. Other common terms for it include alimony and maintenance. There are many factors which affect whether a married or common law spouse will need to get spousal or not, and there are other factors which are pertinent to determining how much support one party is entitled to. It is important to remember that these factors are jurisdiction dependent, meaning they usually vary from state to state, and could even involve idiosyncrasies within cities as well. It is also important to remember that spousal support is not the same as child support. The former involves money being paid to a spouse for their living needs (which can sometimes include the needs to a dependent). The latter involves money being paid to a spouse strictly to be used for the child’s well-being.
There are countless family law cases where spousal support has been paid by one party to the other. Note that this does not always necessarily need to be gender specific, meaning there are cases where a male partner pays the female partner for support, where a female pays the male, and there are also situations where same sex couples have spousal support claims to the other. In family situations, as with life in general, circumstances change. Meaning there are times where there needs to be modification of the support paid. The simplest example is the following. If one party’s income significantly rises, there may be a chance that they will have to increase their spousal support payments to the other partner. This scheme for modification is the subject of the article and will be explored in depth below.
Spousal Support Modification
If you believe that you have reasons for modifying the amount of spousal support you are receiving, you should speak with a family law expert as soon as possible. Modifying a spousal support order is dependent on many factors, including but not limited to, the wording in the original document. Overall, confirming the changes in one party’s financial situation requires an assessment of the options available, which itself starts with an evaluation of the original spousal support given in order to see if the order is even modifiable at all.
In specific, and according to Statute 510, the court shall consider the following factors for a change (or modification) of a spousal support order. (1) A change in employment status of either party, and whether such a change in status was made in good faith. It is important to remember that either party can have a change is employment status for their to be a change in the spousal order. For example, if one party’s income creases significantly, the order amount may also increase. As another example, if one party’s income significantly decreases, or such a party loses their job, there may also be an increase in the spousal order payments. Another important factor to take in this definition is that fact that good faith matters. This means that if a party loses their job ‘on purpose’ (or in bad faith), the court may decline to increase the support payments. (2) The efforts made by the party receiving maintenance to become self-supporting, and the reasonableness of the efforts. This essentially means that the court wants to see how much effort the lower income individual (or unemployed individual) is taking to try and become financially self-sufficient. An important factor to mention is the reasonableness of the efforts. This means that courts will usually not appreciate low quality / a low level of effort on the part of a job applicant to try to become employed again. (3) Any impairment of the present and future earning capacity of either party. This essentially means that if one party becomes incapable of work for any legitimate reason, there may be a change in support payments. Within this definition it is important to note that an impairment in future earning capacity can be just as important to support payment increases as an impairment to current earning capacities.
(4) The duration of the maintenance payments previously paid relative to the length of the marriage. This is self-explanatory, but it essentially means that the longer the marriage, the more payments will conceivably be needed into the future. This itself makes common sense. If the parties had only been married for 3 months, for example, then it doesn’t make sense to have spousal support in perpetuity. Note that child support is considerably different (as payments usually need to be made for quite some time regardless of the length of the marriage). (5) Any other factor that the court find just and equitable. This is also self-explanatory, but it essentially means that if there are any other important factors which will lead the court to believe that one party should pay more (or less), the court will take those into consideration. For example, if one party committed domestic abuse on the other, and because of that reason the victim party found it difficult to find employment, there is a good chance the courts will seriously take this circumstance into consideration when deciding the payment amount.
Overall, there are numerous factors that the court will take into consideration when deciding whether to make a modification to a spousal support order. These include, but are not limited to, a change in employment status, the efforts by the supported party to try and become financially independent, impairments in present and future income earning capacity, the duration of payments in comparison to the length of the marriage, and any other factor the court considers fair given the circumstances of both parties. Judges, and legal professionals alike, understand that each couple’s situation is unique and involves small idiosyncrasies that can have an important impact on either the life of one of the party’s or on the life on a child. In conclusion, the courts try and take a holistic approach to resolving these cases.
Illinois Statutes Section 510(1) – Section 510(5) [750 ILCS 5/510]