Spousal maintenance is often a contentious issue in Illinois divorce cases. There is the potential for misunderstanding as to how the law works in this area. If a judge determines a spouse is eligible for maintenance there are laws in place that dictate how much the spouse receives and for how long. In some cases, the court may order permanent maintenance.
Court Extends Ex-Husband’s Maintenance Obligations Based on Ex-Wife’s Relative Lack of Earning Power, Length of Marriage
As the Illinois First District Appellate Court explained in a recent decision, In re Marriage of Wojcik, “permanent” does not mean “everlasting” with respect to spousal maintenance. Rather, when a judge orders permanent maintenance, it means the payor spouse’s obligation is indefinite. As the First District explained, such awards are usually only made when one spouse has “grossly disparate earning potentials and where the marriage was lengthy.”
In the case before the Appellate Court, for example, the parties were married for approximately 27 years, during which time they had three children. In 2005, the wife filed for divorce. Eventually, the parties reached a marital settlement agreement, which was incorporated by the court into a final divorce decree. During the marriage, the wife was mostly a stay-at-home mother. She did work part-time for the husband’s insurance business. By the time she filed for divorce, she had gone back to school to earn her master’s degree.
As part of the marital settlement, the court ordered the husband to pay the wife $13,500 per month in spousal maintenance for 60 months (five years). The husband made all of the required payments. During this post-divorce period, the wife found work as a teacher, but said she did not earn enough to support herself. The wife presented evidence in court that her monthly income was just $1,148, versus $6,191 in expenses.
Based on this, the judge extended the husband’s obligation to pay spousal maintenance on a permanent (i.e., indefinite) basis. The husband appealed, arguing that he already “satisfied his support obligations under the marital settlement agreement.” The First District rejected the husband’s position. It noted the marital settlement agreement itself contained language stating the husband’s support obligations were “reviewable” and could be modified by the court.
As for the award itself, the First District said it was justified by the facts of the case. The Court noted the wife was earning $9 per hour at the same time the husband made $700,000 annually. This wealth disparity was due in no small measure to the wife’s performance of “domestic duties” during the marriage–at the expense of her own career–as well as her assistance in helping the husband launch his business.
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It is important to note that spousal maintenance depends on a number of factors. In addition to the relative income of the parties and the length of the marriage, Illinois judges will look at a spouse’s age, physical and emotional condition, and the overall standard of living that existed during the marriage. If you need further legal advice, contact the Illinois divorce and custody lawyers at the Law Offices of George M. Sanders, P.C., today.