Modification of Spousal Maintenance in Illinois | How to Modify Alimony Orders

Article written by Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Updated on
October 28, 2019

In this article, we will explain the modification of spousal maintenance orders in Illinois.  We will answer the following questions: when do spousal maintenance obligations terminate in Illinois? and when can spousal maintenance be modified in Illinois?  We will also explain how to modify spousal maintenance in Illinois and discuss retroactive modification of spousal maintenance.

For some foundational information on how spousal maintenance works in Illinois, check out our articles: Illinois Spousal Maintenance Explained, Changes to Spousal Maintenance Under 2019 Tax Laws, and How to Calculate Spousal Maintenance.

There are three situations in which Illinois courts will automatically terminate spousal maintenance: (1) cohabitation, (2) remarriage, and (3) the death of either party.  In addition, spousal maintenance may be modified at the discretion of the court if either party’s financial circumstances substantially change.  We will discuss both scenarios in further detail below.  

When Do Spousal Maintenance Obligations Terminate in Illinois?

When spousal maintenance terminates due to one of the three situations discussed below, the party seeking to terminate maintenance must file a motion to terminate maintenance with the court.  Upon the moving party proving that one of these situations exists, the court must order the termination of maintenance payments as of the date of the terminating event.  Any payments made after the terminating event must be repaid to the payor.  

Let’s discuss in further detail the situations in which spousal maintenance automatically terminates in Illinois:

  1. Cohabitation - Maintenance obligations terminate when the party receiving maintenance begins living with someone else in a continuous conjugal relationship.  Living with someone of the opposite sex as a platonic roommate is not enough to terminate maintenance.
  2. Remarriage: If the party receiving maintenance remarries, he or she must notify the other party at least 30 days prior to the remarriage in order to give the party making maintenance payments time to file a motion to terminate maintenance.  If the decision to marry occurred within this 30 day window, the recipient of maintenance must give at least 72 hour notice.
  3. Death of either party: The estates of the parties have no spousal maintenance rights or obligations.  If payments are made after the death of the recipient, they must be paid back by the recipient’s estate.

When Can Spousal Maintenance Be Modified in Illinois?

How to Change your Spousal Maintenance Payments

Courts have discretion to modify an existing spousal maintenance order if there is a substantial change of circumstances after the entry of the original order.  Just as when one of the scenarios above cause maintenance to terminate, the obligor cannot simply stop paying when circumstances change.  Rather he or she must file a motion to modify spousal maintenance, which lays out the basis of the request for a change.  

At the hearing on the motion, the court will hear arguments and evidence of both parties.  The court will weigh the following factors in order to determine whether a substantial change of circumstances has occurred so as to justify modification of the maintenance order:

  • Change in the employment status of either party, when the change was made in good faith--meaning that the obligor cannot just quit his or her job with the purpose of reducing maintenance payments.
  • The efforts made by the recipient of maintenance to become self-supporting.  Spousal maintenance recipients are required to make reasonable efforts to become self-supporting.  If the obligor is able to prove that the recipient is not doing so, maintenance may be reduced.
  • Any impairment of the present or future earning capacity of either the obligor or the recipient.
  • The tax consequences of the maintenance payments upon the economic circumstances of each party.  
  • The duration of the maintenance payments previously paid (and remaining to be paid) relative to the length of the marriage.
  • The property awarded to each party in the divorce, including the present status of the property.  Sometimes the award of property in a divorce to the maintenance recipient is used to reduce the amount of maintenance he or she will receive.
  • The increase or decrease in each party’s income since the prior order.
  • The property acquired and currently owned by each party after the divorce.
  • Any other factors the court finds just and equitable.

How to Modify Spousal Maintenance in Illinois    

If any of the factors above indicate that the financial circumstances of one or both of the parties have changed substantially since the entry of the previous maintenance order, or if one of the three situations in which maintenance orders terminate has occurred, you will likely be successful in modifying or terminating your existing spousal maintenance order.  

Again, it is important to note that you are not permitted to simply reduce or terminate maintenance payments without first obtaining a court order.  The proper procedure for obtaining this order is to file a motion to modify or terminate spousal maintenance with the court that entered the existing order.  This motion should lay out the grounds for modification and termination.  

When you file your motion to modify or terminate maintenance, the clerk of court will schedule a court date for hearing.  Notice of this court date and a copy of the motion must be properly served upon the other party.  

Retroactive Modification of Spousal Maintenance in Illinois

Importantly, only maintenance payments due subsequent to the date of the notice of motion to modify maintenance may be modified, even if the payments came due after the change in circumstances.  This differs from the situations in which maintenance terminates automatically.  As discussed above, in these cases, any payments made after the event must be returned to the obligor.

Further Reading: If I Modify a Spousal Maintenance Order that Was Entered Prior to 2019 Will the New Law Apply?

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Modification of Spousal Maintenance in Illinois | How to Modify Alimony Orders

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