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Can I Accidentally Terminate My Alimony In Illinois?

Updated on
January 13, 2021
Article written by
Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty

This article will discuss how a divorced individual might inadvertently terminate their alimony (now called maintenance) in Illinois. We will answer the following questions:


  • How is alimony calculated in Illinois?
  • How long does alimony last in Illinois?
  • What actions cause the termination of alimony in Illinois?
  • Can my actions before the divorce affect alimony?


Other than child custody, the portion of divorce proceedings that couples usually fight over the most is alimony. Alimony, now referred to as maintenance, is a type of court-ordered payment awarded to a spouse or former spouse under a separation or divorce agreement. Often, one spouse makes more money than the other, and alimony payments are meant to help bridge the gap between the divorce and becoming financially self-sufficient. 


Many divorcees rely on maintenance payments to survive. When a couple is married for many years, and only one of them earns an income, it can be difficult for the other spouse to enter the workforce and generate an income on par with what they enjoyed while married. For this reason, it’s crucial to avoid behavior that would cause sudden and unexpected termination of alimony.


How Is Alimony Calculated In Illinois?


Ideally, the alimony arrangement is hammered out by the two parties during negotiation. If the couple can’t come to an agreement on maintenance payments, then the judge will make the final decision. If a prenuptial agreement exists, the court will follow its edict.


The court takes many factors into account when determining maintenance payments. Beyond looking at the numbers of years married and comparing the income of each spouse, the court reviews the following:


  • Marital and non-marital properties;
  • The needs and lifestyle of both spouses leading up to the divorce;
  • The current and future earning potential of both spouses;
  • Whether one spouse put their career on hold at the expense of running the household;
  • Any potential for future impairment of either spouse to earn an income;
  • Age, job skills, employability, and physical health of both spouses;
  • Tax consequences related to the divorce; 
  • Amount of time one spouse may need to secure job training to become employable; and
  • Any other factor the court finds just and relevant to determining maintenance.


How Long Does Alimony Last In Illinois?


Alimony is meant to enable one spouse to continue living a similar standard of life after divorce until they have the means to support themself. However, some situations may necessitate an extended or permanent period of maintenance; these include but are not limited to:


  • A prenuptial agreement was signed that indicates one spouse receives permanent alimony. Typically, such an arrangement would include specific criteria;
  • One spouse is too old or medically unable to gain employment, or employment would pose a significant health risk to the spouse; or
  • One spouse is permanently disabled, and the disability prohibits them from working.


The Illinois divorce court system tends to hand down rulings that allow both spouses to maintain a lifestyle that is equal and as close to their pre-divorce lifestyle as possible.


What Actions Cause The Termination Of Alimony In Illinois?


There are certain actions that clearly spell the end of maintenance payments, and still others with flexible interpretations. If an ex-spouse depends on maintenance payments, it is wise to understand what constitutes a “terminating action fully.” Common reasons for terminating alimony include:


  • The ex-spouse receiving maintenance begins bringing in the same or more income;
  • The recipient remarries;
  • The paying spouse dies, and there is no language in the will to continue payments;
  • The recipient fails to make an honest effort at supporting themself;
  • The recipient is cohabitating;


As one can see, these reasons leave room for interpretation. In nearly all cases, an ex-spouse must initiate legal action if they believe maintenance payments should be modified or terminated. 


Cohabitating offers the greatest chance for an ex-spouse to run afoul of the alimony rules unknowingly. Illinois courts will generally terminate an alimony agreement if an ex-spouse is living with another person in a “resident, continuing conjugal basis.” Conjugal generally means “marriage-like.” Roommates sharing rent are clearly excluded from this definition. Below are some of the factors the court uses to determine if a relationship is marriage-like:


  • How interrelated their personal affairs are;
  • If they vacation together;
  • The length of their relationship;
  • How much time they spend together;
  • The nature of activities s they engage in together; and
  • If they spend holidays together.


Can My Actions Before The Divorce Affect Alimony?


Illinois is an “equitable division” state, meaning that your actions during the marriage have little to no legal bearing on the divorce negotiations. However, if the case goes to litigation, the judge will ultimately decide the fate of the marital assets. Specific behavior can reflect poor judgment and might sway the judge’s decision one way or another. Furthermore, suppose one spouse begins living with another person before the divorce is finalized, or uses money from a joint banking account in the new relationship. In that case, the court might rule that these actions prohibit the spouse from collecting alimony. 


In general, it’s best to wait until after a divorce is finalized to consider moving in with a romantic partner. It would help if you were not afraid to pursue your romantic interests, but you must understand the consequences associated with certain actions. If you’re not sure how something might affect your alimony payments, reach out to one of our divorce attorneys. They can answer all your questions. To learn more about how cohabitation can affect your alimony payments, check out this article.


Can I Accidentally Terminate My Alimony In Illinois?
Author

Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty

Kevin O’Flaherty is a graduate of the University of Iowa and Chicago-Kent College of Law. He has experience in litigation, estate planning, bankruptcy, real estate, and comprehensive business representation.

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