The Chicago Family Law Blog

How Courts Determine Alimony

Divorce is an expensive process and when courts determine alimony, the costs can continue for a long time.

Despite what you may think, alimony is, in most cases, fairly determined by a neutral party -- namely, the judge who knows neither you nor your spouse. He or she is making a decision based on non-personal factors.

What kind of factors would those be? Illinois courts have a list of things they consider when determining alimony payments.

Facts About the Marriage

Some of the considerations look at the history of your marriage. That includes the length of time you were married and your standard of living.

In general, courts try to ensure that both spouses can continue living at the standard that existed during the marriage. Alimony paid from the higher earning spouse to the lower earning spouse is often the way to accomplish that.

Facts About Each Spouse

The lower earning capacity of one spouse isn't necessarily a guarantee for higher alimony payments. Courts want to see why one spouse earns less.

For example, if that spouse gave up career opportunities and earning capacity to provide child care or other domestic duties, then courts will generally provide more alimony to make up for that inequality.

The same is true if the alimony-requesting spouse made contributions in terms of money or other resources to the other spouse's education or training.

At the same time, if the lower earning spouse can quickly increase earning capacity or become self-supporting, the court may decide alimony isn't appropriate. Which spouse will provide primary care for any children and the children's ages are also important.

Things That Aren't a Factor

Some states allow marital conduct to be part of the consideration, but Illinois isn't one of them. Courts don't include facts about infidelity, fault, or blame in their determination of alimony.

The goal in all aspects of divorce is to ensure that everything is fairly divided between the two parties. Alimony seeks to compensate non-financial contributions made by one spouse that benefitted the other.

If you have more questions about alimony and divorce, you can always ask an experienced family lawyer. If you don't have one yet, join the discussion at FindLaw's Answers Forum for a quick response from our community of online contributors.

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