Alimony vs Spousal Support | What is the Difference in Illinois

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Alimony vs Spousal Support
Alimony vs Spousal Support

Alimony vs Spousal Support – What’s the Difference in Illinois?

Quick Answer:

There is no difference between alimony, spousal support, or maintenance in Illinois. They are all terms that represent the legal concept of maintenance – which is support for a spouse during or after a divorce.

Alimony vs Spousal Support – Is there a difference from maintenance?

In Illinois, alimony and spousal support are interchangeable terms. Both are often how non-lawyers refer to a financial award that is paid by one spouse to the other during or after a divorce. In fact, there is no difference between alimony and spousal support as far as marital agreements go because they are not legal terms. The technical legal term in Illinois is maintenance and the law defining maintenance can be reviewed here: 750 ILCS 5/504.

Alimony vs Spousal Support – which lasts longer in Illinois?

The standard answer to any legal question is “it depends.” For alimony, spousal support, or maintenance in Illinois, there are two potential lengths of support:

Temporary Maintenance: if the divorce has been filed but has not been finished, one spouse can ask the other spouse to pay temporary maintenance (aka temporary alimony or spousal support). This temporary alimony or spousal support can be awarded for the duration of the divorce process.

Final Maintenance: at the time of the final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage (aka the day of the divorce) the Court can award maintenance in an amount it deems appropriate or under a formula. The formula is detailed in the chart below, but the basic concept is that the length of marriage is calculated by the length of time between the date of marriage and the date the petition for divorce was filed. Final maintenance awards can range from 1 year (or less) to permanent. The Court can also reduce the award based on the duration of temporary maintenance, but it does not have to.

Alimony vs Spousal Support
Alimony vs Spousal Support

When does spousal maintenance terminate in Illinois?

When will payments of maintenance end? These are the most common times:

Completion of Payment Term – if maintenance was ordered for a period of months or years, when that period ends so do the payments (example: 5 years of maintenance, paid monthly, ends after the 60th payment)

Remarriage of Recipient – if the person receiving maintenance remarries then maintenance will terminate.

Death of Recipient – if the person receiving maintenance dies, then maintenance will terminate.

Maintenance can also be modified under appropriate circumstances.

How is spousal maintenance calculated in Illinois?

If a Court determines that alimony/maintenance should be paid and if the couple earns a combined net income of $500,000 per year or less, then Illinois law establishes a rebuttable presumption that a formula will be used. A rebuttable presumption means that a judge is likely to use the formula, unless unique circumstances are presented that convince the judge that application of the guideline formula would be inappropriate.  The higher earner is called the payor (the one who pays) and the lower earner is called the payee (the one who is paid). Net income is used for the formula, which is your income after taxes and allowed deductions.

Per the formula, the first step is to calculate ⅓ (33%) of the payor’s annual net income. The second step is to calculate ¼ (25%) of the payee’s annual net income. Then subtract the resulting 25% of the payee’s net income from the 33% of the payor’s net income. However, there is a cap on the maintenance allowed. Specifically, the amount awarded cannot cause the payee to have more than 40% of the couple’s combined net income.

The Court has the authority to deviate from these numbers, but this formula can serve as a guideline as to what to expect if your combined net income is less than $500,000 annually.


Alimony vs Spousal Support is not really any issue. Technically support paid to an ex-spouse is called maintenance in Illinois, but non-lawyers often call it alimony or spousal support.