Once spousal support is finalized as part of a divorce agreement, people sometimes think it’s set in stone and can never be changed. That’s not the case. Many life events can justify a change in spousal support, whether increasing, decreasing, or suspending it altogether. Here’s what you need to know about changing spousal support in Chicago.

What Is Spousal Support?

Spousal support, also known as alimony, is the amount one spouse pays to the other after divorce. In Illinois, spousal support may be awarded if one spouse earns significantly less than the other or has been out of the workforce for a while, such as a stay-at-home parent. The underlying rationale for spousal support is to help the spouse that may initially struggle financially to get back on their feet and hopefully become self-supporting.

Spousal support is not a given. However, Illinois courts look at several factors when determining whether or not to award it. These are several examples of those factors:

  • Each spouse’s financial situation, including all forms of income and the potential for future income.
  • How the assets will be divided.
  • If one spouse is out of the workforce, what the potential is for them to get a job that could support them, and if they need to acquire additional education or training to do so. This includes situations with young children, where one spouse will largely stay home to care for them or only work part-time.
  • How long the marriage lasted, and the standard of living each spouse enjoyed during the marriage.
  • Tax obligations caused by the division of assets.
  • Pre- or post-nuptial agreements.

One situation that’s not grounds for spousal support: Marital misconduct. Illinois law explicitly states that spousal support will not be awarded if one party acted improperly during the marriage, such as engaging in extramarital affairs. The support is only awarded for financial circumstances, not as a punitive measure.

What Are Some Situations in Which Spousal Support Could be Modified?

As noted above, the courts won’t always award spousal support, nor will they automatically agree to change it. If one spouse wants to change it but can’t provide a solid reason to do so, the courts will likely leave the support as it is. It’s not enough to simply want to change the support, whether increase or decrease. There will usually have to be a change in circumstances on one side or the other to justify it. That can include:

  • Change in the cost of living.
  • Either spouse has a sizable increase in income after the divorce.
  • One spouse loses their job or has their pay decreased. Note: The court will look closely at the situation to determine if this is a good faith situation (as in, the spouse lost their job involuntarily, such as in a mass layoff) rather than the spouse deliberately trying to reduce their income in order to avoid paying the other spouse.
  • One spouse has become disabled and is no longer able to work or can only work part-time.
  • One spouse has moved in with someone else or remarried. Illinois is one of only a few states that automatically ends spousal support when the spouse being supported begins living with a new partner, married or not. This doesn’t apply to roommate situations but to new partnerships.
  • Death of one spouse.

It’s crucial to know that Illinois courts expect the spouse to receive the support to make honest efforts to become self-supporting. There are cases where that can’t happen for various reasons, but those reasons must be provable to the court. If the spouse paying the support feels the other spouse isn’t making a good faith effort to become self-supporting, they should talk to a spousal support attorney about the next steps.

Is There a Spousal Support Agreement that Can’t Be Modified?

It’s rare, but it is possible. The courts aren’t allowed to order it. A spousal support agreement can only be set up if both spouses agree and ask the courts to finalize it that way.

What Is the Process for Modifying a Spousal Support Agreement?

It starts with the spouse who wants the change filing a motion with the court that issued the order in the first place. This motion needs to detail the specific reasons and circumstances for the modification being requested. Having a spousal support attorney involved in drawing up the motion is highly recommended, as they’ll have experience and understand what will or won’t likely be accepted by the court.

Once the motion is filed, a hearing will be scheduled. Notice of that hearing and its purpose will be served to the other spouse. Both parties have the opportunity to attend and give their arguments for and against changing the agreement. The hearing can be canceled if both parties agree to the change or terminate the support agreement in writing.
Note that until the agreement is modified, spousal support needs must still be made on time.

What Should I Do if I’d Like to Modify a Spousal Support Agreement?

Call the Law Offices of Robert Buchanan at 312-757-4833 for a no-obligation free consultation. We can look at your specific situation and help determine what the best approach would be and if it’s possible to request the court to accept the requested changes. Our team of experienced, knowledgeable spousal support attorneys will work to achieve the best outcome possible for you.