Permanent Maintenance

Permanent maintenance refers to the obligation of one spouse to support the other for life. Permanent maintenance is typically available only in long-term marriages. Also, permanent maintenance is usually only awarded in cases in which there is a large disparity in the parties’ incomes or earning capacities. Permanent maintenance cases are rare and the length of the marriage is not the determining factor. The goal of any maintenance award is to enable the recipient to become financially self-sufficient with time. When there is no realistic chance that will occur, and the marriage was of a substantial duration, permanent maintenance may be appropriate.

The textbook example of a case for permanent maintenance is one in which one spouse has been the sole breadwinner for the family, the other spouse has been exclusively a homemaker for the duration of the marriage, and their children are now grown. Another example of a common case for permanent maintenance is one in which one spouse has become disabled during the marriage, and therefore has no realistic chance of becoming financially self-sufficient in the future.

In deciding whether to award permanent maintenance, the court will weigh all of the statutory factors listed in Section 504 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. Among the many factors the court may consider is the assets and liabilities awarded to the parties in the divorce case. In short, this means that in cases where there are substantial marital assets, there may be some interplay between the division of the marital estate and the amount of permanent maintenance payments to be made subsequent to the divorce. Generally speaking, the more financial resources a party has after the divorce, the less likely he or she will be to receive an award of permanent maintenance and the less substantial the award amount may be.

As the name suggests, permanent maintenance typically consists of support payments until either party dies. However, permanent maintenance is not as permanent as its name would suggest. Under Illinois law, an award of permanent maintenance may be modified or terminated pursuant to statute or an agreement. Under Section 510 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, the courts can review an award of permanent maintenance upon the occurrence of a substantial change in circumstances. For example, if the spouse receiving permanent maintenance wins the lottery or receives a large inheritance, those events might form the basis for a review of whether permanent maintenance is still required. Permanent maintenance might also be reviewed by the courts if a set of facts arises in which the spouse paying maintenance encounters a substantial, long-term diminishment in his or her ability to pay. Most commonly, this situation arises when the spouse paying maintenance retires in good faith.

Similarly, permanent maintenance is subject to outright termination upon the occurrence of any of the events described in Section 510 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. Those events are:

  • the death of either party
  • the remarriage of the spouse receiving permanent maintenance; or
  • the cohabitation of the spouse receiving maintenance on a resident, continuing conjugal basis

Because Illinois does not have any formulas or guidelines for determining when permanent maintenance is appropriate, the individual judge assigned to the case has broad discretion to decide whether the circumstances of the case warrant permanent maintenance. In cases where permanent maintenance is a possible outcome, the outcome of the divorce may have long-term financial consequences. Hiring the right attorney from the beginning is important. The attorneys at Kollias & Giese, P.C. can help you understand your rights and obligations, as well as develop effective strategies for your long-term financial well-being.