What is Alimony?

Divorce is, unfortunately, a part of life and, despite the rate of divorce being at its lowest rate since 1970, it is still a common way for marriages to end in the United States. If a divorce is being considered or is in progress, the subject of alimony will probably come up. Alimony, or spousal support, or maintenance, is when one partner gives financial support to the other, by order of the court. It is designed to address any imbalance in income between partners. The idea behind spousal support is to allow the lower-earning partner to maintain a standard of life they had during the marriage. During divorce proceedings, it is important to seek the right counsel, such as ABM Family Law. ABM are Chicago divorce attorneys and say that Illinois courts will most likely refer to alimony as spousal support.

History of Alimony

Alimony has been awarded for thousands of years. In Mesopotamia, if a husband wished to divorce his wife, he had to adhere to a section of the rules of the Code of Hammurabi:

“If a man wishes to separate from a woman who has borne him children, or from his wife who has borne him children: then he shall give that wife her dowry, and a part of the use of field, garden, and property, so that she can rear her children.”

Similarly, in Ancient Rome, gold was given by the perceived guilty party in a divorce. In her book, Medieval Women: A Social History of Women in England 450-1500, Henrietta Leyser explains how some Anglo-Saxon divorces were settled. “Pigs go to the man, sheep to the woman. Eldest and youngest son to the father, middle son to the mother.” Quite different from today’s court proceedings.

Why and How is Alimony Awarded?

Traditionally, in a heterosexual marriage, alimony has been awarded to women. Recent census statistics showed that only 3% of spouses receiving maintenance were men. There are several reasons for this, chiefly the social dynamics and gender inequality that have existed in the U.S. Traditionally, women were expected to forego a career to raise children or be homemakers. If the female in the marriage did have a job it was often lower paid, mainly due to the gender pay gap.

Awarding alimony can be a complicated process. The Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act (in Illinois, the Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act) is the basis for many courts decisions on awarding spousal support. It takes a number of things into consideration:

  • Each spouse’s income and assets, including property
  • The age, and physical and mental condition of the spouses
  • The standard of living during the marriage.
  • The length of the marriage
  • The employment status of the spouse seeking support – this also includes training or education to obtain employment and the ability to support themselves financially
  • The ability of the spouse to provide alimony payments while being able to support themselves financially.

The judge in the case has discretion over who is awarded alimony, how much, and for how long. If a monthly amount is awarded and the spouse fails to pay, the recipient can file a motion for enforcement. Similarly, if circumstances change, alimony can be reduced or removed. If the spouse receiving payments remarries or cohabits with a new partner, or if either spouse becomes seriously ill or dies, alimony can be automatically terminated. In the last decade or so, alimony rates are falling due to shifting attitudes and social dynamics, including more equality in relationships and earnings. However, alimony remains common, and it is important to be aware of it and its implications.

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