When a divorce becomes final, the court may order two types of support: spousal support (called maintenance in Illinois) and child support. Although these two types of support are often seen together in the same case, they are separate issues.
Maintenance is what one spouse pays to the other after a divorce. There are a few different types of maintenance in Illinois. Rehabilitative maintenance is what one spouse pays to the other while they get back on their feet. A common example is a wife who left the job market to raise the couple’s children. If they get divorced, the court may award her maintenance payments until she is able to find a job, or get training to re-enter the workforce. Another type of maintenance is permanent maintenance, which may be appropriate where the marriage is long and one spouse has been relying on the other’s income and is unable to support themselves. There is also temporary maintenance, which is paid while the divorce is pending. Temporary maintenance ends when the divorce becomes final.
The court looks at several factors, rather than a set formula, in determining maintenance. For example, a judge might consider the age, health, education and earning capacity of each spouse. The decision on maintenance may be made with property division in mind. For example, maybe the spouse needing support will receive property instead of maintenance payments. Each case is different, and it depends a lot on the judge. An experienced attorney can help you argue your side effectively, especially if they are familiar with the family law judges in your county and how they tend to decide these issues.
Child support is when one parent is ordered to make payments to the other parent for the support of their child. Child support can be ordered at the end of a divorce case, or in a case where the parents were not married but one parent is seeking payments from the other.
The amount of child support varies, and just like the other areas of family law, the judge has discretion in making the decision. Generally, the court will consider the financial resources of the child, the financial resources of the parents, the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not been dissolved, the physical and emotional state of the child, and the child’s educational needs. There may be additional amounts due, such as payments for all or part of medical bills, school tuition or child care.
The traditional rule is that child support ends when the child turns 18. However, continued support may be required. Some examples are when an 18-year-old is still in high school, or if the adult child is disabled and unable to support themselves or live on their own. Child support for education expenses may be ordered after high-school, for college or other professional training. Educational expenses may include tuition, books, room and board, etc.
If there is a significant change in income, such as losing a job, the parent adversely affected may ask the judge to raise or lower the child support amount. This is not an easy thing to do, and the person seeking the change needs to prove that there has been a significant change in circumstances. Similarly, the parent receiving payments may ask the court for an increase if the paying parent has had an increase in income. It’s important to note that if there is a court order for child support, the paying parent should not alter the payments without permission of the court. This is even true if you lose your job. Don’t rely on verbal agreements – get into court and have the order modified as soon as possible.
When a parent is seeking child support from a non-spouse, they may need to establish paternity before the court will order child support. This can be done in several ways, including a court-ordered paternity test, or a formal acknowledgement of paternity. A warning: signing an acknowledgement of parentage form is nothing to take lightly. For example, if a father signs the form, he will be on the hook for child support, even if it’s later determined that he is not the father of the child. It can be a good idea to get a DNA test to be certain.