Parents make countless sacrifices for their children. Sometimes these sacrifices include their careers. These sacrifices aren’t always bitter. While you’re married, you may be happy to give up your job to stay home with your children and help them grow. But a divorce can recast your decision in a whole new light.

You may suddenly find yourself faced with the prospect of supporting yourself. This can be a scary thing if you’ve spent years out of the workforce. And you might find yourself wondering about alimony—or as Illinois calls it, “maintenance.”

Who receives maintenance?

Maintenance isn’t a given. Whenever the court receives a request for maintenance, it first checks to see if the award would be appropriate. Per the law, the court will make its decision based on more than a dozen factors, which include:

  • Each party’s income and assets
  • Each party’s financial needs
  • Your earning potential
  • Any impact that your marriage had on your earning potential
  • The length of your marriage
  • Your age, health and ability to work
  • The quality of life you had enjoyed while married

If you didn’t sign a prenuptial agreement that limited your right to maintenance, your decision to step out of the workforce to care for your children may strengthen your request. But the court will weigh it against the whole of the picture.

What happens next?

If the court decides you should receive maintenance, it will then decide how much you should receive—and for how long. In most cases, the process is quite formulaic:

  • Unless you and your spouse had enjoyed a combined annual income of $500,000 or more, the law says your maintenance should equal 33.33% of your spouse’s net income minus 25% of your net income. Of course, there are exceptions. There’s an exception if your ex owes child or spousal support from an earlier marriage, and there’s one if your award would raise your income above a certain threshold.
  • Similarly, the law sets forth a schedule for the duration of maintenance awards. The longer you were married, the longer you should receive maintenance. For example, if you were married for five years, you might receive maintenance for one. If you were married for ten years, you’d receive maintenance for nearly four-and-a-half.

Judges have a little freedom to make their awards differently. However, when they do, they need to explain why they found the standard guidelines weren’t appropriate.

Protecting your interests

Should you receive alimony? Are the standard guidelines appropriate? Things can quickly get tricky, and you may need skilled guidance if your marriage involves business ownership or incomes that can vary. It’s important that the judge sees the whole picture clearly before making an award.