Many U.S. households depend primarily or exclusively on one partner’s earnings to meet their financial needs. This commonly occurs in households where one spouse assumes a full-time child care role, or if one spouse is unable to work because of a disability. In cases of these single-earnings households, what happens to the lower or no earning partner after divorce?
Temporary vs. Permanent Alimony
When one spouse voluntarily withdraws from the workforce for child care or other reasons, the higher-earning spouse may agree to provide temporary financial assistance, called alimony or spousal support, until the lower earning spouse is able to secure more lucrative employment. Such terms may be designated in a divorce settlement or an order made by a family law judge following divorce litigation. Terms of an alimony award may include health insurance premiums, a monthly payment to meet living expenses, and a financial contribution towards employment-related training.
In other cases where one partner is unable to return to work because of a disability, the court may award permanent alimony to the disabled spouse. A court will look at factors such as the length of the marriage, the lifestyle to which parties are accustomed, and the health and earning capacity of each partner when choosing whether to award permanent alimony. Permanent alimony does exist, but is becoming less common in Illinois.
Factors for Awarding Permanent Alimony
Generally, permanent alimony can be awarded in circumstances in which:
1. The lower-earning spouse has a disability that prevents him or her from being unable to work; or
2. The lower-earning spouse has an adverse vocational profile that makes him or her unlikely to be hired in today’s workforce.
When determining whether permanent alimony should be awarded, the court will not consider whether it is possible for the lower-earning spouse to go back to work. Rather, the court will examine whether it is unlikely that the lower-earning spouse will be able to secure sustainable employment. Permanent alimony is usually awarded in cases where the lower-earning spouse is approaching retirement age and when that spouse lacks formal education, employment training or substantial employment experience. Permanent alimony may be awarded to spouses who are in imperfect health but do not necessarily have conditions that rise to the level of impairment required for federal disability benefit eligibility.
Federal Disability Benefits and Permanent Alimony
If a lower-earning spouse qualifies for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI )benefits from the Social Security Administration, the lower-earning spouse may still be eligible to collect an alimony payment from the higher-earning spouse. In fact, the higher-earning spouse may request the lower-earning spouse apply for SSDI benefits during divorce settlement negotiations in order to offset a potential alimony award.
Our Attorneys Can Help You Through This Process
If you would like to seek permanent alimony benefits or help in opposing a spouse’s request for either short- or long-term alimony, we encourage you to contactthe experienced team of Illinois family law attorneys at Kathryn L. Harry & Associates, P.C. as soon as practicable. We are happy to discuss standards for attaining permanent alimony as well as other alternatives that might be available such as modifiable long-term temporary alimony arrangements. Call our Oak Brook, Illinois office at (877) 889-4515 for more information.