Marriage as an institution is still firmly rooted in traditional family notions. The ceremony itself is rife with symbolism of two becoming one, with knots being tied together or two candles simultaneously lighting a single candle. The law treats marriage the same way, in many instances treating each spouse not as separate legal entities, but treating the marriage as a single enterprise.
Many portions of divorce are also rooted in traditional ideas, some of them antiquated. In the past, it was a foregone conclusion that the woman’s role in the marriage was that of homemaker and mother. If she had a job, it was a menial task such as working in a typing pool. In the event of divorce, it was an accepted fact that the husband would be paying alimony (or spousal support, or, in Illinois, spousal maintenance) to the wife.
Since these bygone days, the world has changed. Women have made great strides in closing the education and income gap. Women are more and more commonly entering relationships with men who earn significantly less than them. Another phenomenon is that of the stay-at-home dad. Men are increasingly staying home to raise children and keep the home while their wives earn the family’s income.
What does this mean for spousal maintenance? In some cases, it means that it is a non-issue. The purpose of spousal maintenance is to ease the lesser-earning spouse into single life by providing financial support. This could be to allow the spouse to pursue an education, or to facilitate the search for a new job. However, if the two spouses are earning the same amount, then there will be a lesser disparity in either spouse’s ability to maintain their lives post-divorce. This can effectively take the issue of spousal maintenance right off of the table, which would likely be inoffensive to both parties.
But what of the woman who earns more than her husband? Family law judges will look to disparity in income, amongst many other factors, in awarding maintenance. Increasingly, women are being ordered to support their ex-husbands post-divorce. This could be seen as a blow for women’s rights, but it could also be offensive depending on the circumstances of the split. If the divorce was occasioned by an unfaithful husband, having to pay maintenance to that same husband might not sit well. As the Huffington Post opines, the court may order a lump-sum payment. If a periodical maintenance payment is ordered, that payment obligation ends upon the marriage or cohabitation of the spouse receiving payment. However, if a lump-sum payment is ordered, and the husband quickly remarries or cohabitates, feelings could be hurt.
No matter how you feel about these modern issues, spousal maintenance is a fact of life for most divorcees. However, maintenance can be changed after the decree, due to hardship or changed circumstances. An experienced DuPage County family lawyer can help you to handle your case to best fit your needs. If you are contemplating divorce, contact Sullivan Taylor, Gumina & Palmer, P.C. today.