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What to do if you can no longer afford to pay spousal support

Unless you and your spouse are both self-supporting, a large income discrepancy must exist between you. So, during the divorce process, Illinois courts made you, as the higher-earning spouse, pay spousal support or maintenance to ensure that your lesser-earning spouse can also preserve their lifestyle during marriage.

The judge likely determined a reasonable amount by considering a list of relevant factors, which were mainly related to your financial status at the time.

However, a lot has happened since your divorce became final. If you experienced a substantial change in your circumstances, you must have realized you cannot afford to fulfill your spousal support obligations anymore. When this happens, it is crucial that you explore your options to avoid severe consequences.

Proving substantial change of circumstances

You cannot just stop payments on your own when you deem it appropriate. If you do, you may face potential wage garnishment, license suspension, tax refund seizure and a contempt of court allegation that can result in considerable fines and jail time.

Instead, you must:

  • File a motion requesting the court to make the necessary adjustments.
  • Identify the reason for your request, such as a significant income decrease or total job loss due to your company’s downsizing or other valid reasons.
  • Gather clear and compelling evidence to support your claim that you are doing everything in good faith and not just to turn the situation in your favor.

Just like you, your spouse may face substantial changes in their life. If they remarry or cohabit with a new romantic partner, these can automatically terminate spousal support. The same default termination also applies if either of you passes on. 

Pursuing a fair decision

The ideal scenario is for you and your spouse to agree that your new financial status demands a maintenance modification, and seek the court’s approval. However, your case may not be as straightforward as you would hope. Your legal team can guide you on accurate and timely filing of paperwork to pursue just outcomes.

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