Can a Judge Order Me to Get a Job During a Divorce in Illinois?

By Heather Frances J.D.

Divorce causes many changes in the spouses’ lives -- sometimes even employment changes. Spouses who previously stayed at home may find themselves in need of a job, and other spouses may want to take a lesser paying job to avoid paying child support or alimony. While an Illinois court cannot directly order a spouse to get a job, a judge can use orders to encourage both spouses to obtain employment.

Rehabilitative Alimony

Illinois courts can award rehabilitative alimony, called rehabilitative maintenance, to a spouse who needs extra time and resources to become self-sufficient. For example, if a spouse needs additional education or training to re-enter the workforce, the court can award a set amount of alimony for a specific period of time to help the spouse obtain employment. Although a judge cannot order the receiving spouse to get a job, he can set the rehabilitative maintenance for a certain period of time and terminate it if the spouse does not show a good faith effort to take steps to allow her to support herself.

Long-Term Maintenance

It is not always possible for one spouse to become self-supporting or to support herself at the same standard she experienced during the marriage. In these cases, Illinois courts can award long term, or permanent, maintenance. For example, when a spouse is disabled to the extent that she cannot work or can only earn a small income, the court may decide that this spouse should not have the burden to support herself and may award permanent alimony. In such cases, the receiving spouse is not expected to obtain employment.

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Maintenance Payments

Sometimes, a divorcing spouse may decide he would rather quit his job than pay maintenance to his ex-spouse. Courts generally frown on spouses who are intentionally unemployed or underemployed to avoid maintenance obligations. Since maintenance amounts are up to the judge’s discretion, rather than being determined by a set formula, an Illinois judge can consider the spouse's intentional lack of a job when setting a maintenance award. While the court cannot order the unemployed spouse to get a job, the court can award an amount just as high as it would have awarded if the unemployed spouse had a job.

Child Support

Illinois courts can also “impute” income to an unemployed or underemployed spouse for child support purposes. When the court imputes income to a parent, it makes a child-support award as if the parent earned that amount, even though the parent actually earned less. Typically, the court will calculate child support based on the income which that parent had earned in the past. For example, if a parent quits his job or takes fewer hours in an attempt to lessen his child-support obligations, the court can award child support as though that parent were fully employed.

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What Happens if Someone Quits Jobs in the Middle of a Divorce?


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