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Closing the Pay Gap Through Spousal Maintenance

Closing the Pay Gap Through Spousal Maintenance

By: M. Scott Gordon

Nearly 40 years have passed since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Orr v. Orr made clear that state statutes must be gender-neutral when it comes to spousal maintenance, and thus cannot require only men to pay alimony in the event of divorce. But given what we know about the pay gap, do women in heterosexual marriages ever end up making maintenance payments to their ex-husbands? According to a recent article in Time Magazine, pushes toward alimony reform across the country and shifts in the payor and payee spouse suggest that the gender pay gap may in fact be closing—or at least is not as stark as it once was.

Illinois’s Spousal Maintenance Formula 

We have previously discussed Illinois’s spousal maintenance formula, which became a standard under law relatively recently. Yet to understand whether the gender pay gap is indeed made obvious through alimony statistics, it is important to get a brief reminder of how spousal maintenance is calculated in Illinois. To begin with, the formula applies for spouses with a combined gross income of less than $250,000, according to an article from the Illinois State Bar Association. Then, the formula works like this:

  • Maintenance award = 30 percent of the payor’s gross income minus 20 percent of the payee’s gross income.

The maintenance award cannot exceed 40 percent of the combined gross income of the payor and payee. The formula assumes that the spouse making more money will be the payor spouse. So, in a hypothetical example, we can assume that the payor spouse has an annual gross income of $100,000 and the payee spouse has an annual gross income of $20,000. Under the formula, the payee spouse’s maintenance award would be 30 percent of $100,000 ($30,000) minus 20 percent of $20,000 ($4,000) for an award of $26,000 annually.

Effects of the Pay Gap on Spousal Maintenance

In a majority of situations involving heterosexual married couples, the ex-husband is the payor spouse while the ex-wife is the payee spouse. According to a report from the American Association of University Women (AAUW), this discrepancy results in large part from the gender pay gap, which is larger among older adults.

What is the gender pay gap? In short, it is the term that refers to the statistical evidence that men earn more than women for the same work. According to the AAUW report, the gap is smaller among younger Americans, “women typically earn about 90 percent of what men are paid until they hit 35.”  However, the gap widens significantly as we look at older generations, where “median earnings for women are typically 76-81 percent of what men are paid.”

Yet as the article in Time Magazine suggests, younger generations of women are paying alimony more frequently than did women in older generations, and those women tend to be among the ones pushing for alimony reform in various states. The article suggests that women who are making spousal maintenance payments tend to be “more outraged” than men who pay spousal maintenance, and thus many of those women are driving forces behind reform initiatives. But more importantly, the article intimates that those moves toward reform reflect a closing of the gender pay gap.

If you have questions about spousal maintenance in Illinois, a dedicated Chicago divorce attorney can assist with your case. Contact M. Scott Gordon & Associates today to discuss your situation.