The Penalties for Not Paying Alimony in Illinois

By John Cromwell

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In Illinois, alimony is known as spousal maintenance and is an important tool for ensuring that former spouses can maintain their lifestyle after a divorce. In Illinois, failure to pay spousal maintenance can invoke significant penalties. Prior to pursuing a remedy through courts, it may be a good idea for an ex-spouse not receiving payment to speak to her former spouse first. Attempting to resolve the issue outside of court may save both time and expense, and result in the ex-spouse receiving her maintenance payments faster.

Maintenance Basics

The general purpose of maintenance is to support an ex-spouse while she obtains the skills and resources to provide for herself. A maintenance order in Illinois may be imposed when a couple divorces, and is subject to several factors and the judge’s discretion. Three of the most important criteria considered are the length of the marriage, existence of children and whether one spouse has limited work experience. Although the duration of maintenance depends on the circumstances of each case, permanent maintenance is rare. How much a spouse pays depends on his salary and the needs of the other spouse. Maintenance is not influenced by either spouse’s marital misconduct.

Petition to Show Cause

To sue an ex-spouse for not paying maintenance, the recipient must file a Petition to Show Cause with the court that issued the original maintenance order. The petition must explain how the paying ex-spouse did not comply with the court’s maintenance order. The suing ex-spouse will also have to disclose her personal finances to the court and notify her ex of the hearing. If the ex-spouse being sued does not attend the hearing, the court will try to get him to appear or may find him in contempt. If the ex-spouse is placed in contempt, he may have an order of body attachment placed on him which will lead to his arrest. If an ex-spouse can prove he either did not violate the order, or purposely violate the order, the court will generally not penalize him. An ex-spouse may not purposely violate an order if his circumstances, such as losing his job, made it impossible for him to make payments.


If a court finds that a former spouse did not comply with a maintenance order and lacks a good reason why, he will be found in contempt of court. Based on the severity of the issue, the judge can levy a fine or jail time on the ex-spouse. The penalty may also include paying for the other side’s court costs, interest on what is owed, and extending the duration of how long the ex-spouse has to pay maintenance. The judge may also decide to deduct future spousal maintenance directly from the payer’s wages, bank accounts and tax refunds, to be paid directly to the former spouse.

Criminal Offense

Willfully refusing to pay maintenance can also be considered a criminal offense. Under Illinois’s Non-Support Punishment Act, any willful attempt to avoid paying maintenance is a crime that can be prosecuted by the Attorney General. Refusing to pay maintenance once is a Class A misdemeanor. Repeated refusals to pay maintenance constitute a Class 4 felony, which is punishable by one to three years in the state penitentiary and a fine of up to $25,000.