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  • Writer's pictureLori Hammer

"Spousal Support vs. Maintenance: What's the Difference?"

Family Law resolutions offer opportunities to make a fresh start and improve your life. For help with your divorce, parentage, including child support and parenting time, prenuptial or postnuptial agreements in Chicago, call Angela Larimer at 773-370-0600 or email Angela at

In the world of family law, terms like "spousal support" and "maintenance," are often used interchangeably, leading to confusion. However, these two financial arrangements are not synonymous, and understanding the distinction between them is crucial. In this post, we'll clarify the difference between spousal support and maintenance while using relatable scenarios and storytelling to illustrate the circumstances under which these arrangements come into play during divorce.

Spousal Support: The Bridge to Independence Imagine the story of Jane and David, a couple who have been married for 15 years. Jane dedicated her time to raising their two children, while David pursued a successful career. Now, as their marriage comes to an end, Jane is faced with the challenge of reentering the workforce and supporting herself.

This is where spousal support, or maintenance, comes into play. Spousal support, is designed to provide financial assistance to the lower-earning or non-earning spouse during and after the divorce. It serves as a bridge to help the supported spouse become financially self-sufficient.

Spousal support, is typically a short-term solution, designed to help the recipient spouse get back on their feet. In Jane's case, David might be ordered to pay spousal support, for a few years to enable Jane to acquire new skills or complete her education and secure stable employment. Once she is self-supporting, the spousal support, may cease.

Maintenance: Long-Term Financial Assistance Now, let's meet Sarah and Michael, who have been married for 30 years. Sarah has been a homemaker throughout their marriage, while Michael has been the primary breadwinner. In their divorce, Sarah is concerned about her long-term financial security.

For couples like Sarah and Michael, maintenance, often plays a more significant role. Maintenance, is typically a more long-term financial arrangement. It is designed to provide the lower-earning spouse with ongoing financial support even after the divorce is finalized.

Maintenance, may be ordered in cases where there is a significant disparity in income and assets between the spouses. In this scenario, Sarah might receive maintenance, to maintain a reasonable standard of living, given her limited earning potential and the long duration of the marriage.

Key Differences: Duration and Purpose The primary difference between spousal support and maintenance, lies in their duration and purpose:

  1. Spousal Support, is usually intended as short-term financial assistance to help the supported spouse regain financial independence. Its purpose is to provide temporary support, often for a limited duration.

  2. Maintenance, serves as long-term financial support and is typically ordered in cases where one spouse needs ongoing financial assistance to maintain a reasonably similar standard of living to that during the marriage.

In the world of family law, spousal support and maintenance, may seem like interchangeable terms, but they serve distinct purposes. Spousal support acts as a temporary bridge to self-sufficiency, while maintenance, provides long-term financial assistance. The specific rules and guidelines for these financial arrangements vary by jurisdiction and are often influenced by factors such as the duration of the marriage, each spouse's earning capacity, and the standard of living during the marriage.

By understanding the difference between spousal support and maintenance, individuals navigating divorce can make more informed decisions and ensure that their financial future is adequately protected.

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