The Shared Income Model to Child Support Arrives in Illinois
Child Support in Illinois is undergoing a major change, effective on July 1st of 2017. The new law scraps the old approach, which was calculated based upon a percentage of net income of the parent who pays. The new child support law will instead operate on a 'shared income approach'. Child support is now going to be based on 'the parent's combined adjusted net income estimated to have been allocated to the child if the parents and children were living in an intact household'. 750 ILCS 5/505(a)(1)(D). Whereas before, the income of the non-paying parent was ignored, that is no longer the case.
So what does that mean? This new approach is based partially on family- specific facts (what do the mother and father each actually earn?) and in part on guidelines put out by the Illinois Department of Health Care and Family services. These guidelines are based on what parents in Illinois - with the combined in come of the parties- ordinarily spend on their kids when living within the same household. In other words, what the state says parents with a household income of y spend annually on x number of children, that dollar amount becomes the base figure. This has nothing to do with what your family actually has spent or has available to spend, on your kids. Once this base figure is determined, the formula looks at what is earned by mom and what is earned by dad, to determine child support based on the respective percentages. To make things even messier, if each parent has 146 or more overnights with a child, the basic child support obligation is multiplied by 1.5 to calculate the shared obligation. The nightmare is coming as some- certainly not all- parents will focus on those 146 nights for financial reasons, which is going to add to the already complex task of finalizing an agreement as to parenting time.
How does spousal support factor into child support?
Spousal support is factored in. The new law says that spousal maintenance received (when there is a court order) IS income, for child support purposes. This avoids an unfair outcome if someone has to pay both spousal support (which used to be called alimony) and child support. Likewise, social security disability and retirement benefits are included in income, but some other public benefits and child support received for another child are not considered income.
How does the law deal with unemployed parents?
If a parent is unemployed or underemployed, the law takes that into account too and can use 75% of the poverty guidelines. At minimum, $40 a month child support will be set by the courts. No child living in the United States can be supported on $40.00 a month so it will be up to the other parent to pick up the slack.
No child support laws are perfect, and Illinois' new law is no exception
How is this going to play out? Time will tell but one of the many problems that I see is that the parents are no longer going to be living within the same household, a reality ignored by the new law. There will be two housing payments to finance (typically one mortgage and then one rent payment elsewhere). There will be two sets of utility bills, two refrigerators that need stocking, etc. Income doesn't double just because what was one household is now split in two. Add to this the fact that lawyers are not cheap and the parents are incurring legal bills while the divorce is going on. Therefore, it is not realistic to expect that the kids can and will have the same amount of parental money going around that they had in their formerly intact household. Money is tight during and after divorce, for most families. How families will adjust is yet to be seen and yet, there is definitely something to be said for taking both parents income into account. The most common complaint that I have heard in my 20 plus years handling divorces, is that child support only ever took one parent's income into consideration. Some people will win under the new law, some will lose.