Understanding the new formula in Illinois for Spousal Support (also known as maintenance, formerly known as alimony) isn’t enough if child support is also a part of your divorce. Under the new law that took effect on January 1, 2015 in Illinois, spousal support is calculated using a formula. This is quite a change from how maintenance used to be calculated which is to say that there was no way to calculate it. Spousal maintenance just was whatever the parties agreed that it would be or whatever amount the judge felt was appropriate. Because of its unpredictability, the law changed to align spousal support more closely to the way that child support works. But what happens when a divorcing couple has two formulas to consider: one for child support and one for maintenance? Maintenance payments have to be subtracted from income in order to calculate child support, which reduces the amount of child support being paid.
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Let us assume that father is the one who pays child and maintenance, although certainly that is not always the case. If there is one child, child support guidelines have him pay 20% of his net income. That means that from his gross (before tax) income, certain things are subtracted out like taxes, social security, health insurance, etc. to arrive at the net income which is considered for child support. From that net income amount, 20% is then calculated to arrive at the amount that he has to pay to his ex-wife for child support. But now if the court also determines that he has to pay spousal support to her, the net income will change for purposes of calculating child support. His net income will be reduced by the amount of maintenance that he has to pay. For example, if the husband has been ordered to pay $500.00 per pay period to his ex-wife, then $500 is subtracted before child support is calculated, which will significantly reduce the starting point for child support.
The effect of this rule is to avoid what could amount to financial ruin for many people who have to pay both spousal support and child support. If the two formulas are taken in a vacuum, what is left for the person paying? Depending on the income and how much spousal support turns out to be under the new calculations, the answer could be “not much”. It only makes sense that one will offset the other. While some critics say that this will leave less money for the child, at the end of the day it all goes into the same purse and as we have always done, we must trust that the recipient of child support will do what parents are supposed to do and use all of their available resources to improve the lives of their children.