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Divorcing couples, listen up. Under SB 3231 (Public Act 098-0961), the law is about to change in Illinois when it comes to spousal support in divorce cases. Maintenance, or what used to be called alimony, is the requirement of one spouse to support another, after divorce. This is completely different from child support. Under the existing law, maintenance isn’t a given. A variety of circumstances will make the lesser earning spouse either a good candidate for spousal support, or not. That won’t change. What will change is how maintenance is calculated both in terms of how much support will get paid, and for how long. Right now, it’s all over the place. The parties pick numbers that they like and negotiate. The lawyers help close the gap. Judges are required to consider the whole picture but there is no actual formula. Effective January 1, 2015, that will change.
Under Illinois’ new law, once it is determined that spousal support is appropriate, a formula is used. The courts are supposed to use the "guidelines" or else have a good reason for deviating. The person who pays spousal support is called the ‘payor’ and the person who receives the maintenance is called the ‘payee’. The calculation goes like this: Take 30% of the payor’s gross income. Subtract from that 20% of the payee’s gross income. This gives you the total amount of annual maintenance per year, although in Illinois, maintenance is usually paid monthly. So, divide the annual amount by 12 to get the monthly maintenance amount under the new guidelines.
There is a catch, or a cap. The annual amount cannot be more than 40% of the combined gross incomes, when it is added to the payee’s gross income. If it is, it must be reduced to meet the 40%. Confusing, I know- your lawyer will do the math & save you the headache.
The divorce laws are also changing by establishing how long maintenance is supposed to last. Right now, before the change, it is pretty much random and it ends up being whatever length gets negotiated or whatever the judge feels like giving out. Under the new bill, there is a formula for determining the length which is dependent upon how many years the couple have been married. The shorter the marriage, the less time maintenance will last. Once a couple hits the 20 year or longer mark, the courts can either make spousal support permanent, or equal to the length of the marriage. That’s a long time.
A few final caveats:
- The formula applies to couples whose combined household incomes are $250,000 or less.
- Courts will now be able to bar maintenance once it ends. That means that once the term for paying maintenance is over, it can really be over. Under today's law, maintenance is reviewable and modifiable unless the parties agreed otherwise.
- After passing both houses, our governor signed the bill on August 15, 2015. It takes effect on January 1, 2015.
- The formula for child support is a percentage but doesn't yet take into account both parties' income. It may do so in the future.
If you are going to be getting divorced in Illinois, you should know about this as it helps you to prepare for divorce. Again, maintenance is not going to happen in every case. After discussing your unique circumstances, an experienced divorce lawyer can give you a pretty good idea as to whether or not spousal support will be an issue for you or not. We are located in Schaumburg and Itasca and look forward to talking to you soon about any concerns you might have over spousal support and other divorce issues. Call us at 630 250-8813 to schedule a consultation.