A proposed bill would change the laws about spousal maintenance awards, creating a formula for determining the amount and length of awards.
In May 2014, the Illinois legislature passed a bill that would reform the state’s spousal maintenance laws. The bill is awaiting the governor’s signature. If the bill becomes law, it would take effect January 1, 2015. Illinois residents should understand the current laws governing spousal support awards and be aware of the potential changes that could happen.
Current maintenance laws
Currently, Illinois judges have discretion regarding the amount and duration of spousal maintenance payments. If both spouses are or can be self-supporting, a judge may choose not to award maintenance to either spouse, even if there is a great disparity between the spouses’ incomes. When a judge is deciding whether to award maintenance, the judge will consider a number of factors, including:
- Each spouse’s income and property
- Each spouse’s financial needs
- Each spouse’s current and future earning capacity
- Diminished earning capacity of either spouse because of time away from work to take care of domestic duties, or delay or foregoing of education or training because of the marriage
- The length of time it will take a spouse seeking maintenance to obtain training or education to become self-supporting
- The standard of living the couple established during the marriage
- How long the marriage lasted
- Each spouse’s age, health and emotional condition
- The tax implications from the property division for each spouse
- Whether the spouse seeking maintenance made a contribution to the other spouse’s career, education or training
- Whether the spouses had an agreement regarding maintenance
- Any other factors the court deems relevant
Proposed changes to maintenance awards
Many critics have noted that the current law makes predicting maintenance awards almost impossible, since there is little continuity in maintenance awards. The proposed bill would institute a formula for calculating maintenance awards, and thus standardizing them. For spouses whose combined gross income is $250,000 or less, the court will take 30 percent of the paying spouse’s gross monthly income and subtract 20 percent of the recipient spouse’s gross monthly income to determine the amount of the award. However, the amount of maintenance plus the recipient spouse’s monthly income cannot exceed 40 percent of the couple’s combined gross monthly income. The judge can depart from the amount called for by the formula, if circumstances warrant it based on an analysis of the current maintenance factors.
Additionally, the bill would tie the duration of maintenance payments to the length of the marriage. To calculate the length of maintenance awards, the judge will multiply the number of years of the marriage by a fraction that increases as the length of marriage increases:
- 0-5 years: 0.20
- 5-10 years: 0.40
- 10-15 years: 0.60
- 15-20 years: 0.80
For marriages that lasted 20 years or more, the judge would have the discretion to order permanent maintenance awards.
Handling spousal maintenance issues
While the proposed bill would make spousal maintenance matters easier to predict, judges would still have the ability to divert from the formula. Even if the bill becomes law, maintenance issues could remain complicated. All financial matters relating divorce have the potential to become complex, which is why it is wise to have the assistance of an experienced divorce attorney helping you through the divorce process. If you are considering divorce and have questions about spousal maintenance, contact a skilled Illinois divorce lawyer who can advise you based on your circumstances.