Under current Illinois law, the court has full discretion regarding orders for spousal maintenance after divorce. Sometimes referred to as alimony in other jurisdictions, spousal maintenance may be utilized to help ensure that a divorce is not placing undue financial hardship on either spouse. What constitutes undue financial hardship, however, is determined by the court by considering a number of factors set forth by law. Currently, the amount and duration of spousal maintenance are also determined solely at the court’s discretion. Over time, maintenance orders have started to become as different as the judges issuing them, resulting in unpredictable awards and significant inconsistency across the Illinois judicial system.
On August 15, 2014, Governor Pat Quinn signed SB 3231 into law, amending the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act regarding the calculation of spousal maintenance for most cases. The changes, which go into effect January 1, 2015, are an effort to reduce judicial unpredictability in maintenance orders and to set a standard method of determining the amount of awards. A standardized formula has been in place for many years regarding child support orders and lawmakers in Illinois felt it was time to follow suit for maintenance orders.
The court’s role in determining if spousal maintenance is appropriate in each case will remain unchanged. Provisions in the law require the court to consider “all relevant factors” when deciding whether a maintenance award is justified including:
The court is also expected to consider any other factor that it finds pertinent to the case, even if it is not explicitly defined by law.
Once the court decides that a maintenance award is appropriate, the amended law dictates how the award should be calculated in most cases. The award amount should equal 30% of the payor’s gross income minus 20% of the payee’s gross income, as long as the payee’s gross income plus the award amount is less than 40% of the parties’ combined gross income.
For example, if the divorcing husband grosses $75,000 and the wife grosses $25,000, the award calculation would look like this: 30% of $75,000 is $22,500 and 20% of $25,000 is $5,000. The award calculation would be $22,500 minus $5,000, or $17,500. However, adding the award to the wife’s gross income totals $42,500, which is more than 40% of the combined gross income by $2,500. Therefore, according to the law’s provisions, the annual maintenance award should be $15,000.
The new guidelines also define parameters for calculating how long the maintenance order should be in effect. Duration of the award is based primarily on the length of the marriage. For marriages of 20 years or longer, the award is expected to be permanent or at least equal to the length of the marriage. If the marriage lasted less than 20 years, the law provides a sliding scale to determine the order’s duration. The order should be in effect of the number of years equal to the length of the marriage multiplied by the appropriate value:
For example, following a marriage that lasted 14 years, the duration of a maintenance award would be 14 multiplied by 0.60, which works out to about 8 years and 5 months.
Both new guidelines include provisions for the court to deviate from the established calculations but only if the court finds specifically that they are not appropriate. In such a decision, the court must address the relevant factors, as usual, make the calculations as the law requires, and then clearly specify the reasons for not adhering to the calculations. Otherwise, the court is expected to apply the guidelines as enacted.
If you live in Illinois and are considering a divorce, contact an experienced DuPage County family law attorney. We will help you understand your rights under the law, including spousal maintenance, and provide the best future for your family.