You may not know it, but you just asked a practical and a philosophical question. Let’s start with the practical aspect. In 2016, amidst a nationwide wave of alimony reform, Illinois lawmakers created a set formula that, in most cases, determines alimony limits in DuPage County. As for the philosophical aspects of spousal support, some people believe alimony is a financial assistance tool. Others believe it is an income redistribution tool. More on these things below.
In some cases, a premarital agreement answers these practical and philosophical questions. Illinois lawmakers have adopted the Uniform Marital and Premarital Agreement Act. The UMPAA replaced the hodgepodge of laws that used to govern these agreements. Therefore, spousal support caps, and most other provisions in these agreements, are enforceable. Prenups also cover many other financial and nonfinancial matters, such as property division and inheritance/succession issues.
However, in most cases, a DuPage County alimony attorney addresses these practical and philosophical spousal support matters during a divorce proceeding. Most divorce cases settle out of court. Therefore, these matters take center stage at a negotiating table instead of in a courtroom. Alimony determinations are not set in stone. Financial and other circumstances often change, so the amount and duration of spousal support payments could change as well.
Before we get to the nuts and bolts of alimony in Illinois, we must discuss an important threshold issue. Many people assume that judges automatically award alimony in the Prairie State. However, the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act clearly states that “the court may grant a maintenance award for either spouse in amounts and for periods of time as the court deems just.” That language is quite subjective. The law sets forth a number of factors to consider in this area, including:
Other factors include the standard of living during the marriage, custody of minor children, and the length of the marriage. Usually, fault in the breakup of the marriage, such as adultery, is not relevant in alimony eligibility matters.
This section will be relatively brief since the statutory alimony formula is relatively straightforward.
A multiplier based on the length of the marriage determines the duration of alimony payments unless the couple was married for more than twenty years.
Formula amount determinations are a bit more complex. Usually, the amount formula is 33.3% of the obligor’s net annual income minus 25% of the obligee’s net annual income. This formula applies if the couple’s total annual income is less than $500,000 and the formula amount does not exceed 40% of the obligor’s income.
Frequently, there is a difference between net income for alimony purposes and net income for tax purposes. The law only allows certain deductions. Many payroll deductions, like 401(k) contributions, are discretionary as opposed to mandatory.
On a related note, obligors often try to hide income. Intentional over-withholding is one of the most common ploys. Obligors ask employers to withhold more money for taxes, thus reducing their net incomes. Then, they get this money back in the Spring and do not have to give any of it to their ex-spouses.
If the alimony formula does not apply, the judge typically uses the aforementioned eligibility factors to determine the amount and duration of payments. Additionally, if the alimony formula amount does not jive with the financial aspects of that particular divorce, the judge may enter an award that is deemed just, as mentioned above. Moreover, one of the alimony determination factors is “any other factor that the court expressly finds to be just and equitable.” So, the judge has some wiggle room.
Some additional provisions limit judicial discretion in this area. If the judge determines that the guideline formula is inappropriate, the judge must expressly state not only the reasons for this decision but also what the formula amount would have been. This requirement makes it easier for an appeals court to overturn a non-formula alimony award.
Generally, alimony initial determinations are based on a snapshot of the then-existing emotional and financial factors. Since these factors change over time, the alimony award could change, as well.
Emotional changes usually involve the obligee’s remarriage. As a matter of law, remarriage terminates spousal support payments, no ifs, ands, or buts. Things are murkier if the obligee enters into a marriage-like relationship. Such a relationship could terminate spousal support payments. Some factors to consider include the length of the relationship, large shared purchases, and financial overlap (e.g. one partner gives money to the other partner’s children).
In case you are wondering, Illinois does not legally recognize common law marriages. Moreover, the Prairie State does not recognize common law marriages from other states.
Financially, the ability to pay and economic needs also change over time. To alter the amount and/or duration of payments, the moving party must prove that financial circumstances have materially, substantially, permanently, and unexpectedly changed.
The obligor’s retirement is a common change in financial circumstances. Retirement is an anticipated change, so retirement, in and of itself, usually does not justify a spousal support modification.
A legal formula usually, but does not always, determines the amount and duration of alimony payments. For a free consultation with an experienced DuPage County alimony attorney, contact Keller Legal Services by calling 630-505-1515. We routinely handle matters throughout Chicagoland.