Changes to Illinois’ spousal maintenance and child support law

Recent amendments to Illinois’ maintenance and child support law will impact the amounts and duration of maintenance, as well as child support awards.

After entering into marriages, it is not uncommon for Illinois couples to decide to split. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, there were 33,789 divorces and annulments in the state in 2011 alone. That is the most recent year for which statistics were available. For many of these couples, spousal maintenance and child support are among the details that must be settled when finalizing a divorce. On January 1, 2015, significant changes went into effect, which will significantly impact how these awards are determined moving forward.

Spousal maintenance guidelines

Prior to the recent legislative changes, family law judges had extensive discretion in determining spousal maintenance. The decision of whether to award maintenance given the couple's circumstances was left up to judges. Additionally, the determination of maintenance amounts and durations were also at the discretion of family law judges.

Under the amended Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, it will be up to judges to determine whether a spousal maintenance award is appropriate in each case. Furthermore , the legislative changes establish guidelines, which are to be used in determining the amounts of these awards. The amount of maintenance awards is generally decided based the gross income of both spouses. In cases when a couple's combined income is under $250,000, the maintenance amount is calculated by subtracting 20 percent of the payee's gross income from 30 percent of the payer's gross income. With few exceptions, maintenance recipients cannot receive awards that exceed 40 percent of the couple's combined gross income. In some cases, the court may deviate from these guidelines, but the law includes provisions, which stipulate that specific reasoning must be provided to do so.

How will maintenance durations be determined?

Going forward, the length of a marriage will be used to determine the duration of spousal maintenance awards. The statute stipulates ratios, which are to be multiplied by the number of years that a couple was married. The ratios are as follows:

  • 0.20 for marriages lasting up to five years
  • 0.40 for marriages of between five and 10 years
  • 0.60 for marriages lasting between 10 and 15 years
  • 0.80 for marriages of between 15 and 20 years

When couples have been married for 20 years or more, the decision is left up to the discretion of the court. Judges may decide to award maintenance for a period of time that is equal to the length of the couple's marriage, or to order permanent maintenance.

Child support statute

The child support statute is also affected by the amendments. Previously, child support awards were determined independently from spousal maintenance awards. Under the newly amended statute, maintenance awards are now included in the deductions used to determine parents' gross incomes in cases when parents are also receiving spousal maintenance. This may mean that child support awards are reduced in these situations.

Seeking legal guidance

Following a divorce in Illinois, and elsewhere, many people rely on spousal maintenance and child support awards. Due to the recent legislative changes, however, these awards may be significantly different than they would previously have been. This may impact how people plan for getting through these types of transitions. People who are divorcing may find it of benefit to seek legal counsel and representation. An attorney may advise them on how the laws may affect any maintenance or child support awards in their cases.

Keywords: divorce, child support, amount, maintenance