There is a significant change to maintenance awards (formerly known as alimony) effective January 1, 2015 under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (“IMDMA”). Under the old statute, Judges were given very broad discretion to decide a maintenance award after weighing several factors. The problem with the old statute was that a maintenance recipient with the same set of factors could be given a vastly different maintenance award among different Judges within the same courthouse and on a broader scale, between state counties. The changes to the maintenance statute include new objective calculations to determine a maintenance amount and duration, thus giving both parties more predictability and hopefully ensuring more consistency among Judges and Counties.
The new law involves a two-step process. First, the court determines whether maintenance is appropriate, based on factors including but not limited to the length of the marriage, the employment and employability of the parties, and the financial needs of the parties. Next, once the court determines that maintenance is appropriate, so long as the combined gross income of the parties is below $250,000 and no multiple family situation exists, it applies the guidelines to calculate a monthly payment amount, with a fixed term of years for the payments which is dependent on the length of the marriage.
In guideline maintenance cases under the new law, the math starts with taking the difference of 30% of the payor’s gross income and 20% of the payee’s gross income. This is the maintenance award (with a built-in cap that allows the payee spouse to receive in total no more than 40% of the parties’ combined gross incomes). To determine the length of the award, a multiplier is used taking into account the length of the marriage. For marriages 20 years and more, the length of the maintenance could be the length of the marriage or it could be permanent.
Despite the new guidelines, a Judge may deviate from the payment amount and/or duration of the payments if he or she finds that there are compelling reasons to do so and makes specific findings regarding that deviation.
Another unique change to the maintenance statute is that for marriages of less than 10 years, the court may now designate the termination date as a “permanent termination,” rather than allow the payee spouse to ask for additional maintenance at the end of the term, which appears to be implied for marriages which are greater than 10 years in length.[i]
The new maintenance rules should make it easier for divorcing parties to calculate maintenance awards in advance, and with that anticipated certainty, it may be easier to settle more divorce cases with less litigation, saving clients time and money. In Illinois, maintenance can be awarded on a temporary basis at the beginning of a family law matter as well as at the conclusion of the case and may be reviewable at a set date or upon a substantial change of circumstances among the parties involved.
As a family law practitioner, one of the biggest issues with divorce cases involving a potential maintenance award is being able to predict what the outcome may be for the client. The new statute and guidelines do offer more objective criteria so that is appealing. However, the rigidity in the duration of the award can be concerning as I do not believe it provides incentive for the payee spouse to seek and obtain employment and become self-sufficient, which in many cases are the main goals of a maintenance award. If the spouse knows that he or she is getting a fixed amount regardless of whether he or she goes back to work, then I can see situations where there will instead be a disincentive to make those efforts at becoming self-supporting. Only time will tell whether the positive aspects of these changes outweigh the negative ones.
To learn more about Law Office of Jennifer Guimond-Quigley and the family law services Jennifer provides, please visit the firm’s website, Facebook and LinkedIn sites. Jennifer frequently shares resources and tips for Chicago area families experiencing a variety of family-related concerns.