About a year ago, some sweeping changes to the Illinois spousal support law went into effect. These changes came in the context of alimony reform that has touched nearly every state in the Union in the last few years. Reformers, who are mostly obligor men, want to sharply curtail spousal support payments and perhaps even do away with the system altogether. Those on the other side, who are nearly all obligee women, make an equally compelling case that cash payments are an important part of an equitable property settlement.
As is typically the case, neither side was particularly pleased with the compromise. Expect both sides to descend on the statehouse in the months ahead to forge additional alterations in the law or roll back the changes that were made.
Spousal maintenance was once a given in a property settlement. Under the new law, the judge must make an affirmative finding that spousal support is appropriate in that case, based on factors including:
- Income disparity between the parties,
- Relative current and future earning capacity of each party,
- Standard of living established during the marriage,
- Non-economic contributions to the marriage, and
- “[A]ny other factor” that the court deems relevant.
So, the nature of alimony has changed very little. Spousal support is still viewed primarily as a vehicle to equalize the standard of living between the ex-spouses.
If maintenance is appropriate under the circumstances, Section 504(b-1) applies as to the amount and duration of payments. The judge may deviate from the guidelines, but must expressly state the reason for doing so in the written order.
The formula determines the amount due by subtracting 20 percent of the obligee's gross income from 30 percent of the obligor's gross income; the duration of the payments is based on the length of the marriage.
Assume that Husband earns $70,000 per year and Wife earns $30,000, and that they are divorcing after a 15-year marriage. Husband must pay wife $18,500 per year ($24,500 minus $6,000) for nine years (15 multiplied by 0.6). But the amount is subject to a maximum – the obligee's gross income cannot exceed more than 40 percent of the couple's pre-divorce income – and that cap applies in this example. Husband can only pay Wife $10,000 per year to stay under the limit.
The new alimony law is quite confusing. For a confidential consultation in this area, contact an experienced Naperville family law attorney. Convenient payment plans are available.