New Spousal Maintenance Guidelines for Illinois Divorce Cases under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (“IMDMA”)
There is a drastic change afoot in the state of Illinois as the legislature passed a new law governing spousal support in divorce cases which becomes effective January 1, 2015. Until now, spousal maintenance was divided in an equitable manner, however the court believed to be fair under the circumstances given a variety of factors. The court can decide whichever amount, and for whichever duration it thought was appropriate. The new spousal support law, however, provides a formula to calculate maintenance in any given situation, both in amount and duration. This is a sea change in the divorce landscape which will have interesting ramifications on how divorces will be litigated.
The Old Factors
The new IMDMA section dealing with maintenance (750 ILCS 5/504) allows a court to decide in its discretion the amount and duration of spousal support after considering a variety of factors, including the income and property of each party, present and future earning capacity, whether a spouse gave up any career opportunities to raise children, the standard of living established during the marriage, among others. This left determining maintenance a guessing game to practitioners, based on unwritten rules and judge’s whims. In high income situations, the court would try to recreate the lifestyle enjoyed during the marriage. Otherwise, attorneys argue for complicated after-tax allocations of available combined income.
The New Formula
Come 2015, the court will have the ability to resort to a new statutory formula which can be applied in situations where a couple has a combined gross income of less than $250,000 and no multiple family situations exist. In such cases, the amount of maintenance is calculated as 30% of the payor’s income less 20% of the payee’s income, provided that the payee’s income including the new maintenance cannot be more than 40% of the parties’ combined gross income.
For the duration of maintenance, the court will order maintenance to be paid as a percentage of the length of the marriage in graduating brackets. Specifically, a marriage of 0-5 years will require payment for 20% of the length of the marriage; 40% for 6-10 years; 60% for 11-15 years; 80% for 16-20 years; and 100% or possible permanent maintenance for marriages in excess of 20 years.
Imagine a couple married for 13 years, the husband in the marriage earns $150,000 per year, and his wife earns $90,000 per year. Maintenance would be determined by taking 30% of his income ($45,000) and subtracting 20% of her income ($18,000), for a maintenance amount of $27,000 per year. When adding this amount to her income, the total comes to $117,000 per year. However, this amount is almost 49% of the parties combined gross income ($240,000). Therefore, her maintenance will be limited so that she does not exceed 40% of the combined gross income – a cap of $96,000 of total income. Since she earns $90,000 per year, she is limited to $6,000 per year in maintenance, or $500 per month. Given that the marriage was 13 years long, maintenance will be paid for 60% of 13 years, or 7.8 years.
Meeting the Threshold
Certainly, having a formula will cut down on litigation as the amount and duration can be determined at the very early stages of a dissolution action. However, this whole calculation assumes that a spouse is entitled to maintenance at all, which the court must determine. Courts can expect a rash of petitions filed by litigants to determine whether a party is eligible for spousal support, and will probably be filed at the outset of litigation. This would make sense in most cases because even if the parties desire or are willing to settle, many attorneys would be reticent to advise a client to pay, or forgo the opportunity to receive support payments without having the matter determined by the Court.
Other Features of the New Maintenance Statute
The revised spousal maintenance statute also provides new features, such as allowing a court to deviate from the guidelines (as it can in child support cases), so long as it provides reasoning. Further, the court can deem spousal support for marriages less than 10 years long as automatically terminating, meaning that any post-decree attempts to extend maintenance will fail.