Spousal maintenance is often one of the most contentious issues during divorce. Often referred to as “alimony,” this payment of support from one spouse to another has come under criticism in recent years. As a result, some legislatures across the country have revised the legal aspects of maintenance in an effort to provide more structure to when and how it is awarded.
Traditionally, in most jurisdictions around the country, it has been left to the judge’s discretion about whether spousal maintenance should be applied in any given case. After various factors are considered, the judge may decide upon a maintenance award that he or she believes would best support the designated spouse.
Some argue, however, that this process of leaving significant discretion to the judge leads to confusion and uncertainty, with parties unable to predict with much confidence how much maintenance (if any) will be awarded. Critics of the older model suggest that leaving spousal maintenance to the discretion and judgment of one person is a risky affair in need of refinement.
The Amendment to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act
Coming into effect on January 1, 2015, Illinois will follow the trend of a handful of states by finally applying a new formula and stricter guidelines to spousal maintenance. The law, which was one of the many amendments to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, will help family law attorneys better predict how much spousal maintenance will be applied if the judge decides that spousal maintenance is necessary due to the circumstances of the marriage. The law still provides that it will be up to the judge’s discretion whether, based on a balancing of a series of factors, spousal maintenance applies. However, the amount will be more or less predictable.
The New Formula and How it Applies
According to the law, the new formula provides that the maintenance award will be equal to 30 percent of the payor’s gross income, subtracting out 20 percent of the payee’s gross income, and shall not surpass 40 percent of the payor’s and payee’s combined gross income once added to the payee’s gross. If the judge chooses not to apply the formula or deviates from the formula, he or she is required to provide reasoning behind the ruling.
For example, consider a divorcing couple where the wife’s annual gross income is $100,000 and the husband’s is $30,000. If the judge decides that the husband is entitled to spousal maintenance, the process of determining an amount would proceed as follows:
Calculate 20 percent of the husband’s gross income - $6,000.
Calculate 30 percent of the wife’s gross income - $30,000.
Subtract the second figure from the first - $24,000. This would generally be the annual maintenance award to the husband.
However, that figure can be lowered if, when added to the husband’s annual gross income, the total exceeds 40 percent of the couples combined gross. In this case, 40 percent of the couples combined gross income ($130,000) is $52,000. Adding a projected $24,000 maintenance award to the husband’s annual income results in a total of $54,000. That means that the award would likely be lowered by $2,000 (to $22,000) so that the husband’s gross income plus maintenance does not exceed the 40 percent as outlined in the law.
As the above example demonstrates, the specifics of the new law are somewhat complex. A divorce attorney can explain more clearly how the rules might apply in your case.
The Formula for the Duration of Spousal Maintenance
The spousal maintenance duration will be factored by a percentage of the number of years of the marriage. For example:
For marriages lasting zero to five years, the duration of spousal maintenance will last for only 20 percent of the time together. If the couple was together for five years, then spousal maintenance will apply for one year;
For marriages lasting five to 10 years, alimony will last for 40 percent of that time;
For marriages lasting 10 to 15 years, alimony will last for 60 percent of that time;
For marriages lasting 15 to 20 years, alimony will last for 80 percent of that time; and
For marriages lasting 20 years and more, the judge may decide that permanent maintenance or maintenance should last as long as the marriage had.
Divorce Attorneys to Help Assert Your Spousal Maintenance Rights
After many years of marriage, there are rights that spouses acquire. Spousal maintenance is a right that should be owed to those who sacrificed their earning potential to put their spouses and family first. If you are considering a divorce, it is important to know what your future could look like after the marriage has been dissolved. Contact an experienced Chicago family law attorney at Mevorah Law Offices LLC who can guide you through the new spousal maintenance guidelines and provide a big picture of life post-divorce.
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