Major Changes to Illinois Maintenance Laws

When a client asks how much maintenance, also known as alimony, they will be ordered to pay or receive the long standing answer has been “It is hard to know for sure”. The inconsistent and unpredictable maintenance awards handed out by the many Illinois Judges have been frustrating both attorneys and our clients for years.

As of August 15, 2014, the answer has just gotten a bit simpler. The Governor has approved a new bill that creates guidelines for an issue that was previously primarily left to the discretion of the Judge. The hope is that the new guidelines, which give judges an objective way to determine maintenance awards, will create a more consistent result and will facilitate easier resolution on this issue.

The Formulas

The maintenance formulas are used if the following criteria are first met:

  • The court must determine maintenance is appropriate;
  • TThe parties’ combined gross income must be less than $250,000 per year; and
  • TNo multiple family situation can exist.

Once it is determined that all three criteria are met, the amount of maintenance is determined by calculating 30% of the payor’s gross income less 20% of the payee’s gross income. This amount cannot exceed 40% of the parties’ combined gross incomes when added to the payee’s gross income.

For example: If the Payor has a gross income of $100,000 and the payee has a gross income of $50,000 the calculation would be as follows:

$100,000 x .3 = $30,000

less

$50,000 x .2 = $10,000

$20,000 potential annual maintenance award

However, we must now determine what 40% of the parties’ combined gross incomes when added to the payee’s gross income would be:

$150,000 x.4 = $60,000

Since the payee’s gross income plus potential maintenance would equal $70,000 ($50,000 + $20,000) and this amount is greater than $60,000 (40% combined gross income) the maintenance amount would be capped at $10,000 (the amount needed to bring the payee to 40% of the parties combined gross income).

A guideline has also been formulated to determine the length of the maintenance award. The length of the marriage is multiplied by whichever of the following time periods the marriage falls into:

0-5 years = .2

5-10 years = .4

10-15 years = .6

15-20 years = .8

For a marriage of 20 years or more the court may enter an order for the length of the marriage or a permanent maintenance award.

The Court does have the discretion to deviate from the guideline amounts and time periods for maintenance if it finds that they are inappropriate. In such a situation the court must state the reasoning for any variance from the guidelines.

It is also important to note that, while child support guidelines remain unchanged, child support awards will be based on the income of the payor after a maintenance amount has been determined.

Putting a Limit on Reviewable Maintenance

The second major change which is a part of this bill is the ability of the trial court to bar maintenance after the termination date of an award. Previously the court was required to make these awards reviewable after the end of the term of maintenance. This bill allows the court, in a situation where the marriage was less than 10 years, to order a fixed termination date of maintenance which cannot be extended.

These changes will likely have a significant impact on many people currently going through a divorce or contemplating divorce. It is important to make sure that you understand how these changes may effect your situation. It will also be interesting to see if judges will apply these rules to families with income exceeding $250,000 annually. While this law goes into effect on January 1, 2015, we are finding that judges are already implementing these guidelines in pending cases.