In this article we will explain the expected changes to Illinois spousal maintenance law for 2018. On July 28, 2017, the Illinois General Assembly passed House Bill 2537, which, if signed by Governor Rauner, will change the way maintenance payments in divorce work in Illinois. HB 2537 proposes to modify Section 504 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (750 ILCS 5/504), which deals with Illinois spousal maintenance payments, also known as alimony. This is expected to be signed into law and to go into effect in either January or July of 2018. For additional knowledge about how maintenance works in Illinois, you can check out our article, Illinois Spousal Maintenance Explained.
According to the existing law, which went into effect in 2015, Illinois family law courts are instructed to weigh several factors to determine whether maintenance is appropriate. If the court determines that maintenance is appropriate, the court will typically use statutory formulas to determine how much to award in maintenance and for how long the maintenance payments will continue.
Let’s discuss how Illinois spousal maintenance law is likely to change if, as expected, HB 2537 goes into effect in 2018.
The Income Threshold for Application of the Statutory Maintenance Guidelines will be Raised
According to the 2015 version of the law, courts are instructed to determine maintenance amount and duration based on the statutory guidelines when the combined income of the parties is less than $250,000.00. The 2018 version of the law will change the income threshold from a combined income of $250,000.00 to a combined income of $500,000.00. This means that the statutory guidelines will be applied to higher income families under the new law. If the combined income of the couple is above this threshold, the court is not required to adhere to statutory guidelines and may determine maintenance amount and duration based on weighing several factors, described here. Note that the court has the ability to deviate from the guidelines even if the income is below this threshold, but it must explicitly explain its rationale for doing so based on an analysis of the previously mentioned factors.
Statutory Guidelines for the Duration of Maintenance Payments will be Reduced in Many Situations
Under both the current law and the 2018 law, the duration of maintenance payments is determined by multiplying by the length of the marriage by a numerical factor determined by the length of the marriage. This means that maintenance payments will last for a term equalling a certain percentage of the length of the marriage, and that this percentage increases as the length of the marriage increases.
Under the current law, the multiplying factors are as follows:
Under the proposed law for 2018, the multiplying factors are:
So what does this mean? In sum, the 2018 law will require a shorter maintenance payment duration for many people, depending on the length of their marriage.
Let’s work through this. Under both the the 2015 maintenance law and the prospective 2018 law, the duration of maintenance payments is determined by multiplying the number of years that the couple is married by a factor that increases as the length of the marriage increases. So if the couple was married for 4 years, both the new and the old law dictate a factor of (0.2). This means you multiply the number of years (4) by the statutory factor (.2) to determine how long the payor will be required to pay maintenance. In this example 4 years x 0.20 = 0.8 years (or 9.6 months). So this means that if a couple has been married for 4 years the court is instructed to order maintenance payments for 9.6 months.
Again, as the length of the marriage increases, the multiplying factor increases.
Under the 2015 law the multiplying factor steps up in 5-year increments. So, for marriages lasting 5 years through 9 years, the multiplying factor is 0.40 and for marriages lasting 10 years through 14 years the multiplying factor is 0.60 years. The factor does not increase between years 6 and 7, but increases significantly as soon as each 5-year threshold is met.
Under the 2018 law, the first 5 years of marriage are treated the same as under the 2015 law, requiring a 0.20 multiplying factor. However, thereafter the factor will step up on yearly basis rather than every 5 years of marriage.
The result is that the multiplying factor at each 5 year benchmark is the same under both laws, but in-between (e.g. years 6, 7, and 8), the 2018 law will call for a smaller multiplying factor than the 2015 law. This is because the 2018 maintenance law gradually increases every year rather than an immediate up-front step-up for each 5-year increment.
Depending on the length of your marriage, your maintenance duration may be shorter under the new 2018 law than it would have been under the 2015 law. The maintenance duration is not different (1) if your marriage lasted less than 5 years, (2) if your marriage lasted 20 years or longer; or (3) if your marriage length happens to fall at the end of on one of the 2015 law’s 5-year increments. However, for all other marriage lengths, the required maintenance duration will be shorter under the 2018 law than under the 2015 law.
“Permanent Maintenance” will be Changed to “Maintenance for an Indefinite Term”
The 2015 spousal maintenance law provides that for marriages lasting 20 years or more the duration of maintenance should be either “permanent maintenance” or equal to the duration of the marriage. Under the 2018 law, the term “permanent maintenance” will change to maintenance “for an indefinite term.” This means that long-term maintenance situations are less likely to be permanent and more likely to be terminated after at least a term of years equalling the duration of the marriage.
Article Written & Submitted by Illinois Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
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