With all of the talk in family law circles about the new legislation slated to take effect in 2016, it bears pointing out that many are still unaware of the potential impact of a divorce-related law that has now been in effect for nearly seven months. Passed around this time last year, and effective January 1, 2015, an amendment to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, directly affected the calculating and awarding of spousal maintenance throughout the state. It also, for the first time, provided courts with an option of awarding fixed-term maintenance.
Equal Application of the Law
The main focus of the amendment was to bring a level of standardization to spousal maintenance/alimony proceedings in divorce. Prior to 2015, the law provided courts with a rudimentary list of factors to consider in awarding maintenance, but allowed the court full discretion over the amount and the length of spousal support orders. As a result, the outcome of a spousal maintenance proceeding could differ greatly depending upon the judge and how he or she determined the importance of each factor.
Under the amended law, the court is still granted discretion over the appropriateness of a maintenance award, but must now work from a specified formula in determining the amount and duration of the order. The amount calculation is a function of the couple’s income, while the order’s duration is established as a percentage of the marriage’s length. A particular case may deviate from the prescribed calculations, but a deviation must be based on a legitimate finding of the court.
The overall goal of spousal support is to help alleviate financial hardship on the part of one spouse after a divorce. To that end, a spouse who is receiving support may request an extension of the maintenance order, should the situation require it. In many cases, this may be entirely appropriate, as a longer marriage may have left one spouse financially dependent on the other for quite some time, and adjusting to self-sufficiency may not be easy, or even possible depending upon the circumstances.
However, the amended law recognized that shorter marriages, defined as marriages lasting less than ten years, are less likely to have that same type of impact. Thus, the court is empowered, when appropriate for divorce situations involving shorter marriages, to award fixed-term maintenance. This means that upon calculating the amount and duration of the order as specified by law, the court may prohibit the receiving spouse from obtaining an extension of the award. The termination date of the order is a final termination date, and requested extensions will not be considered. By doing this, the court may be able to prevent a couple who was only married for three years, for example, from appearing in court off and on for five or six more years over the issue of extending the maintenance order.
If you are pursuing a divorce, or have begun to consider the possibility, contact an experienced family law attorney in Kane County. Our team is equipped to help you with every step of the process from financial preparations, child-related concerns, property division, and, of course, spousal maintenance. Schedule your free initial consultation by calling 630-377-7770 today and put our knowledgeable team to work for you.