Maintenance and Spousal Support Guidelines

Illinois has officially passed guidelines for maintenance and spousal support in Illinois.  Until the guidelines were passed, judges had a considerable amount of discretion in determining whether to award maintenance and, if so, for how long.  The guidelines now create defaults for the judges to follow under specific circumstances.

First, before the court awards maintenance or alimony at all, the court will consider all the factors it previously would have considered.  These factors are set out in the statute and include things like the length of the marriage, the ages of the husband and wife, and the income of each party.  Once the court makes the determination that maintenance is appropriate, however, then the guidelines kick in.

The guidelines apply in cases where the total income of both parties is less than $250,000.  If this standard is met, then maintenance or spousal support “shall” be set at 30% of the obligor’s income less 20% of the obligee’s income (I assume the obligor will be the spouse with higher gross income).

The duration of the maintenance or alimony in Illinois award will depend on the length of the marriage.  In marriages of 0-5 years, the payments will last for 20% of the length of the marriage.  In marriages of 5-10 years, the payments will last for 40% of the length of the marriage.  In marriages of 10-15 years, the payments will last for 60% of the length of the marriage.  In marriages of 15-20 years, the payments will last for 80% of the length of the marriage.  In marriages of 20 or more years, the maintenance or alimony can either be permanent for one year per year of marriage.

In marriages of less than 10 years, the statute allows the Illinois court to make the award permanently terminate upon the completion of the initial payments.  That means the award cannot be extended.  This implies that in all other cases, the award is subject to extension at the discretion of the court at the end of the initial period.

The statute, however, does allow the court to decide not to use guideline support.  If the court chooses not to use guideline maintenance or spousal support, the court needs to make specific findings and state specifically why guideline alimony is not appropriate.  If the court’s apply maintenance guidelines in the same way as child support guidelines, then it is likely going to be fairly difficult to convince judges to deviate from guideline support.

The law also clarifies how to calculate gross income for spousal support purposes.  Under the old law, there was a specific formula for calculating income for child support, but no provision defining income for maintenance.  The new law explicitly states that income for maintenance purposes will be the same as income for child support purposes.

A change was also made in how to calculate net income for child support purposes.  Now, the maintenance or alimony paid is deducted from the obligor’s net income for child support purposes.  This means that there will be a small offset for the obligor versus the child support that would have been paid under the old statute.

Overall, this is a fairly generous maintenance statute when many other states are moving towards more restrictive maintenance provisions.  In McHenry County, Illinois, this statute will likely have the effect of increasing maintenance awards in general.