Amended Illinois Spousal Maintenance Laws Look to Improve Consistency

Since taking effect on January 1, 2015, new Illinois laws regarding spousal support are already having an impact on divorce proceedings around the state. A few weeks ago, a poston this blog looked at some of the updated provisions, but never really examined what precipitated the changes.

Spousal Support Change Was Needed

For most of the last three decades, Illinois law had left all decisions regarding alimony, or spousal support, to the discretion of the court overseeing a couple’s divorce. If the couple had a valid prenuptial agreement, or could come to a reasonable consensus regarding maintenance, the court would often approve the couple’s negotiated proposal and consider the matter closed. For more contentious cases, or when a couple could not reach an agreement, the court was granted vast discretionary power to order support but with few standards or guidelines.

While the court was directed to consider the circumstances of the case, nothing was established within the law to indicate what was considered fair or equitable, even in a general sense. This led, of course, to each judge deciding what he or she felt was appropriate based on a given set of facts. However, what may seem fair to one judge, another judge may see as completely disproportionate, as such decisions are easily affected by personal opinions, subconscious biases, and even cultural differences. Over time, spousal maintenance proceedings became very unpredictable, forcing what many saw as the unequal application of the law.

New Formulaic Approach

In August, 2014, the Illinois legislature passed a bill, which was subsequently signed by then-Governor Pat Quinn, to amend spousal maintenance laws in the state. As discussed previously, the amended law retained the court’s discretion in determining the necessity of spousal support, but, for the first time, provided a standard formula for calculating the recommended amount and duration of the order. In so doing, the law looks to reduce the unpredictability of awards, creating a more reasonable expectation of fairness throughout the process.

Help When You Need It

While the amended laws certainly provide a much clearer basis for determining spousal maintenance awards, the individual considerations of any case must be taken into account. The law still permits the court to do so, which can ultimately affect the final support order. However, simply allowing the process to happen can leave you feeling helpless and at the mercy of the court. The practical factors of your life must presented to the court in a manner which emphasizes their importance, allowing the court to more clearly understand your needs and how a maintenance order would impact them.

If you are considering divorce, and would like to know more about spousal support proceedings, contact an experienced family law attorney in Will County. We will work with you and help you determine if pursuing such an order is right for your situation. Call today to schedule your free consultation.