Family Law Changes for 2016: Divorce

Throughout the last few months, various posts on this blog have been discussing some of the expected effects of the family law reform passed in Illinois in the summer. For the first time in nearly four decades, a large portion of the existing statutes regarding divorce, child custody, and parentage is being completely overhauled. With the effective date of the new provisions fast approaching—they are set to go into effect on January 1, 2016—this post and the post that follows will summarize the most significant changes to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act.

Part 1: New Divorce Laws

No-Fault Divorce

Under the newly enacted law, a divorce in Illinois will only be granted on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. The existing law permitted divorce on 12 other “fault” grounds, including adultery, desertion, bigamy, mental or physical cruelty, and habitual substance abuse, and required the petitioning spouse to provide proof of the behavior. Fault grounds have been eliminated as an option for divorce, and every divorce will be considered no-fault.

Elimination of Required Separation Periods

Currently, before a no-fault divorce can be granted, the spouses must have been living separate and apart for a period of at least two years. By agreement, the mandatory separation period could be reduced to six months. The amended law, however, repeals the separation requirement altogether. A no-fault divorce may proceed with no required separation if both parties are in agreement. If not, the court will view a six-month separation period is irrebuttable proof of a marriage broken down by irreconcilable differences and may grant the divorce.

“Heart Balm” Action

Although they were not technically part of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution Act, provisions in the state’s laws previously permitted civil lawsuits based on breaches of promise to marry and alienation of affection. These so-called “heart balm” actions have also been eliminated in order to encourage amicable settlements and to reduce family controversy.

Expanded Eligibility for Joint Simplified Divorce

The new law amends the eligibility requirements to file a joint petition for simplified dissolutions—a type of fast-track divorce proceedings for very simple cases. The threshold for the net value of all marital property has been raised from $10,000 to $50,000, and the combined income limit is $60,000 per year, up from $35,000. Spouse may have retirement savings of less than $10,000 and neither spouse may make more than $30,000 per year, up from $20,000.

Specific Findings for Property Allocation and Spousal Maintenance

In an effort to promote compliance and accountability, when the court is left to decide issues of property division and spousal support, specific findings of fact must be provided regarding the court’s decisions. The court may also appoint or seek the advice of financial experts in evaluating marital property to reduce costs and eliminate confusion.

Faster Entry of Judgment of Dissolution

Under the new law, the court will be expected to enter its judgment of dissolution of marriage within 60 days of the closing of proofs. An additional 30 days is permitted upon a showing of good cause. This is expected to help parties to a divorce better understand the expected timeframes associated with their case, rather than being forced to wait weeks with no word.

Our next post will cover the new law’s impact on child custody, visitation, and child support. In the meantime, if you have questions about the family law reform measure, or would like to speak with a qualified professional about your divorce, contact an experienced Orland Park family law attorney. Call 708-518-8200 to schedule a free consultation.