Fixed-Term Spousal Maintenance Will Soon Be an Option

In August of 2014, the Illinois legislature passed a bill, which Governor Pat Quinn signed into law, amending the current provisions regarding spousal maintenance. Sometimes known as alimony in other jurisdictions, spousal maintenance represents the support an individual may be required to provide to their ex-spouse following a divorce. The changes enacted this summer will go into effect on January 1, 2015, and are considered by many to have been long overdue.

As the law currently stands, the court has full discretion over virtually every aspect of a maintenance order. After consideration of all pertinent factors, a presiding judge is responsible for determining whether support is appropriate, what amount is to be paid, and for how long. The current law provides very little in terms of quantitative standards or guidelines, and, as such, awards may differ greatly from one court to another.

The amendments set to take effect are expected to significantly improve the consistency of maintenance orders. Specifically, they provide a standardized formula to be used when calculating both the amount of a maintenance award and its expected duration. Illinois has had a similar process in place for determining child support for thirty years, and will now be introducing the practice to spousal maintenance actions. Specifics of the calculation guidelines were explored in more detail previously on our blog.

Under the amended law, courts will also be permitted to enter a maintenance order on a “fixed-term” basis in certain situations. For marriages lasting less than ten years, the court may, at its discretion, invoke the fixed-term provision of the law. In doing so, the court establishes an award to be paid for the requisite number of months prescribed by the law’s guidelines, after which the termination of the award is permanent.

For example, if a couple was married for six years before divorcing, and a maintenance award is deemed appropriate on a fixed-term basis, the court may enter the order for 29 months, as calculated by law. At the end of those months, the party who received maintenance is prohibited from seeking an extension. By using fixed-term awards, courts hope to reduce contentious battles over maintenance that go on for years after a relatively short marriage.

If you are considering divorce in Illinois and would like to know more about how the new guidelines may affect your situation, contact an experienced DuPage County family law attorney. We understand the law and can help you do what is best for your situation.