Will Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act Changes Affect My Pending Divorce?

On January 1, 2016, new laws affecting divorces, child custody disputes, and paternity proceedings take place throughout Illinois. Many of these laws were enacted to reflect current societal realities in Illinois and make the process of obtaining a divorce and/or establishing a parent-child relationship easier. But as anyone who has gone through a divorce proceeding or had to have a child custody issue decided by a court can attest, domestic relations disputes are not always resolved quickly. What laws would apply if a person were to file for divorce or initiate a child custody proceeding in 2015 but that proceeding was not ready for a final decision by the court until 2016?

The General Rule: Changes Apply Prospectively Unless Otherwise Indicated

Before determining whether the changes made to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, set to become effective January 1, 2016, are to be applied retroactively or prospectively, it helps to understand the general rules regarding retroactive versus prospective application of new laws. In general, new substantive laws (that is, laws that affect the rights and/or remedies to which a party is entitled) apply prospectively only unless the language of the statute clearly indicates the legislature meant for the law to apply retroactively. (The legislature will usually do so using words such as “This law shall apply retroactively to all pending cases…” or similar language.)

Absent such language, courts will generally apply substantive laws prospectively. Procedural laws – those laws that describe how a case should proceed or a right or remedy should be calculated – can be applied retroactively by the courts in certain circumstances.

How Does the General Rule Apply to the New Changes?

A preliminary analysis of the new laws suggests that many new provisions lack specific language indicating the legislature’s intent. Thus, unless courts find a specific provision (such as the spousal maintenance formula) to be procedural in nature, the new laws would only apply to divorce or child custody actions initiated on or after January 1, 2016. Note that if you have an existing case but file a new petition for relief on or after January 1, 2016 then the new law would apply. For example, suppose that you and your spouse were divorced in 2011. However, if you decide to initiate a new petition to change the existing parenting time schedule after January 1, 2016, the new laws affecting parenting time determinations will apply.

Seek Help from a Qualified Illinois Family Law Attorney

At Abear Law Offices, our skilled DuPage County family law attorneys are knowledgeable of current domestic relations laws in Illinois as well as how the upcoming changes in these laws will affect those filing for divorce, child custody, and paternity. Whether you need immediate assistance or prefer to wait a few weeks to take advantage of the upcoming changes in the law, our experienced and talented attorneys can ensure your rights are protected and can help you work to achieve the outcome you desire. Contact one of our offices today for assistance.