When it comes to maintenance, most clients want to know two things: How much and how long will it last?
For spouses newly entering the work force or returning to school and not yet employed, knowing the duration of award can be nearly as critical as the monthly amount. Likewise, the paying spouse wants to when he or she may relieved of the obligation.
Prior to the maintenance laws being amended in 2015, Illinois courts had no authority, absent the parties’ agreement, to order a set date on which maintenance would terminate. Any award ordered by the Court was always “reviewable” or subject to continue, maybe even increase or decrease, after a fixed term expired. Neither party had any certainty and, unless agreed, the they would need to return to court at the end of the term to determine if maintenance should continue and if so, in what amount.
This often resulted in continued litigation after the divorce was final. At the outset, it put the receiving spouse at an advantage to negotiate a higher payment in exchange for agreeing to a fixed termination date. Arguably, it didn’t encourage the receiving spouse to maximize his or her earning capacity.
Under the maintenance statutory guidelines that took effect in 2015, in some cases, litigants now have more certainty when it comes to the duration of maintenance. The duration of the maintenance award is calculated by multiplying the length of the marriage by a set number as follows:
• 0 to 5 years, the multiple is .20; • 5 to 10 years, the multiple is .40; • 10 to 15 years, the multiple is .60; • 15 to 20 years, the multiple is .80; and • 20 or more years, the court may either make the duration equal to the length of the marriage (i.e., a multiple of 1.0) or make maintenance permanent.
For example, a marriage lasting 8 years would result in 3.2 years of maintenance.
Critically, when the length of the marriage is less than ten (10) years, the Court, under the new law, can order a fixed term and permanently bar additional payments. When the marriage is over
10 years, however, the Court cannot order a fixed termination date. At a minimum, the guidelines still provide some insight as to the date of reviewability the judge may order.
The new law does not change the fact that the judge still has discretion on whether or not maintenance guidelines are appropriate at the outset. He or she may determine that the guidelines shall not apply based on the circumstances.
Nonetheless, the statutory formula now gives parties some guidance in determining what is fair and reasonable for settlement purposes. There often are many variables and complexities involved in each case. It is critical that you thoroughly understand the risks and benefits of any maintenance award, all of which should be discussed with your family law specialist.