The Illinois Guidelines for Statutory Maintenance are Inapplicable in Proceedings to Modify Maintenance that were Ordered before the Amendment Went into Effect.
Currently, maintenance in Illinois is governed by 750 ILCS 5/504 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. Recently, Section 504 was amended, and the amendment became effective on January 1, 2018, which increased the combined gross annual income to be less than $500,000 and has a guideline for the duration and amount of maintenance. If a couple that is going through a divorce has a combined annual income in excess of $500,000, then the court can set maintenance at any amount and for any duration as it deems necessary and appropriate. Also, when the couple has a combined gross annual income that is less than $500,000, the court can deviate from the guidelines of Section 504, but the court must make a special finding and disclose its special finding.
Recently, the Illinois Appellate Court decided, if a divorce took place prior to the Section 504 amendment and then a party petitions the Court after the amendment went into effect, the new guidelines do not apply to the modification of maintenance.
This groundbreaking case involved a Petitioner who filed for a dissolution of marriage in 2005, which is well before the amendment to Section 504 went into effect. At the time of Petitioner filing for divorce, the couple was married for nineteen years and nine months (just shy of twenty years). In 2007, the district court dissolved the parties’ marriage and in the court’s Order it ordered that the former husband must pay his former wife maintenance. Also, the court’s order disallowed modification of the maintenance award until the former wife reached the age of sixty-five. Later, both parties filed petitions to modify the maintenance award. The district court found that the Section 504 amendment should be applied to the former couples’ modification of the maintenance award. It was decided by the district court that the former husband’s petition for a reduction of maintenance was denied and that the former wife’s petition for an increase of maintenance was granted due to a substantial change of circumstances of the party’s financial situation. The former wife was granted permanent maintenance by the district court (which under Section 504 would typically only be awarded to a spouse that was in a twenty or more-year marriage).
On appeal, the former husband argued that the district court either misapplied the new guidelines in Section 504 or erroneously determined that the parties’ marriage was a twenty-year marriage when the former wife was granted permanent maintenance.
The Appellate Court determined that the district court did misconstrue the guidelines in Section 504. The amendment in Section 504, has a formula for both the amount and duration of maintenance. A court may deviate from this formula, but it must make findings as to the amount or duration of maintenance that would have been ordered under the guidelines as well as its reasons for not following the guideline’s amount or duration. The district court did not follow the guidelines in Section 504 and did not set-out a determination for its departure from the guidelines. More importantly, the Appellate Court concluded that the guidelines set out in Section 504 were not applicable in this situation at all because the marriage was petitioned prior to and finalized before Section 504 was amended.
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