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Alimony reform: Unnecessary or up next in Illinois?

Illinois has a lot to be grateful for in the area of family law. For example, for almost 20 years now, the state's spousal maintenance law has recognized that both wives and husbands make financial contributions to the marriage. Property division is handled more equitably than it had been in the past, and than it is in other states. And, notably, the judge cannot base a maintenance award on marital misconduct.

The judge can still award permanent or lifetime maintenance, even if the trend is away from that. A movement is afoot in other states, though, to abolish permanent alimony and to eliminate judicial discretion in making these determinations.

Alimony reform proponents have scores some big wins lately. One state has led the way by passing a law that effectively overhauled the spousal maintenance system.

Permanent alimony is a particular problem for reformers for a number of reasons, most of which have to do with the payer being at a distinct disadvantage in the arrangement. For example, the dollar amount does not vary even if the payer's income does. Nor does the amount change after the recipient begins to receive Social Security. And, many maintenance agreements include a provision that alimony stops when the recipient marries; alimony continues, though, if the recipient is living with a romantic partner.

The new law tackles judicial discretion by providing a formula for alimony based not on income but on the length of the marriage. In Illinois, the duration of the marriage is just one of a dozen things for a judge to take into consideration. Alimony reformers, however, push for a law that says, for example, that alimony cannot last more than 10.5 years if the marriage lasted 15 years. For long-term marriages, indefinite alimony is still available.

Spousal maintenance is a complicated issue, even when it's tied more closely to marital assets, as it is in Illinois. The alimony reform movement has a toehold in many states, so there's no saying if -- or when -- it will focus on this state.

Source: South Brunswick, NJ Patch, "For Better or Worse, NJ Looks at Divorce and Alimony," Colleen O'dea, June 10, 2012

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