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Don't want to be burdened by permanent alimony? Come to Illinois!

There used to be a commercial on television that made a lot of people laugh. It featured a young lawyer entering an older lawyer's office to discuss a personal injury case they were handling. The older lawyer appeared quite confident and learned -- he was surrounded by leather-bound law books -- as his eager associate explained that they have just received the defendant's response to their complaint. "Who's representing them?" the older lawyer asked. The younger attorney looked at the paper and named a local Lake County law firm.

At the mere mention of that law firm's name, the older attorney's demeanor changed. He was no longer confident. He no longer sat large in his chair, leaning back a little, resting his elbows on his leather office chair's arms. He reacted with what amounted to a spit take and repeated the name of the local law firm. His hand wiped a bead of sweat off his brow as he sputtered, "We'd better settle!!"

The marketing ploy was not only meant to convince people that the local firm would represent its clients aggressively. The commercial was also trying to convey the idea that the local lawyers were familiar with the local courts, had argued in front of the judges often enough to know what approach worked best, had worked with local juries often enough to understand to know where they came down on damage awards. So much of a personal injury matter is in the hands of the court or the jury.

The same cannot be said of family law matters like spousal support -- at least, not in every state. Illinois law allows the court to use its discretion in awarding and calculating spousal maintenance. That is not the case in a lot of states, and family law attorneys and spouses ordered to pay permanent alimony are beginning to fight back.

Illinois family courts look at a few criteria in determining whether maintenance is appropriate. In our next post, we will discuss those factors and we'll talk more about how other states are trying to be a little more like us.

Source: Bloomberg, "Jail becomes home for husband stuck with lifetime alimony," Sophia Pearson, Aug. 26, 2013

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