Metro-East News

Illinois divorce law: A change-up for the breakup

After the holidays, divorce lawyers tend to get really busy. This coming year is going to be even busier.

The Illinois General Assembly passed the first revision of the “Dissolution of Marriage Act” in decades that changes how divorces are handled by the courts. The new law goes into effect Friday.

“It’s not perfect, but we were told perfection is the enemy of good,” said Edwardsville lawyer Jennifer Shaw, who helped revamp Illinois’ divorce law.

The changes will affect everyone filing for divorce in Illinois after Jan. 1. In 2015, more than 1,000 divorces were filed in St. Clair County and 1,200 in Madison County.

Some of the changes cover new terminology that reflects recent changes in society, such as gay marriage. Husband and wife are now referred to as the more gender-neutral “spouses.” Child custody is now referred to as “allocation of parenting time and responsibility.”

It takes the sting out of the word ‘custody,’” Shaw said. “The judge will still make the decision on the amount of time the child spends with either parent by what’s in the child’s best interest.

Edwardsville lawyer Jennifer Shaw

“It takes the sting out of the word ‘custody,’” Shaw said. “The judge will still make the decision on the amount of time the child spends with either parent by what’s in the child’s best interest.”

It also makes the process less confrontational.

“It takes the winner-takes-all mentality out of it in child custody matters,” Collinsville divorce lawyer Marleen Suarez said.

It used to be typical that a noncustodial parent — usually the father — only gets visitation every other weekend, but that, too, is changing as society evolves, said East Alton divorce lawyer Janel Freeman.

“It’s more of a reflection of how children are parented today,” she said. “Both parents work and children’s schedules are busier. It’s no longer a situation where the mother does most of the parenting. It’s easier if both the parents are involved.”

1,000Number of divorces granted in 2015 in St. Clair County

1,200Number of divorces granted in 2015 in Madison County

A judge can consider a variety of factors when deciding on an allocation of parenting time, Shaw said, including:

▪  the level of parental involvement in the 24 months before the petition was filed, and,

▪  whether there has been any attempt to cause estrangement by one parent against the other parent and the child.

Parents will also divide child-rearing responsibilities into four categories: medical, education, extra-curricular and religious. A judge will decide any conflicts in the decision-making, much as was done before, the lawyers said.

But some of the changes are more substantial, such as relocation. Under the previous law, a custodial parent could move anywhere in the state of Illinois without a court order, but moving just across the river to St. Louis required a court order.

Now, parents can move up to 25 miles across state lines or 50 miles within the state, provided that both parents agree.

“It’s just a more sane way to deal with it,” Freeman said.

Changes to child support still to come

The new law will also change how spousal maintenance, commonly known as alimony, is determined. Under the new law, if a judge awards maintenance, the award should equal 30 percent of the payer’s gross income minus 20 percent of the payee’s gross income, but should not be more than 40 percent of the couple’s total income.

“It’s a little confusing, but we will get the hang of it,” Shaw said.

“We are already trying to figure that in most cases,” Freeman added.

After Jan. 1, Illinois divorcing couples will only have one reason for the dissolution of their marriage — irreconcilable differences. Couples used to have to agree to waive a two-year waiting period or show grounds for the divorce, such as adultery, mental or physical cruelty, impotence or drug addiction.

“It used to be that the person who didn’t want the divorce would use that to draw out the process,” Suarez said. “I think it will be a good thing, once we get all the kinks worked out.”

But there are more changes coming. Child support will be the next family law issue the legislature will address, Shaw said. The proposed changes will allow judges to look at both parents’ incomes when determining child support.

“It’s a more fair way of calculating support,” Shaw said.

It’s such a contentious thing. Sometimes, some parties can’t see past the reason for the separation and they want to litigate everything,” Suarez said. “This is meant to address this.

Collinsville lawyer Maureen Suarez

The goal of the new divorce law is to make it more reflect families today and make divorce a little less litigious.

“It’s such a contentious thing. Sometimes, some parties can’t see past the reason for the separation and they want to litigate everything,” Suarez said. “This is meant to address this.”

But will it work?

“I don’t really know if we will go into court less,” Freeman said. “These cases are so emotional and the parties want a judge to tell them they are right and they are in some way vindicated.”

In 2015, St. Clair County issued more than 1,400 marriage licenses. In Madison County, there were more than 1,500 marriage licenses issued. For those couples and those who are contemplating marriage, Shaw recommended one thing: a prenuptial agreement.

“While you are in love and happy, it’s the time to make decisions about property and how it will be divided in the event of a divorce or, more importantly, if one of the parties dies,” Shaw said.

And for anyone who is headed for divorce, Shaw offered this advice: “Go see a lawyer way before you file to protect your rights and yourself.”

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE CHANGES:

  • Some of the changes cover new terminology that reflects recent changes in society, such as gay marriage. Husband and wife are now referred to as the more gender-neutral “spouses.”
  • Child custody is now referred to as “allocation of parenting time and responsibility.”
  • Goal of the process is to be less confrontational.
  • More factors to be considered when setting allocation of parental time.
  • Parents can move up to 25 miles across state lines or 50 miles within the state, provided that both parents agree.
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