If a marriage is about entwining a couple’s lives together, then divorce is about extricating those same people apart — a process that is not always easy. Navigating the divorce process can be scary and overwhelming. In addition to the emotional and personal concerns that arise, handling a divorce — whether contested or uncontested — will often include addressing a number of complex financial issues, including property division, maintenance (also known as spousal support), and the allocation of marital debts. Getting divorced will often also bring up difficult parenting decisions and child-related matters, including determining child support and allocating parental responsibility and parenting time.
Completing a divorce will generally mean coming to an agreement on these important matters through negotiation, mediation, and settlement. If a couple cannot agree, then the court can ultimately issue a judgment and make these decisions for you. In either case, it’s important to keep in mind that these issues will not always go away after the completion of your “uncontested prove-up” or divorce trial.
Post-Decree Matters: Modifying, Terminating, or Enforcing an Agreement or Judgment
People’s circumstances and lives are always changing. As a result, it may be necessary to address “post-decree” matters in the years after your divorce in order to modify or terminate certain provisions and agreements, or make sure that others are properly enforced.
A skilled and experienced family law attorney can help you navigate these pressing and important post-decree matters as needed, helping to provide you with tailored solutions that are specific to your unique circumstances.
Some of the post-decree issues that can come up in the years after an Illinois divorce might include:
Modifying Spousal Maintenance (Formerly Alimony)
Maintenance refers to money that one spouse must pay the other, on an ongoing basis, following a divorce. It is also sometimes known as spousal support, and was previously known as alimony.
Generally speaking, maintenance is ordered by a judge; it can also be factored in as a part of a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, in which spouses may agree to a predetermined length and duration for maintenance, or waive it altogether.
The purpose of maintenance is to help an ex-spouse support themselves and live independently after the dissolution of their marriage. In Illinois, our maintenance statute is gender-neutral, meaning that both spouses, regardless of gender, can be awarded maintenance depending on their circumstances.
Assuming a case is appropriate for maintenance, the court will either apply statutory calculation guidelines, which are based solely on the parties’ income and the length of the marriage; or, deviate from said guidelines, with a specified reason for the deviation. You can learn more about how to calculate maintenance in Illinois here.
Under Illinois law, spousal support can be awarded as fixed-term, indefinite, reviewable, or reserved. Fixed-term maintenance terminates after a predetermined time period, based on the duration of the marriage. Indefinite maintenance does not have a specific end date, and must continue to be paid unless there is a significant change in circumstances. This might include a substantial change in a spouse’s material circumstances (such as experiencing a significant loss or gain in income), a spouse cohabitating or remarrying, or the death or a significant illness of a spouse. If a court grants reviewable maintenance for a specific term, the court shall designate the period of the term and state that the maintenance is reviewable. At the point of review, the court will determine if the maintenance period should be terminated, or if it should continue for a fixed term or indefinitely into the future.
Modifying Child Support
Child support is intended to provide for the reasonable and necessary physical, mental and emotional health needs of a child. Child support payments, and payments in the nature of child support, generally cover everyday expenses (like food, clothing, and shelter), as well as extracurricular and school expenses, child care expenses, and health care and insurance expenses.
Illinois determines the amount of money required from each parent based on what is known as an Income-Shares model. This means that the amount of child support owed is calculated using a specific formula, based on the incomes of both parents. The court may also decide to award child support using a different method if it finds that applying the standard guidelines would be inappropriate, inequitable, or unjust. Generally speaking, in considering the decision to deviate from the child support guidelines, the court will examine actors such as the financial resources and needs of the child; the financial resources and needs of the parents; the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage or civil union not been dissolved; and the physical and emotional condition of the child and his or her educational needs.
Broadly speaking, child support is always modifiable, provided that the petitioning party can show that there has been a substantial change in circumstances. For instance, this might mean a significant change in income for either party; the development of unexpected new expenses (such as the child requiring unexpected medical care); or a change in how much time the child is spending with each parent. Provisions for the support of a child are also terminated by the emancipation of the child, or the date that the child graduates from high school or attains the age of 19, whichever is earlier.
Revisiting a Parenting Agreement, including Parenting Time and Parental Responsibilities
When a couple with one or more children gets divorced, it is essential to make decisions about parenting time and parental responsibilities. (Note that these are currently the terms we use in our home state of Illinois; in other states, you may see the phrase “custody” used to describe similar concepts.)
“Parenting time” refers to a period during which one parent is responsible for caring for the child, such as providing food, shelter, education, medical care, and discipline. This includes making “non-significant” or everyday decisions for the benefit of the child.
“Parental responsibilities” is a broad term, and encompasses both parenting time and “significant decision-making responsibilities with respect to a child.” This encompasses decisions about “issues of long-term importance in the life of a child,” including their education, health, religion, and extracurricular activities.
In most divorce proceedings, allocation of parenting time and parental responsibilities is determined through the creation of a parenting plan, a signed, written agreement that allocates significant decision-making responsibilities, parenting time, or both. If parents cannot agree, a judge will issue an allocation judgment, with the goal of assigning decision-making responsibilities according to the child’s best interests.
It may prove necessary to revisit and modify such plans over time. For example, a court may order a restriction of parenting time if it finds that a parent engaged in any conduct “that seriously endangered the child’s mental, moral, or physical health” or impaired their “emotional development.” The court may also modify a parenting arrangement if it is found that a substantial change has occurred in the circumstances of the child or of either parent and that a modification is necessary to serve the child’s best interests.
Parenting plans may also be revisited or amended in order to resolve issues that arise from the relocation of one parent, or if one party consistently violates the terms of the existing plan.
Seeking a Change of Residence
One of the most common issues constituting a substantial change of circumstances when it comes to modifying parenting time and parental responsibilities is the relocation of a parent.
Broadly speaking, a parent who has been allocated a majority of parenting time or either parent who has been allocated equal parenting time may seek to relocate with a child.
- a change of residence from the child’s current primary residence located in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, or Will counties to a new residence within the state of Illinois that is more than 25 miles from the child’s current residence, as measured by an Internet mapping service;
- a change of residence from the child’s current primary residence located in a county not listed above to a new residence within Illinois that is more than 50 miles from the child’s current primary residence, as measured by an Internet mapping service; or
- a change of residence from the child’s current primary residence to a residence outside the borders of Illinois that is more than 25 miles from the current primary residence, as measured by an Internet mapping service.
A parent intending to make such a relocation must provide written notice of the relocation to the other parent under the parenting plan or allocation judgment and file a copy of the notice required with the clerk of the circuit court. (The court may waive or seal some or all of the information required in the notice if there is a history of domestic violence.)
The relocating parent must provide at least 60 days’ written notice before the relocation unless such notice is impracticable (in which case written notice shall be given at the earliest date practicable). At a minimum, the notice must state:
- the intended date of the parent’s relocation;
- the address of the parent’s intended new residence, if known; and
- the length of time the relocation will last, if the relocation is not for an indefinite or permanent period.
If the non-relocating parent signs the notice and the relocating parent files the notice with the court, relocation shall be allowed without any further court action. The court shall modify the parenting plan or allocation judgment to accommodate a parent’s relocation as agreed by the parents, as long as the agreed modification is in the child’s best interests.
If the non-relocating parent objects to the relocation, fails to sign the notice provided, or if the parents cannot agree on modifying the parenting plan or allocation judgment, then the parent seeking relocation must file a petition seeking permission to relocate. From there, the court will make modifications in accordance with the child’s best interests, factoring in:
- the circumstances and reasons for the intended relocation;
- the reasons, if any, why a parent is objecting to the intended relocation;
- the history and quality of each parent’s relationship with the child (specifically whether a parent has substantially failed or refused to exercise the parental responsibilities allocated to him or her under the parenting plan or allocation judgment)
- the educational opportunities for the child at the existing location and at the proposed new location;
- the presence or absence of extended family at the existing location and at the proposed new location;
- the anticipated impact of the relocation on the child;
- whether the court will be able to fashion a reasonable allocation of parental responsibilities between all parents if the relocation occurs;
- the wishes of the child, taking into account his or her maturity and ability to express reasoned and independent preferences;
- possible arrangements for the exercise of parental responsibilities appropriate to the parents’ resources and circumstances and the developmental level of the child;
- minimization of the impairment to a parent-child relationship caused by a parent’s relocation; and
- any other relevant factors bearing on the child’s best interests.
Determining College Contributions
Paying for a child’s post-secondary education can be a large order — and this is an issue that is often put off during a divorce, with parents reserving decisions about college expenses so that they can gain a better picture of the potential costs and better understand the exact needs and desires of their child.
Illinois law allows a parent to petition the other parent for contributions for college and other relevant educational expenses after the child has graduated from high school or reached the age of majority. This includes seeking contributions for public and private college, as well as vocational or professional training after high school. Common expenses that might be covered under Illinois law include tuition and fees, on-campus and off-campus housing expenses, books and supplies, medical expenses, and reasonable living expenses.
In determining the amount awarded for post-secondary educational expenses, the court will consider factors including:
- The present and future financial resources of both parties to meet their needs, including, but not limited to, savings for retirement;
- The standard of living the child would have enjoyed, had the marriage not been dissolved;
- The financial resources of the child, including scholarships and savings accounts; and
- The child’s academic performance.
Sums may be ordered payable to the child, to the other parent, or to the educational institution, either directly or through a special account or trust created for that purpose. Provisions for educational expenses may be terminated if the child turns 23 years old, fails to maintain a suitable grade point average, receives their baccalaureate degree, or gets married.
Interested In Learning More About Any Aspect of Family Law in Chicago?
You don’t have to go through these stressful times alone. It is important to speak with an experienced divorce and family attorney to determine what post-decree issues you may have, and how to address them.
Like most areas of the law, individual situations warrant a detailed and thorough assessment. Procedures to modify, terminate, or enforce the provisions of a divorce agreement or judgment are not always easy to navigate without the help of an experienced lawyer who understands how this process works in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.
That’s where The Law Offices of J. Jeltes, Ltd. come in. Our skilled attorneys can handle all of the pieces involved in a contested or uncontested divorce and post-decree matters.
With more than 20 years of combined experience, our legal professionals are driven, attentive, and dedicated to achieving the best results possible. We truly understand that every situation is unique, and before hiring our firm our attorneys will provide you with a comprehensive one-on-one consultation to discuss your legal concerns and goals in depth.
If you have any more questions about child support, maintenance, parental rights and responsibilities, or any other aspect of family law in Illinois, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team of experienced and compassionate advocates to continue the conversation.