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Changes in the Illinois Marriage & Dissolution of Marriage Act

Anyone seeking a divorce in Illinois after January 1, 2016 must navigate the new divorce laws.  For the first time in over 30 years, the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA) was overhauled in an effort to make divorce seem less adversarial.  Many parts of the Act have been amended including grounds for divorce, maintenance (formerly known as alimony), child custody and visitation. The changes to IMDMA are designed to lessen the conflict that typically occurs in divorce proceedings by changing the “winners and losers” mentality.

Heart Balm Actions

Beginning January 1, 2016, certain causes of actions were eliminated.  The right to sue over so called “heart balm” actions such as breach of promise to marry, alienation of affection, and adultery was abolished.  The reasons behind the amendment to the law stems from the change in the rights of men and women, historically, as well as the desire to promote amicable settlements in divorces.  These types of heart balm actions are contrary to the underlying purpose of the IMDMA and often are used as a harassment tool, causing unnecessary friction and animosity in the divorce process.

Grounds for Divorce

Under the new law, most grounds for divorce are eliminated. Beginning January 1, 2016, it is no longer necessary to plead and prove fault based grounds in order to obtain a divorce.  The grounds of adultery, abandonment, extreme and repeated mental cruelty, and other fault grounds no longer exist.  Rather, the only grounds that remain is the no-fault grounds of irreconcilable differences.

Waiting Period for Divorce

Prior to the enactment of the changes to the IMDMA on January 1, 2016, parties who desired to be divorced based upon the grounds of irreconcilable differences were required to live separate and apart from their spouse for two years, unless both parties agreed to shorten that period to six months.

Now, the parties live are required to live separate and apart for a mere 6 months prior to the entry of the Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage.  And, for so long as the parties have been separated for the 6 months immediately preceding the entry of the Judgment, irreconcilable differences have been proven.

Property Division 

Many of the modified terms and provisions of the IMDMA reflect a codification of case law that has been amassed in Illinois over the years.  The rules regarding the characterization of the property owned by the parties as either marital, non-marital or mixed have been updated and clarified so as to be more easily applied by the Courts.  These changes are designed to make the allocation of property between the parties more predictable, thereby promoting amicable settlements.

Maintenance

Last year, the IMDMA section on maintenance or spousal support was changed dramatically.  At the time, new statutory guidelines were put into place designating a formula for the computation of the amount of maintenance to be paid by one spouse to the other, and for how long those payments should last.  Again, these changes were designed to enhance the predictability of Court’s rulings on the subject, thereby reducing the frequency of hearings on the issue.

New to the law in 2016 is the correction of the guidelines as they relate to the length of the marriage.  Prior to January 2016, the law was not clear as to how long maintenance would last when the parties had been married for 5 years, 10 years, or 15 years. Since then, the law has been revised so that awarding maintenance becomes even more predictable.

Child Custody and Visitation

Under the new law, the terms “custody” and “visitation” have been replaced as they relate to parents.  Rather, the term “parental responsibilities” replaces “custody”. And, “visitation” is now referred to as “parenting time”.  “Visitation” still exists as it relates to time spent between a child and a sibling, grandparent and step-parent.  In fact, the rights of these “non-parents” have been expanded under the new law recognizing that the children of divorced parents have often times developed significant relationships and ties with other persons besides their parents, and that denying them access to these other persons is not in the children’s best interests.

Parental Relocation

Under the old law, the parent who had residential custody of a child or children was able to move anywhere in the state that they wished, often resulting in the need for additional litigation to modify visitation schedules.  Under the new law, if a parent lives in Will, McHenry, Lake, Kane, DuPage, or Cook counties they can move as far as 25 miles from their current residence with without first seeking and obtaining the approval of the move from the other parent or receiving a Court Order permitting the move. The new laws also simplified parental relocation across state borders, as well, providing that a parent in one of these counties may now move across state lines to Indiana or Wisconsin, for example, without first seeking the approval of the Courts so long as the new residence is within 25 miles of the current residence and the parent properly notifies the other parent prior to the move, and the other parent approves of the move.

Contact Our Office

These are just a few of the changes to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act that have occurred since January 1, 2016.  The attorneys and paralegals at Kathryn L. Harry & Associates, P.C. have trained extensively in the new laws.   If you are going through a divorce, you need a family law lawyer who will help you navigate the newly enacted and complex divorce laws. Call (877) 889-4515 today or fill out our contact form to schedule your free initial consultation.

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