Area of Law:
As society becomes more gender neutral, state child custody and alimony laws will change. Many of the changes simply reflect the realities of modern family life. Several states either revamped or attempted to change these laws this year. Such changes will likely accelerate in the near future.
The Florida legislature passed a bill that would have eliminated permanent alimony, among other changes to custody and support. In a surprising move, Governor Rick Scott vetoed the legislation in April 2016, although it clearly had the support of the majority of Floridians. The bill went beyond revising the duration and amount of alimony awards. It also changed grounds for alimony and alimony modifications because of substantial changes in circumstance, such as job loss. Currently, Florida custody policy is for a child to have “continuing and frequent contact” with both parents. The bill would change parental time-sharing plans and required courts to enable a child to spend equal time with both parents. Scott specifically cited the change in custody clause as his reason for the veto. However, the bill would permit judges to use their discretion in deciding individual custody situations, with the best interests of the child always remaining primary. Proponents plan to introduce separate legislation regarding custody and alimony issues, rather than have them packaged in the same bill.
The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act was extensively rewritten and signed into law with an effective date of January 1, 2016. “Visitation” and “custody” are no longer found in Illinois law. The terms are now “parental responsibility” and its allocation. There’s no longer a custodial parent – at least not by that name. Important decisions involving children – including religious upbringing, education, extracurricular activities and health care - are ideally made mutually. Visitation is now “parenting time.” The parent with lesser “parenting time” is more likely to have to pay child support. It is more than just a question of semantics. The new law recognizes the importance of both parents in a child’s life, and to all parties concerned, words do matter. No parent likes the idea they are “visiting” their children. Parenting time is really a more accurate description of the situation.
Another change involves relocation. Previously, parents could move anywhere within the state without approval from the court, but that wasn’t the case for moving out of state. Now, the boundaries are set by miles, not state lines. Parents can move 25 miles out of state without going to court. It only affects those living on state borders, but does make a difference to those families.
As of August 1, Minnesota residents receiving alimony that co-habit with significant others are in danger of losing their maintenance. Known as the “Cohabitation Alimony Reform Bill,” it was signed into law by Governor Mark Dayton in May. Because alimony stops at remarriage, many couples are opting not to wed and simply live together in a quasi-material situation – with the former spouse still paying maintenance. The former spouse paying alimony can now ask the court to terminate, reduce, or otherwise modify maintenance if the spouse receiving alimony lives with a romantic partner. The law should not affect former spouses living with roommates, friends, or relatives.
New Yorkers filing for divorce on or after January 23, 2016, now face a substantially lower cap on maintenance guideline calculations. If you filed for divorce prior to January 23, the income cap was $543,000. It’s now reduced to $175,000. However, the court still has the discretion to go above the cap. While the new cap primarily affects high-earning individuals, there are a significant number of such couples in the New York metropolitan area. The new law recommends lower alimony payments to a spouse when the former spouse who is also paying child support.
Maintenance lengths depend on marriage duration, as follows:
0 to 15 years - maintenance awarded for 15 to 30 percent of the marriage length
15 to 20 years – maintenance awarded for 30 to 40 percent of the marriage length
Over 20 years – maintenance awarded for 35 to 50 percent of the marriage length.
The court may still award maintenance of longer duration depending on the specifics of the case.
In many places, the title of this blog would read “How States Addressed Parenting Time and Spousal Maintenance in 2016.” Expect terminology to evolve along with laws governing divorce, just as it does for various societal issues.
Jane Meggitt is a Writer for Blackford and Flohr a criminal defense and family attorney in Maryland.