Margaret Bennett’s Upcoming Speaking Events: Spring & Summer 2017

With the new year in full swing and the new Illinois Child Support Guidelines coming into effect in July, 2017, Margaret Bennett has been scheduled to help educate Illinois attorneys across the state on the new ways Illinois Courts will calculate child support. The following are the upcoming events Ms. Bennett will be speaking at this Spring and Summer:

-March 2, 2018: ISBA Chicago Regional Office

-April 20, 2017: McHenry County Bar Association’s 5th Annual Networking & Educational Forum

-April 28, 2017: Jackson & Williamson County Bar Association’s Joint CLE Program, Hosted by Southern Illinois University Law School

-May 11, 2017: Kane County Bar Association’s 2017 Family Law Seminar

-May 16, 2017: Will County Bar Association

-May 18, 2017: Institute for Continuing Legal Education Seminar, Chicago

-June 9, 2017: Institute for Continuing Legal Education Seminar, Bloomington

To learn more about the changes to child support guidelines, please see Ms. Bennett’s Article in the ISBA December 2016 Bar Journal.

Attorney Margaret A. Bennett Co-Author’s Article with Honorable Pamela E. Loza for Illinois State Bar Association January 2015 Newsletter

We are proud to announce Attorney Margaret A. Bennett has co-authored an article with the Honorable Pamela E. Loza in the January 2015 newsletter of the Illinois State Bar Association‘s Section on Family Law. January 2015, vol. 58, no. 7 The legal and ethical conundrum of child support in multi-partnered families By Hon. Pamela E. Loza and Margaret A. Bennett

Every state utilizes guidelines to uniformly calculate child support obligations for multi-partnered families. Child support obligations are a reality in that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce; two-thirds of women and three-fourths of men remarry; and many start second families.[1] Further, more and more children each year are born to unmarried women. According to Illinois Department of Public Health statistics, the percentage of all children born in Illinois to unmarried women increased from 25 percent in 1984 to 41 percent in 2010.[2] That percentage increases to 50 percent for women with less than a post-secondary education, and to almost 80 percent for African-American women residing in Chicago.

Data from Wisconsin-based Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cases illuminates the complexity of multi-partnered families.[3] On average, more than half of all mothers with a three-year association with TANF had children with two or more fathers. In nine percent of these situations, the fathers also had children with other women.[4] Further, when women had children with just one man, he was the father of children with at least one other woman 16 percent of the time.[5] Applying guidelines to calculate child support obligations in these scenarios presents complex challenges. To accomplish this daunting task, states generally employ one of three basic methods including the Melson formula, the percentage of income model, and the income shares model.

Melson Formula – Utilized in Delaware, Hawaii, and Montana, this formula reflects public policy considerations of a parent’s personal minimal support needs that should be met before he or she can support the needs of others.[6] However, public policy also recognizes that additional enhancement of a parent’s financial circumstance is impermissible until the parents jointly meet their child’s primary support needs. Finally, the child’s standard of living should adjust in proportion to the parents’ improved standard of living.

Once a parent’s minimal support allowance and the child’s standard of living is established, each parent is assigned a prorated share of the child’s subsistence standard based on the total share of the parent’s income.[7] A percentage of any additional income is then utilized to improve the child’s standard of living. Proponents of the Melson formula argue that although it appears complex relative to other models, it is the fairest and most internally consistent of the three. The formula minimizes differences between low and high income earning parents, addresses special custody relationships, and contemplates the needs of children and their parents.[8]

Percentage of Income Model- Illinois and nine other states including New York, Texas, and Wisconsin utilize the percentage of income model to calculate child support obligations.[9] The IMDMA, 750 ILCS 5/505 provides that “[t]he duty of support owed to a child includes the obligation to provide for the physical, mental and emotional health needs of the child.”[10] While all jurisdictions require Financial Affidavits from both parties, only the noncustodial obligor’s income is considered when calculating support obligations in the vast majority of cases. A percentage of the non-custodial parent’s income is calculated to determine the minimum amount of support owed per child. For example, the noncustodial parent owes 20% of his or her net income to support one child, and 28% for two children. When making a child support calculation for parents with multiple children from multiple partners in Illinois, the guidelines provide that a paid child support obligation arising out of an existing court order is deducted from the parent’s gross income before applying the percentage for child support.

The result of this formula is an uneven payment of child support such that the oldest child receives more than his or her younger sibling from a different partner. The Illinois legislature traditionally considered the first in time, first in right approach fair because the oldest child should not receive less support due to the non-custodial parent’s actions. However, this theory is fatally flawed because it benefits older children to the detriment of their younger siblings. The progressive New Jersey process creates the most equitable results for multi-partnered families. In New Jersey, the guidelines vest the court with the authority to review and adjust all support orders in a consolidated proceeding by averaging the orders or fashioning some other resolution that treats all supported children fairly.[11]

Admittedly, at least in Cook County, the ability to authorize consolidation and review of multiple family situations could have far reaching and dire effects on an already overwhelmed court system. This could lead to costly and time-consuming litigation. However, the first in time, first in right approach is archaic and unjust. New legislation promulgated by the ISBA Family Law Section Council seeks to address these concerns by utilizing an income shares model to calculate child support obligations rather than the archaic percentage of income model.

Income Shares Model- Forty states, as well as, Washington D.C., Guam and the Virgin Islands, utilize the income shares model to calculate child support obligations.[12] This approach is based on economic analysis showing that the proportion of a parent’s income devoted to children in intact families declines as income increases. A lesser percentage of income is spent on necessities such as food, lodging, medical and education. Application of this rule should result in the noncustodial parent paying approximately what the parent would have paid if the family had remained intact.

Unlike the percentage of income model, the income shares model requires income information from both parents. Each parent’s net income is determined based upon gross income minus either the standardized or individualized tax amount. Parents then are responsible for their prorated share of child support thereby creating a more comprehensive, fair, and flexible process of determining child support obligations as compared to the one size fits all percentage of income guidelines. The court may issue minimum support orders to parents living below the poverty line, and individualized income guidelines may be utilized to determine a child’s physical care needs when one or both parents have prior child support obligations to other children. Movement to the income shares model is a step in the right direction for Illinois but does it go far enough? One possible solution would be to give the court greater authority and discretion to review and adjust child support orders on a case-by-case basis in the best interests of all children.  


[2] See ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH (last visited November 5, 2014), <>.


[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] See Child Support Guideline Models by State, NCSL: NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF STATE LEGISLATURES, <> (last updated April 2013).

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] 750 ILCS 5/505.


[12] See Child Support Guideline Models by State, NCSL: NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF STATE LEGISLATURES, <> (last updated April 2013).

Dramatic Changes with New Spousal Maintenance Guidelines: House Bill 1452

Beginning January 1, 2015, a new spousal maintenance statute, Public Act 98-961, will become effective for divorcing couples with a combined gross income of $250,000 or less. The new spousal maintenance legislation contains guidelines for the amount and duration of spousal maintenance. These guidelines are based on each party’s gross income and the length of the marriage.

Prior to the court implementing the spousal maintenance guidelines, the court must first consider if a maintenance award is appropriate by considering various factors listed in the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (“IMDMA”), including but not limited to, “the income and property of each party, then needs of each party, the present and future earning capacity of each party…the standard of living established during the marriage, the duration of the marriage, the age and the physical and emotional condition of both parties…”. Determining the Amount of Maintenance under the New Guidelines

Once the court has decided that a party is entitled to spousal maintenance, the court will then apply the new spousal maintenance guidelines outlined in Pub. Act 98-961 which set forth a simple formula to determine the appropriate amount of maintenance. The amount of spousal maintenance is determined by “taking 30% of the payor’s gross income minus 20% of the payee’s gross income”. The total maintenance award shall not exceed 40% of the parties’ combined gross yearly incomes. Determining the Duration of Maintenance under the New Guidelines

When determining the duration of spousal maintenance under the new guidelines, the length of the marriage is paramount, with sizeable increases in the duration of maintenance occurring for marriages lasting more than 5, 10, 15, or 20 years. The new statute determines the duration of spousal maintenance by multiplying the length of the marriage as follows:

Length of Marriage              Multiplier

0 – 5 years                               .20

5 – 10 years                             .40

10 – 15 years                           .60

15 – 20 years                           .80

For marriages lasting 20 years or more, the new guidelines in Pub. Act 98-961 recommend “permanent maintenance, or maintenance equal to the duration of the marriage”.

As stated in the Illinois Bar Journal Vol. 103, No. 1, entitled The New Illinois Spousal Maintenance Law: Retroactive or Prospective, it is important to note that judges are not required to use this formula in determining the amount of a maintenance award; however, if the judge does not use the formula, he or she “must make a finding explaining” his or her refusal.

A major concern for family law attorneys is whether or not Pub. Act 98-961 will be applied retroactively. While Pub. Act 98-961 applies to all maintenance awards entered after January 1, 2015, it is unclear what effect it will have on maintenance that was awarded prior to its enactment, specifically its effect on maintenance modification orders entered with the court after January 1, 2015.

The new maintenance guidelines promise to significantly impact the way spousal maintenance awards are negotiated and litigated. Keep in mind that Illinois laws are constantly changing. For example, House Bill 1452 will be reintroduced to the House of Representatives in January 2015. House Bill 1452 is already considered a major revision to the current IMDMA with its significant changes to the 38-year-old law. Contact Bennett Law Firm, LLC today to set up a consultation and see how House Bill 1452 can have an effect on your divorce.