Every January, thousands of new state laws across America go into effect. Of course, 2016 was no exception. Some states, as one may expect, enacted more new measures than others in a given year. Texas, for example, enacted more than 1,200 new provisions over the last few months. Throughout the country, the legal landscape remains in a constant state of evolution.
Family law, in particular, is an area that must be regularly revisited as the social climate changes, along with the needs of all types of parents and their children. Divorce is a major component of family law, and a few states have made adjustments to divorce-related statutes. These changes look to “even the playing field” and provide couples with options to end their marriages more amicably whenever possible. Some states, in particular, had significant changes that divorce and family law attorneys will need to contend with at their firms this year.
The Land of Lincoln: Illinois
Perhaps the most substantial family law updates in any state this year can be found in Illinois:
- No-Fault Divorce: At-fault grounds for divorce have been eliminated, meaning that every divorce will now be considered no-fault if ruled on after January 1, 2016 (existing orders will remain in effect). There will also no longer be a mandatory separation period forcing a couple to wait to get divorced, despite having all of the other details worked out.
- Allocation of Parental Responsibilities and Parenting Time: Child custody, as it was previously known, has been replaced with a more fluid and cooperative phrase: “allocation of parental responsibilities.” There will be no more sole or joint custody orders, and neither parent will be considered custodial or non-custodial. (However, one parent may be considered the primary residential parent with the majority of parental responsibilities.) Also, all parents can expect—unless there is a danger to the child—to have at least some “parenting time,” a change from the previous term of visitation.
- Relocation with a Child: A primary residential parent considering a move with his or her child must obtain the other party’s consent if the move is within the state and is greater than 50 miles (or 25 miles if the original residence is in the Chicago Metro area). Permission is also required for moves more than 25 miles to a new home outside of the state.
- Parentage: A person, regardless of gender, will now be presumed to be a child’s second legal parent if he or she was or subsequently becomes married to the child’s mother. The court will also have the discretion to refuse to order DNA testing if doing so would upset the stability of the child with his or her presumed parents.
The Empire State: New York
- Cap for Temporary Child Support and Spousal Support: (Effective January 25, 2016) Calculations for child support and spousal support payments will be capped from an original $543,000 down to $175,000. Higher-income situations will require proof that income above that amount should be considered. These changes will also require the court to consider and allocate the responsibility for each spouse to contribute to family expenses while a divorce case is pending.
Honorable mentions: Major law changes in 2015
Illinois and New York also had a few law changes last year, which affected divorcing couples greatly.
On January 1, 2015, Illinois spousal maintenance (alimony) rules changed to that of a mathematical formula. The formula applies only when a gross income of divorcing parties is below $250,000 and includes 30% of the payor’s gross income minus 20% of the payee’s gross income. If the difference is less than 40% of the combined income, then that difference is considered the maintenance amount.
In October 2015, New York added need-based tests to divorce proceedings to prevent ordered child support and spousal maintenance payments from leaving the paying spouse severely economically deprived.
Maryland also had three notable law changes as of October 1, 2015:
- A couple without minor children will now be able to divorce without waiting the previously enacted one-year period, as long as both parties mutually consent to the proceedings. A written agreement is required to address property, spousal support, and other related issues. Exceptions to the new rule include adultery or abuse cases.
- Couples also no longer have to reside in the state for a year, now just six months, if they want to get a divorce.
- Circumstances in which a couple can get a limited divorce have been clarified and simplified. The law will now recognize that if two parties no longer live together, and one of them wants a divorce, neither the courts nor the State should prevent the process.
The intensely personal concerns of family law
Family law attorneys are often drawn to this area of law due to an innate desire to help the average person deal with realistic, everyday problems. It is rare if a family has never experienced at least one divorce, child custody, or parentage concern. The sensitive nature of family-related legal issues means that it takes a certain type of attorney to be able to relate well to a client’s needs while maintaining strong advocacy both in and out of the courtroom.
As attorney and family court judges contend with the law changes, new legal precedents are sure to be quickly established. Then, as the effects begin to be felt around the respective states, the statutes will likely be revisited to ensure they able to keep pace with the ever-changing nature of today’s families. It’s a cycle that promises to continue well into the foreseeable future.
- llinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act
- New York: May 20, 2015
- New York: A07645 Summary
- Illinois: Public Act 098-0961
- New York: Report of the Matrimonial Practice Advisory and Rules Committee
- Maryland: Senate Bill 472
- Maryland: House Bill 1185
- Maryland: House Bill 165