How does the Distribution of Property affect the Amount of Maintenance Awarded?

Section 504(a) of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (the Act) allows circuit courts to “grant a maintenance award for either spouse in amounts and for periods of time as the court deems just.” 750 ILCS 5/504(a). The court must consider several factors in awarding maintenance. Section 504(a) of the Act sets forth these factors for the circuit courts to consider in deciding whether to award maintenance. 750 ILCS 5/504(a). One of these factors involves “the income and property of each party, including marital property apportioned and non-marital property assigned to the party seeking maintenance as well as all financial obligations imposed on the parties as a result of the dissolution of marriage.” Id. Other factors the court must consider include, “the needs of each party; the present and future earning capacity of each party; any impairment of present and future earning capacity of the recipient spouse due to devoting time to domestic duties or forgoing opportunities because of the marriage; the time necessary to enable the party seeking maintenance to acquire appropriate education, training and employment; the standard of living established during the marriage; the duration of the marriage; the age, health, occupation, and income sources of each party; the tax consequences to each party; any contribution and services by the recipient spouse to the other spouse; any valid agreement of the parties; and any other factor that the trial court expressly finds to be just and equitable.” Id.

Moreover, Illinois circuit courts balancing twelve factors when assigning the division of marital property. 750 ILCS 5/503(d). These twelve factors include each party's contribution “to the acquisition, preservation, or increase or decrease in value of the marital property;” the “dissipation by each party of the marital property;” “the value of the property assigned to each spouse;” “the duration of marriage;” the “relevant economic circumstances of each spouse when the division of property is to become effective;” “any obligations and rights arising from a prior marriage of either party;” “any prenuptial or postnuptial agreement of the parties;” the “age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability and needs of each of the parties;” the “custodial provisions for any children;” “whether the apportionment is in lieu of or in addition to maintenance;” the “reasonable opportunity of each spouse for future acquisition of capital assets and income;” and the “tax consequences of the property division upon the respective economic circumstances of the parties.” Id. A circuit court must consider each factor “but is not required to make express findings regarding each on the record.” Reed v. Reed, 2023 IL App (1st) 220949-U, 2023 WL 8869453, ¶49 (Dec. 22, 2023).

The standard distribution of marital property is whether the distribution is equitable in nature. Id. The circuit courts are required to divide marital property in “just proportions.” In re Marriage of Grant, 2023 IL App (5th) 220291-U, 2023 WL 7295195, ¶28 (Nov. 3, 2023). Circuit courts favor equal distribution of marital property, unless “application of the statutory factors demonstrates an equal division would be inequitable.” Reed, 2023 IL App (1st) 220949-U, ¶49. However, equal division of marital assets is not a requirement, and “one spouse may be awarded a larger share of the assets if the relevant factors warrant such a result.” Id. Thus, unequal division of marital property may be appropriate depending on the circumstances of the case.

As set forth by the Act, circuit courts “shall make specific factual findings as to its classification of assets as marital or non-marital property, values, and other factual findings supporting its property award.” 750 ILCS 5/503(a). Nonmarital property includes “property excluded by valid agreement of the parties, including a premarital agreement or a postnuptial agreement.” 750 ILCS 5/503(a)(4). The failure of a circuit court to determine the value of substantial assets can justify reversal on appeal. Grant, 2023 IL App (5th) 220291-U, ¶27. However, the valuation of marital property will not be reversed unless it is against the manifest weight of the evidence, and the division of marital property will not be disturbed unless there is found to be an abuse of discretion. Id.

Section 504(b-2)(1) of the Act requires circuit courts to make specific findings of fact, state its reasoning for awarding or not awarding maintenance, and include references to each of the 14 relevant factors described in section 504(a).750 ILCS 5/504(b-2)(1). If a circuit court determines that an award for maintenance is appropriate for the matter, the court then must determine the duration and amount of maintenance the party is to receive. Grant, 2023 IL App (5th) 220291-U, ¶36.  In the case of a marriage of 20 or more years, the circuit court shall use its discretion to “order maintenance for a period equal to the length of the marriage or for an indefinite term.” 750 ILCS 5/504(b-1)(1)(B). Permanent maintenance is applied in cases “where it is evident that the recipient former spouse is either unemployable or has employment skills but there is a discrepancy between her probable future income and the amount of income that would provide the standard of living she enjoyed during the marriage.” Grant, 2023 IL App (5th) 220291-U, ¶36. The amount of maintenance awarded lies within the sound discretion of the circuit court. Id. ¶37. The Act provides a guideline for circuit courts to follow when awarding maintenance. The Act states that maintenance is calculated by taking “33 1/3% of the payor's net annual income minus 25% of the payee's net annual income. The amount calculated as maintenance, however, when added to the net income of the payee, shall not result in the payee receiving an amount that is in excess of 40% of the combined net income of the parties.” 750 ILCS 5/504(b-1)(1)(A) (West 2022). The circuit court’s decision in awarding maintenance will not be disturbed without the finding of an abuse of discretion. Almodovar v. Almodovar, 2023 IL App (2d) 220154-U, 2023 WL 7489949, ¶51 (Nov. 13, 2023). An abuse of discretion only occurs when the court's ruling is “arbitrary, fanciful, or unreasonable, or when no reasonable person would take the view adopted by the trial court.” Id. Circuit courts are not bound by the guidelines set forth by Section 504(b-1) and can deviate from the guidelines if the court thinks the valuations merit such an approach. Grant, 2023 IL App (5th) 220291-U, ¶39.

In the case of In re Marriage of Grant, Debbie and Todd Grant were married on December 31, 1994. Id. ¶4. Debbie was a homemaker and central caregiver for the couple’s children. Id. Debbie filed a petition for dissolution of marriage on June 17, 2019, stating irresponsible differences. Id. ¶5. The parties agreed to divide and keep their personal belongings without presenting the value of those items. Id. ¶8. The parties agreed that Debbie would receive the “2013 Toyota Highlander, and Todd would receive the 2011 Toyota Tacoma and a 2003 Kubota tractor.” Grant, 2023 IL App (5th) 220291-U, ¶8. Additionally, the parties agreed that Todd would receive the 2008 Porsche Cayman valued at $27,000. Id. The parties sold the marital home for approximately $240,000, and $119,216 from the sale of the home was held in trust. Id. ¶9. Each party was to receive $59,000 of the remaining funds. Id. Other martial assets included: “Fidelity Investments $587,808.41, Fidelity Roth IRA $23,595.37, Dodge & Cox Funds $55,000.17, State Universities Retirement System (SURS) $69,684.05.” Id. ¶10. Todd's gross pay as an assistant professor was $8206 a month for nine months of the year, and Debbie’s gross pay was $14 an hour for Addus Homecare. Grant, 2023 IL App (5th) 220291-U, ¶13, 15. A divorce financial analyst testified as an expert witness and prepared a report containing division of assets calculations based on a 60/40 and 65/35 split as well as maintenance calculations. Id. ¶18. The circuit court entered a judgment for dissolution of marriage on February 15, 2022. Id. ¶19. The circuit court found Debbie's gross income was $2600 per month and set Todd's income at $5194 per month without explanation. Id. ¶21. The circuit court ordered an “equal division of the Dodge and Cox Joint Tenancy Investment Account, Fidelity IRA, Fidelity Roth IRA, and the SURS pension/retirement account.” Id. ¶22. Debbie filed a motion to reconsider and requested that the circuit court award her “60% of the marital assets, increase the maintenance award, order Todd to sign over ownership of his life insurance policy, and require the parties to file a joint tax return for tax year 2021 with an even split of any refund,” which was denied by the circuit court. Grant, 2023 IL App (5th) 220291-U, ¶23.

On appeal the appellate court examined whether the circuit court erred in its calculation of maintenance by failing to consider whether the apportionment of marital property was in lieu of, or in addition to, maintenance when determining the division of assets. Id. ¶34. In this case, the circuit court found Debbie was entitled to maintenance. Id. ¶39. The circuit court found that the Todd’s monthly gross income was $5194 ($62,328 annually) and the Debbie’s monthly gross income was $2600 ($31,200 annually). Id. However, the order “did not include the actual net annual income used by the court or an explanation of its calculation.” Id. Thus, the appellate court remanded the case back to the circuit court and required the court to consider the “factors provided in sections 503(d)(1) through (12) of the Act when determining whether to award maintenance or provide an increased split of the marital assets in lieu of maintenance.” Grant, 2023 IL App (5th) 220291-U, ¶42. However, the appellate court did note that “courts have rejected claims that the trial court abused its discretion in awarding one spouse both permanent maintenance as well as a disproportionate share of the marital estate.” Id.