To resolve an alimony case fairly, it’s not about who you know, it’s what you know. In our CFL course, you learned that alimony or maintenance calculations and your state laws can influence a spouse’s payment obligations.
The Illinois appeals court case of Re Marriage of Kuper is an example of how following the wrong statutory guidelines can affect maintenance awards.
Rita and LaVern Kuper married in 1982 and had three children, who are now grown. The couple divorced in 2013. As part of their marital settlement agreement, LaVern agreed to pay $225 per week in maintenance, which would be up for review in July 2016.
In August 2016, LaVern filed a petition to modify or terminate maintenance over a substantial change in circumstances because he had retired. Rita filed a petition to change or extend maintenance.
According to Rita’s 2017 financial affidavit, her net monthly income was $2,899, which consisted of her earnings, maintenance payments, and her share of LaVern’s pension. Her monthly expenses amounted to $2,079. She had a monthly surplus of $820, which she deposited in her savings account. The account had a balance of $4,220. At the time of the trial, her investment and retirement accounts were valued at $536,000.
When LaVern retired, he had been earning $56,000 per year, plus overtime and profit-sharing. His financial affidavit showed his 2016 gross income was $74,544.91, and it had dropped to $0 in 2017 because of his retirement. He had about $1,913,338 total in assets. He inherited assets valued at $652,448.90 from his mother, who died in April 2013, and $293,693.17 from his uncle, who died in May 2013. He withdrew $25,000 from his accounts before trial to meet monthly expenses. He paid for his new wife’s expenses, including maintenance of her prior home. He also paid tuition and college expenses for his wife’s daughter and tuition for her son, despite having to use money from his investment accounts and inheritances.
In January 2018, the trial court denied LaVern’s request and granted Rita’s petition, increasing the amount of maintenance and making the award permanent. The court calculated LaVern’s monthly income as $14,114.15 based on his pension payments and expenses. It considered that the assets he received from the inheritances helped him to be able to afford to pay a higher maintenance award.
The trial court also considered that LaVern was paying his new wife’s expenses and supporting her children. The court found that Rita was in need of maintenance, in that without an award her monthly surplus of $50 wouldn’t let her meet her financial needs. It calculated a monthly maintenance amount of $3,767 and made the award retroactive to January 1, 2017.
LaVern appealed, arguing the trial court erred in increasing his maintenance obligation and making it permanent. He also complained that the court inappropriately considered his investment withdrawals to determine his income and that the court erred in applying the new statutory guidelines to a post-judgment review of maintenance.
Illinois Third District Court of Appeals Verdict
The appeals court disagreed with LaVern’s assertion that Rita didn’t need maintenance income and that the trial court erred in denying his motion to end it. It affirmed the maintenance award, stating that it met the statutory factors and that Rita had a financial need.
The circuit court found it unlikely that Rita would ever be able “to fully support herself through employment with the standard of living established during the marriage” but also discovered no evidence regarding the standard of living and that the factors didn’t apply. The trial court noted the marriage was long term and that it considered the parties’ circumstances and sources of income, including “the amount that LaVern effectively pays to himself each month from his investment accounts.”
The court found that LaVern, now retired and without a paycheck, had higher earnings than when the divorce was granted and could afford to pay more maintenance. After the divorce judgment, he had inherited $1.1 million and real property. The trial court didn’t consider LaVern’s regular withdrawals of significant sums from his investment accounts as additional income. It noted that he paid his credit card bill in full monthly, supported his new wife and two stepchildren, and maintained three houses. He paid $11,700 yearly in maintenance and spent $36,000 on tuition for his stepchildren.
Regarding the trial court’s calculation of LaVern’s income as an abuse of discretion, the appeals court denied that argument.
On the issue of whether the circuit court erred in applying the new statutory guidelines to calculate a maintenance amount, the appellate ruling agreed that the trial court incorrectly used the amended guidelines in its determination.
“We believe, however, the better approach is to remand this matter to the trial court for a determination of maintenance to Rita in an amount based on the factors set forth in section 504(a) rather than the inapplicable formula set out in section 504(b-1)(1).”
Overall, the appeals court affirmed and reversed in part the circuit court’s judgment, and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.
The CFL Credential helps you sharpen your financial skills in divorce cases. Legal success doesn’t always come down to who you know – it’s more about what you know. Learn more in our free information packet today