Legal Obligations & Income for Step Parents in Illinois

by Beverly Bird

Illinois may not be the ideal state in which to live if you’re concerned about your financial responsibility for your stepchildren. Many states unequivocally exclude a stepparent’s income when calculating child support, but Illinois is not one of them. Additionally, stepparents might be obligated to pay child support on behalf of their stepchildren under some circumstances.

Child Support Calculation

Illinois uses a formula known as the percentage of income model to calculate child support. This is a percentage of the non-custodial parent’s net take-home pay based on the number of children he must help support post-divorce. For example, if he has two children, he must pay 28 percent of his take-home earnings toward their support. However, this is a statutory formula and judges may deviate from it under some circumstances. Illinois law considers that if a non-custodial parent remarries and his new spouse earns significant income, more of his own earnings are freed up for the support of his children. The court can increase his statutory child support percentage accordingly. The court won’t take it upon itself to do so. The custodial parent must file a petition with the court, asking a judge to recalculate child support based on this new change of circumstances. Illinois’s legislature is contemplating changing to a different child support formula that would take stepparents’ incomes into consideration even more, whether they’re married to the custodial parent or the non-custodial parent.

Payment of Child Support

Illinois normally does not obligate a stepparent to pay child support if he divorces the children's biological parent, but exceptions exist. For example, if a biological parent does not or cannot work and can't support her children from her own income, the court can conceivably order the stepparent to pay child support on their behalf. This is generally the case if the children’s other biological parent is no longer living or can’t be located. The legal rationale is that the children might otherwise have no financial support. It also applies if there is no court order in place obligating the children’s other biological parent to pay. However, the court might order the non-working spouse to pursue her children’s natural parent for child support first, before it orders their stepparent to pay in his place as a last resort.

Cooperation With Support Enforcement

In situations where the custodial parent is receiving public assistance, Illinois requires her new spouse to “cooperate” with collecting child support from her ex. However, this usually does not mean he must make any sort of financial contribution. He’s obligated to assist in any state-initiated collection efforts to track down and enforce payment from his stepchildren’s other natural parent. Illinois also considers the income he contributes to the household when determining whether his stepchildren are eligible for state-sponsored medical care.

Financial Aid for College Students

The federal government also places considerable weight on a stepparent’s income for purposes of college financial aid. The child’s custodial parent must complete and sign the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, on her child’s behalf. If she has remarried, her new spouse must divulge his income and resources on the application as well. This is true even if they’ve signed a prenuptial agreement relieving him of any financial responsibility for his stepchild. According to the federal government, when he marries the child’s natural parent, he becomes responsible for the support of both her and her children. An agreement made between spouses is not binding on the government.