Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Illinois
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In 2012, Wendy was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and arranged for her boyfriend, Mirenda, to care for her six-year-old daughter, Br. Br. came to the attention of DCFS in 2013 based on pending allegations that Mirenda sexually abused a previous partner’s daughters. The court conducted a hearing. Wendy and Assistant State’s Attorney Filipiak were present. Assistant Public Defender Bembnister was appointed as counsel for Wendy, and Assistant Public Defender Drell was appointed as guardian ad litem (GAL) for Br. Proceedings concerning Br. continued for several years.At a 2018 status hearing, Wendy appeared with a new, privately retained attorney, Drell. Drell’s appearance as Br.’s GAL at three hearings on the 2013 neglect petition before the same judge was not mentioned. In 2019, Drell withdrew and the public defender represented Wendy. The trial court terminated Wendy’s parental rights. The appellate court reversed, holding that a per se conflict existed because Drell served as Br.’s GAL before she served as Wendy’s attorney. Wendy had not raised the conflict-of-interest issue.The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. A “ ‘realistic appraisal’ ” of Drell’s professional relationship with Br. indicates that Drell was not associated with the victim for purposes of the per se conflict rule when she acted as Br.’s GAL. An allegedly neglected minor is not a victim but “the subject of the proceeding” under the Juvenile Court Act; such proceedings are not adversarial. Drell was never associated with the prosecution. Drell acted at the behest of the court, not the state. View "In re Br. M. & Bo. M." on Justia Law

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Sharpe and Westmoreland were married and had a child, A.S. The marriage was dissolved in 2013. Sharpe and Westmoreland agreed to a joint parenting agreement. The parents shared equal parenting time. A.S.’s legal residence was with Sharpe. Sharpe entered into a civil union with Fulkerson. A.S. continued to reside with Sharpe, Fulkerson, and Fulkerson’s children. Sharpe died in 2017. After Sharpe’s death, Westmoreland no longer let A.S. live with or visit Fulkerson and Fulkerson’s children. Fulkerson sought visitation and an allocation of parental responsibilities. The appellate court responded to certified questions, finding that a party to a civil union lacks “step-parent” standing as defined by the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, 750 ILCS 5/101, to request visitation with her deceased partner’s child or to request parental responsibilities.The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. in enacting the Civil Union Act, the General Assembly intended to create an alternative to marriage that was equal in all respects. That intent was not limited to partners’ rights as to each other. When a child’s parent enters into a civil union with an individual who is not the child’s other parent, that individual becomes the child’s stepparent as defined by the Dissolution Act and meets that aspect of the standing requirement to petition the court for visitation, allocation of parental responsibilities, or both. View "Sharpe v. Westmoreland" on Justia Law

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Louise and Frank married in 2000. Frank had served in the Air Force from 1974-1980 and, in 1989, began working for the Illinois State Police. While married, the parties paid $9626.40 to the State Retirement System, purchasing 48 months of permissive military service credit, 40 ILCS 5/14-103(j). Frank retired in 2011. In 2014, Louise filed a dissolution petition. The parties could not agree on the division of Frank’s pension. As of 2015, Frank’s monthly annuity payment was $9088.86. The purchased permissive service credit increased the monthly payment by $1363.33. The parties agreed that Louise should receive 50% of the marital portion of the pension but disagreed on whether the marital portion included the amount attributable to the permissive service credit. The trial court held that the permissive service credit was nonmarital because “what was purchased to enhance the pension ... was military time earned prior to the marriage” and ordered Frank to reimburse Louise $4813.20. The appellate court reversed, reasoning that Frank did not acquire the credit at the time of his military service. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, in favor of Louise. The permissive service credit was not “acquired” under that term’s ordinary and popularly understood meaning when Frank completed four years of active duty military service. Frank did not obtain or come into possession or control of the credit when he completed his active duty military service; his prior military service, by itself, does not have any value relative to his Illinois pension under the Pension Code. View "In re Marriage of Zamudio" on Justia Law

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Mother filed a contribution petition under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, 750 ILCS 5/513(a), requesting that Father be ordered to pay an equitable share of their daughter's college costs. The two were never married; although their 1997 agreed order addressed child-related issues, it was silent on college expenses. Father had the financial ability to pay but objected to paying because he had not been involved in the college selection process. The court stated: “People that are married ... have no obligation at all to pay for their children’s college education. Because of that, people who are married have input into where their children go to school. … The legislature has taken away that choice from people who are not married. The court ordered the parties each to pay 40% of their daughter’s college expenses. Father then challenged section 513 on equal protection grounds. The Illinois Supreme Court had upheld section 513 against an equal protection challenge in its 1978 “Kujawinski” decision. The trial court ultimately declared section 513 unconstitutional as applied, reasoning that Kujawinski's conclusion that section 513 satisfied the rational basis test because children of unmarried parents faced more disadvantages and were less likely to receive financial help with college from their parents than children of married parents was no longer viable. The Illinois Supreme Court vacated. Regardless of the impact of any societal evolution since the Kujawinski decision, that holding remains directly on point; the trial court lacked authority to declare that precedent invalid. View "Yakich v. Aulds" on Justia Law

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The Fatkins, married in 2004, divorced in 2015. The parties were granted joint custody of their children (born in 2004 and 2010) with the father having primary physical custody. In 2017, the trial court granted father’s petition (750 ILCS 5/609.2(f)) to relocate to Virginia with the children. Father’s parents live in Virginia and he had secured employment there. Father's mother is seriously ill. Father and the children would live with the grandparents, in their five-bedroom house, rent-free. The appellate court reversed. The older child expressed a desire to move to Virginia. The Illinois Supreme Court agreed that the matter was immediately appealable under Rule 304(b)(6) but reinstated the trial court order. Each of the trial court’s numerous findings is supported by evidence and did it did not simply ignore the evidence militating against its decision. The trial court ultimately concluded that relocation would be in the children’s best interest. This was a perfectly reasonable conclusion based on the record. View "In re Marriage of Fatkin" on Justia Law

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Donald initially listed no beneficiary who would take any funds remaining in his individual retirement account at his death. In 2013, he was hospitalized. During his hospitalization, someone designated his wife, JoAnn, as beneficiary. When Donald was released from the hospital, he sought a temporary restraining order and injunction. The spouses stipulated to an injunction ordering that neither party engage in any transaction regarding the parties’ financial accounts. That injunction action was later combined with a dissolution action. While still bound by the injunction, Donald changed the beneficiary designation to his sons. After the combined actions were dismissed, Donald died. JoAnn filed suit, alleging that the beneficiary change violated the injunction so that the change was void. The appellate court and Illinois Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of the suit. The injunction did not mention changes of beneficiaries; the change of beneficiary did not vest during the pendency of the injunction or the combined underlying actions. The change of ownership did not occur until after the injunction was dismissed. The circuit court could have distributed whatever amount of the IRA that it found equitable had the dissolution action proceeded to a final judgment. An individual does not, however, have the same interest in her spouse’s property at probate that she does at dissolution. View "Smith v. Vanguard Group Inc." on Justia Law

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N.G., born in 2011, was declared a ward of the court, based on neglect, and was placed with relatives. Her father, Floyd, was incarcerated. The Will County Circuit Court terminated the parental rights of N.G.’s mother and of Floyd, on the grounds that he was an unfit person under section 1(D) of the Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/1(D)) because, before N.G.’s birth, he had been convicted of at least three felonies and was therefore “depraved.” The appellate court held that because one of the felonies on which the circuit court had relied, a 2008 conviction for aggravated unlawful use of a weapon (AUUW) (720 ILCS 5/24-1.6(a)(1), (a)(3)(A), (d)), was based on a statute the Illinois Supreme Court declared unconstitutional under the Second Amendment in 2013, the conviction had no legal effect and should not have been considered in making the fitness determination. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, finding that it had “an affirmative duty to invalidate" Floyd’s AUUW conviction and to treat the statute on which it was based as having never existed. Absent that conviction, the statutory presumption of depravity under section 1(D)(i) would not have been triggered. Under Illinois law, there is no fixed procedural mechanism or forum, nor is there any temporal limitation governing when a void ab initio challenge may be asserted. View "In re N.G." on Justia Law

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Christine, represented by Goldstine, sought dissolution of marriage from Andrew. Andrew was represented by Boback. Holwell later became Andrew’s counsel. Before withdrawing, Boback successfully moved to disqualify Goldstine for improperly ordering Christine to provide Andrew’s mail that arrived at the marital home, opening and viewing the mail. Holwell billed Andrew $37,094.49 for the disqualification matter. Later, Jaquays appeared for Christine. LeVine appeared for Andrew. Christine sought interim attorney fees, arguing that she had paid Jaquays a retainer of $5000 and had an outstanding balance of $27,142.60 and that if the court determined that Andrew lacked the ability to pay her fees, it should order disgorgement from the money that Andrew had paid to Holwell. Andrew also sought attorney fees, owing $17,500.38 to Holwell and $26,000 to LeVine; Holwell testified that she was holding $13,000 that Andrew had paid to Boback because of a dispute as to who owned the money. The court found that both parties lacked an ability to pay reasonable attorney fees. Andrew had paid $66,382.28 to Holwell, $10,000 to LeVine, and $23,639.99 to Boback. Christine had paid $5000 to Jaquays and $13,117.04 to Goldstine. The court held that to “level the playing field,” each party should have $59,069.65 for attorney fees. The court ordered Holwell to disgorge $40,952.61 for payment to Jaquays. Holwell was held in contempt. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed reversal of the disgorgement order. Fees that have already been earned by an attorney in a dissolution of marriage proceeding are not considered “available funds,” such that they may be disgorged under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (750 ILCS 5/501(c-1)(3). View "In re Marriage of Goesel" on Justia Law

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Tuke and Heroy married in 1980 and divorced in 2006. Heroy was ordered to pay $35,000 per month in permanent maintenance, based on a finding that the couple had enjoyed a lavish standard of living while married. The court found that Tuke could reasonably be expected to earn $40,000-$50,000 per year, based on her prior experience as a law librarian and publisher of a law bulletin. Months later, Heroy sought to terminate or modify the award. Tuke sought contribution to her attorney fees. In 2012, the court concluded that Heroy had proven that his income had decreased, justifying reduction of the maintenance award to $27,500 per month. The court concluded that Tuke had some ability to pay her attorney fees but that if she were required to pay all of the fees, her financial stability would be undermined, while Heroy was able to pay Tuke’s fees. The court instructed Heroy to pay $125,000. Heroy appealed; the court ordered Heroy to pay $35,000 in prospective attorney fees. The appellate court concluded the maintenance award should be $25,745 per month but reversed the attorney fee awards. The Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the trial court holding. That court properly considered the factors in the Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act; the record supports that Tuke’s financial stability would be undermined if she were required to pay all of her attorney fees. The court carefully considered the factors set forth in section 510(a-5) of the Act, including Tuke’s efforts at supporting herself. View "In re Marriage of Heroy" on Justia Law

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In 2010, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services petitioned for wardship of M.I., a minor, 705 ILCS 405/2-3, alleging that M.I.’s mother had neglected her and that M.I.’s father had an extensive criminal history. The juvenile court granted the petition, finding M.I. to be neglected. The court ordered father to obtain a drug and alcohol assessment, submit to random drug testing twice monthly, undergo a psychological examination, and complete a parenting class. Until he dropped out of high school, father was enrolled in special education courses for learning disabilities. He had been unemployed since 2007. Father had been incarcerated on eight different occasions for approximately 18-19 years in total but had not been incarcerated since 2005. He suffers from bipolar disorder and admitted to regular marijuana use, indicating that he had been clean for two months. Father is functionally illiterate, and possesses an IQ of 58. The state asserted that he did not attend drug testing or participate in a drug and alcohol evaluation and refused to provide an address to his caseworker. The court found both parents unfit. Thereafter, at five different permanency hearings, the juvenile court found that father had failed to make reasonable efforts to achieve the service plan and permanency goal. The court appointed DCFS as guardian. The Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the termination of father’s rights. The statute, 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(b), does not contain a willfulness requirement. The juvenile court considered father’s intellectual disability and other circumstances, such as his sporadic attendance at visitation, when it found him unfit under subsection (b). View "In re M.I." on Justia Law