Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Illinois
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McDonald sought letters of administration for the estate of his deceased brother, John. An affidavit averred that John’s only heirs were his parents and his siblings. McDonald had been appointed plenary guardian over John’s person and estate; thereafter, without the prior knowledge of his guardian or the court, John participated in a purported wedding ceremony with Ellizzette. The circuit court entered orders appointing Shawn as administrator and declaring John’s heirs to be John’s parents and siblings. McDonald filed but then withdrew a petition for declaration of invalidity of marriage, and filed a petition to recover assets. The court allowed Ellizzette to file a petition seeking letters of administration based on her assertion that she is John’s surviving spouse, then held that Ellizzette failed to present a prima facie case establishing the validity of the marriage. The Appellate Court remanded, finding the circuit court erred in barring Ellizzette from testifying based on the Dead Man’s Act. 735 ILCS 5/8-201.The Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the trial court decision. Under the Probate Act, a ward who wishes to enter into a marriage may do so only with the consent of his guardian. Ellizzette was aware at the time of the marriage that John was under guardianship, so the marriage might not be valid. No best interest finding was ever sought or made. Ellizzette could not have provided any testimony that would have been sufficient to prove the validity of the marriage and could not have been prejudiced by her inability to testify regarding the marriage. View "In re Estate of McDonald" on Justia Law

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The circuit court of Cook County adjudicated Z.L. and Z.L.’s siblings abused and neglected minors under the Juvenile Court Act (705 ILCS 405/2-3) and made the minors wards of the court. The appellate court reversed the findings of abuse and neglect and remanded for compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, 25 U.S.C. 1912(a).The Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the judgment of the circuit court, rejecting arguments that the state failed to prove Z.L. was a victim of abusive head trauma and that the court’s finding that Z.L. was physically abused was against the manifest weight of the evidence. The trial court’s conclusion that the mother was unable, at that time, to parent the children was not against the manifest weight of the evidence. The court remanded for a determination of whether there was compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act. Although the record disclosed that the state sent notification to the Bureau of Indian Affairs on December 20, 2019, there is no evidence as to what has transpired in connection with this notice since that time. View "In re Z.L." on Justia Law

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In 2015, Betsy filed a petition for the dissolution of marriage from Stephen. The parties married in 2000 and had no children. In 2016, the circuit court entered judgment for dissolution of marriage, which incorporated a marital settlement agreement, stating that Betsy would receive monthly of $5,000.00 for 48 months and thereafter would receive 48 months of payments in decreasing amounts. “Said maintenance payments shall be nonmodifiable pursuant to Section 502(f) of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act.” In 2018, Stephen filed a petition to modify the judgment to terminate or modify his maintenance obligation. Stephen asserted that the maintenance obligation was not truly nonmodifiable because it did not specifically provide, as required by the Marriage Act, “that the non-modifiability applies to amount, duration, or both.” He asserted that a change in circumstances necessitated the modification.The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the appellate and the circuit court in holding that section 502(f) allows parties to make maintenance entirely nonmodifiable or to select a single aspect of the obligation, amount, or duration, to make nonmodifiable and that the settlement agreement showed the parties intended to make the maintenance obligation nonmodifiable in both amount and duration. Stephen cannot now avoid that obligation based on changed circumstances. View "In re Marriage of Dynako" on Justia Law

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Sandra and Mark were married in 1992. In 2014, Sandra filed for divorce. The couple had five children; three were then minors. While the divorce was pending, Mark’s mother died; he inherited approximately $615,000. The inheritance included checking accounts and investment accounts, the majority being held in two individual retirement accounts (IRAs).In the divorce judgment, the circuit court excluded Mark’s inheritance in calculating his child support and maintenance obligations under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (750 ILCS 5/504, 505. The circuit court subsequently certified a question for interlocutory review: “Whether inherited mandatory retirement distributions are income for purposes of child support and maintenance calculations.” The appellate court reframed the question and held that mandatory distributions or withdrawals taken from an inherited IRA containing money that has never been imputed against the recipient for the purposes of maintenance and child support calculations constitute “income.” The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. Classifying the distributions and withdrawals as income does not constitute impermissible double counting because the inherited IRAs had not been previously imputed to Mark as income for support purposes. Mark’s nonmarital mandatory distributions and withdrawals received and reinvested in his own retirement accounts are not excluded from the statutory definition of “income.” View "In re Marriage of Dahm-Schell" on Justia Law

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Diana initiated divorce proceedings from Gregory in 2007. A final judgment dissolving the marriage and allocating marital property was entered in 2009 and was affirmed in 2012. Both parties filed post-decree petitions. Diana appealed a series of orders, arguing as a threshold issue that the court erred in denying her motion for substitution of judge as of right. The appellate court (Crecos II) agreed that the trial court erred in denying Diana’s motion and that subsequent orders were “void.” In 2016, Diana filed petitions under 750 ILCS 5/508(a)(3) for attorney fees and costs incurred in both appeals. In 2018, the trial court ordered Gregory to pay Diana’s attorney fees: $32,952.50 for the Crecos I appeal and $89,465.50 for the Crecos II appeal.The appellate court found that the 2018 order was not final and appealable; the order awarded interim attorney fees under section 501(c-1), which are temporary in nature and subject to adjustment and inextricably intertwined with the property issues that remained partially unresolved. The claim for attorney fees was not a separable claim for purposes of appeal.The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. The 2018 fee award was a final order on a post-dissolution petition. In entering the order, the trial court included Rule 304(a) language. The appellate court had jurisdiction over Gregory’s appeal of that order. View "In re Marriage of Crecos" on Justia Law

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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