Oct 05, 2020

Family Law Flash Points - October 2020

1. Illinois Supreme Court Holds Partner in Civil Union “Stepparent” Under IMDMAInSharpe v. Westmoreland,2020 IL 124863, the Supreme Court of Illinois granted leave to appeal with respect to two certified questions: (1) whether a party to a civil union has standing to request visitation with her deceased partner’s child as a stepparent; and (2) whether that party has standing to request parental responsibilities. The appellate court answered both questions in the negative, and the Supreme Court reversed and remanded. The case began at the trial level with a party to a civil union requesting leave to intervene as a “stepparent” so that she could have visitation and parental responsibilities with her deceased civil union partner’s minor child. 2020 IL 124863 at ¶1. Because the legislature expressly stated that the purpose of the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act (Civil Union Act), 750 ILCS 75/1,et seq., was to provide persons entering into a civil union with the obligations, responsibilities, protections, and benefits afforded or recognized by the law of Illinois to spouses, the legislative intent was clear and unambiguous. The General Assembly intended to create an alternative to marriage that was equal in all respects and, important at the time, open to two persons of the same sex. Therefore, when a child’s parent enters into a civil union with an individual who is not that child’s other parent, that individual becomes the child’s stepparent as defined by the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA), 750 ILCS 5/101,et seq.The court was clear to state that its holding is expressly limited to only those parties who have chosen to enter in a civil union instead of a marriage.2. Amended Statutory Maintenance Guidelines Did Not Apply to Review Proceedings Because Petition for Review Was Filed Prior to Effective Date of AmendmentInIn re Marriage of Burdess,2020 IL App (3d) 190342, the Third District once again addressed the issue of the appropriate maintenance statute to apply when the relevant petition in question was filed prior to the January 1, 2017, effective date of the amended statute. In this case, the wife filed for a review of her maintenance in August 2015. The husband later moved to terminate maintenance in 2018. The trial court heard both matters at the same time and in reducing the wife’s maintenance award found that §504(b-8) of the IMDMA did not apply because it was not in effect in 2015 when the wife filed her petition for review. The trial court reduced the wife’s monthly maintenance from $1,000 per month to $675 per month based on the husband’s reduction in income, which was not in bad faith, and the wife’s ongoing need for maintenance. Although the current §504(b-8) provides guidance on what types of maintenance awards a court can issue upon review and references the statutory guidelines, the statute in effect in 2015 did not contain those statutory guidelines and, therefore, the trial court did not err when it did not apply the guidelines. The appellate court’s decision is consistent with the prior caselaw ofIn re Marriage of Kuper,2019 IL App (3d) 180094, 125 N.E.3d 568, 429 Ill.Dec. 862, andIn re Marriage of Harms,2018 IL App (5th) 160472, 103 N.E.3d 979, 422 Ill.Dec. 615.3. Reduction in Maintenance Award upon Review UpheldInBurdess, supra,the wife filed a petition for review of maintenance and the husband filed a petition to terminate, both of which were heard at the same time. The trial court reduced the husband’s payment from $1,000 per month to $675 per month for an additional set period of time and ordered a subsequent review. The wife appealed, and the appellate court affirmed. In its decision, the court noted that the economics of the case were clear that neither party had the means to continue to live in the lifestyle to which they were accustomed during the marriage. The husband, who was the primary breadwinner of the family during the marriage, had a 50-percent decline in income postdivorce that was not attributable to any bad-faith actions, but was the result of an economic downturn in his business. The wife, who had not worked outside of the home during the marriage, did not have the requisite skills to support herself without maintenance from the husband. Although the record is not clear how the court calculated the husband’s maintenance obligation, the appellate court found that the husband’s income decreased by 50 percent and the wife’s maintenance was reduced by 32.5 percent, and therefore affirmed the trial court’s calculations. 2020 IL App (3d) 190342 at ¶29. The court also upheld the denial of retroactive application of the reduction, stating the retroactivity would have been financially debilitating to the wife.4. Denial of Motion To Modify Maintenance Award UpheldIn a postjudgment matter, the husband, the maintenance recipient, brought a motion to increase on the basis that his social security disability benefits had been reduced, his multiple sclerosis (MS) had worsened, and the wife’s income had increased.In re Marriage of Dea,2020 IL App (1st) 190234. Based on the evidence presented, the trial court denied the husband’s motion and the appellate court affirmed. The trial court excluded evidence regarding the husband’s worsening MS due to the fact that the original judgment contemplated his decrease in health at the time the original maintenance award was calculated. The appellate court upheld the exclusion of such evidence. Further, the evidence actually showed that the husband’s social security benefits had increased over the past five years and his expenses had decreased such that he was able to deposit his monthly maintenance payments into a savings account. The decrease in the value of his retirement account was to be expected given his age and as such could not be considered a substantial change in circumstances. The wife’s increase in income alone could not justify a substantial change in circumstances warranting a modification in the husband’s maintenance award.

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