Divorce is exhausting, it is emotional and it can be very tricky. Critical to any divorce from a legal perspective is concise and exhaustive drafting of the judgment document. Recently, the Illinois Appellate Court for the First District was asked to determine whether the language of a marital settlement agreement reserving the matter of each former spouse’s obligation to contribute to college expenses allowed for a contribution claim by one parent against the other, where the parent who paid the expenses filed their petition some time after actually paying the expenses. In In re Former Marriage of Donnelly, 2015 Il. App. (1st) 142619, the Court ruled that the judgment language stating that each party would be obligated to pay for their children’s secondary education to an extent “based upon their then respective financial conditions.” At the heart of this decision was a prior case decided by the Illinois Supreme Court, In re Marriage of Petersen, 2011 IL 110984, where the Supreme Court stated that the mother who had paid the expenses for the child’s college was prevented from having her ex-husband reimburse her for any college costs she paid prior to actually filing her petition for contribution. The language in that divorce judgment had used the common language “the court reserves the issue of each party’s obligation to contribute to the college or other education expenses of the parties’ children pursuant to §513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act.” The Court in Petersen found that simply reserving the matter was not the same thing as establishing a concrete obligation of payment. The Appellate Court in Donnelly, found in favor of the ex-spouse seeking contribution stating that unlike the language in Petersen, the Donnelly’s divorce judgment created a concrete obligation to pay, that was subject to a determination of each person’s ability to pay based on their financial situation and thus the timing of a petition for contribution was irrelevant.

Which takes us back to the beginning of this short blog. Divorce can be tricky. Documents must be drafted correctly to reflect the individual situation and to conform with future expectations. The more precise and concrete the documents are in establishing future obligations the less problems will arise. This also allows a court ample evidence to rule quickly in case this becomes necessary. The other thing to take into account is to act quickly to enforce obligations for financial contributions found in a divorce decree. Don’t wait. If your ex-spouse will not cooperate with current payments then a court order preserves your future legal remedies and puts the ex-spouse on the clock to comply or face the consequences.

I you or someone you know are contemplating filing for divorce or have a family law related issue such as unpaid child support, visitation interference or need to seek contribution for child-related expenses contact our offices for a free consultation with one of our attorneys. We have convenience locations in Chicago in the Jefferson Park neighborhood and southwestern Cook County in Palos Hills, Illinois. Know your rights and let them work for you!