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Beattie v. Beattie

OPINION FILED OCTOBER 11, 1977.

ELAINE M. BEATTIE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

JOSEPH E. BEATTIE, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Bureau County; the Hon. C. HOWARD WAMPLER, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE SCOTT DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

This is an appeal from an order of the circuit court of Bureau County, Illinois, which denied a motion filed by Elaine M. Beattie to vacate a divorce decree and set aside the property settlement agreement which had been incorporated into the divorce decree.

On June 3, 1975, Elaine M. Beattie was granted a divorce from Joseph E. Beattie. Prior to the hearing on the merits of the divorce complaint, the parties had entered into a written property settlement agreement. This agreement was negotiated on the afternoon of June 2, 1975, and completed on June 3, 1975. It was approved by the court and incorporated into the divorce decree entered on June 3, 1975.

On June 24, 1975, Mrs. Beattie filed a motion to vacate the decree of divorce and set aside the property settlement agreement, alleging that she lacked knowledge of the provisions of the property settlement agreement because she was suffering from a mental disability and was without benefit of private counsel to advise her regarding the provisions of the agreement at the time the agreement was negotiated and signed. She also alleged that the property settlement agreement was void because it was contrary to public policy. After a hearing on the merits of the motion to vacate, the motion was denied.

Mrs. Beattie argues that the facts and circumstances contained in the record on appeal require a vacation of the divorce decree and a setting aside of the written property settlement agreement as being contrary to public policy or morals and as being procured by fraud or coercion.

It appears from the record that the husband, Joseph Beattie, after a 24-year marriage to Elaine Beattie, decided that he wanted a divorce. He took his wife to the office of attorney Watts Johnson and explained to Johnson that he wanted the divorce. Mr. Johnson agreed to represent the husband in the divorce action and also agreed to file the complaint on behalf of the wife, Elaine Beattie, so that she would be the plaintiff in the divorce action. In order that the wife would be represented by an independent attorney, Mr. Johnson contacted attorney Donald R. Bird and asked him to appear at Johnson's office in the afternoon of June 2, 1975, to meet with Mrs. Beattie and to discuss a proposed property settlement agreement with her. Mr. Bird did so; he also appeared in court with Elaine Beattie on June 3, 1975, at which time a hearing on the merits of the divorce complaint was held.

It also appears from the record that on June 2, 1975, all matters regarding the financial arrangements of the parties were discussed. Only a general discussion had been held between the parties prior to that time. When they met in Mr. Johnson's office they were there for approximately 1 1/2 to two hours, at the end of which time the property settlement agreement was reached.

Joseph Beattie is a self-employed farmer on rented land near LaMoille, Illinois. In connection with that farming operation, he owns machinery and other items of chattel property related to the farm, subject to debts thereon. There is also a house and lot in LaMoille, Illinois, which has an approximate value of $25,000 and is subject to a mortgage in the approximate amount of $4,500. The house is rented for a monthly income of $125 per month. It is owned solely by Elaine Beattie. Seven children, ranging in age from 20 to 11, were born to the parties as a result of this marriage.

According to the property settlement agreement, Mrs. Beattie was to retain as her sole property the real estate located in LaMoille, Illinois, which was already in her name and apparently acquired with joint marital funds. She was to pay one-half the mortgage and Mr. Beattie was to pay one-half the mortgage. Mrs. Beattie was to receive the rental income. In addition she was to receive a savings account at the State Bank of Van Orin in the approximate amount of $1,000, and a savings account in the Colonial Trust and Savings Bank in the approximate amount of $3,000.

It appears from the record that Mrs. Beattie was also to receive $62.50 per month per child for four minor children for a total of $250 per month child support. She was to live rent free in a farmstead now occupied by her as long as Mr. Beattie tends the farm or until his remarriage, or until she voluntarily moved out. Mr. Beattie was to pay the maintenance and utility expenses. Mrs. Beattie was also to receive a 1973 Ford LTD automobile.

Mr. Beattie was to retain as his sole property a joint bank account at the Van Orin Bank in the amount of $7,000, and a treasury bill in the principal amount of $10,000. In addition he was to retain all the farm chattel property of the parties, having a net value of about $60,000. The treasury bill had been cashed and credited to the joint account prior to the divorce action.

Prior to the meeting at the office of Mr. Johnson, Mrs. Beattie did not know Mr. Bird. She had not made an appointment with him, nor did she know that he was going to be there to represent her.

Attorney Donald R. Bird, practicing in Princeton, Illinois, received a telephone call on June 2, 1975, from attorney Watts Johnson. Mr. Johnson informed Mr. Bird that there was to be an uncontested divorce matter, and that Elaine Beattie, the wife, needed an independent attorney. In response to that call, Mr. Bird went to Mr. Johnson's office at approximately 1:30 in the afternoon. There he met Mrs. Beattie and received a copy of some papers and had a general discussion concerning whether or not she was sufficiently composed to be the plaintiff or the moving party. Mr. Bird examined the divorce complaint and made a general review of the property settlement agreement which had already been prepared.

At no time did Mr. Bird talk privately with Mrs. Beattie until they left Mr. Johnson's office and walked over to the courthouse for a hearing on the complaint; however, he did thoroughly explain the property settlement agreement to Mrs. Beattie at Mr. ...


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