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In Re Marriage of Logston



Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County, the Hon. Dennis J. Jacobsen, Judge, presiding.


The central issue in this case is whether our personal property exemption statute (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 110, par. 12-1001) constitutes a defense to a contempt order that was issued to enforce a maintenance obligation in a dissolution-of-marriage case. Eugene Logston appeals from orders of the circuit court of St. Clair County that were issued during proceedings instituted by his former wife, Kate Logston. To enforce the maintenance provision of their dissolution-of-marriage judgment, Kate initiated contempt proceedings against Eugene. Eugene answered Kate's petition for rule to show cause and at the same time filed a petition that sought termination of the maintenance payment. In a March 1983 order, the trial court determined a maintenance arrearage, entered judgment for that amount, and found Eugene in contempt of court for his failure to pay. The court also denied Eugene's request to modify the maintenance award.

Eugene filed a motion to reconsider this order. As a defense to the contempt finding, he claimed that all of his monthly income — which consists of social security, a private pension, and a disability insurance benefit — is exempt from judgment under section 12-1001 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 110, par. 12-1001). The statute he cited exempts specific personal property, as well as a debtor's right to receive certain types of income, from "judgment, attachment or distress for rent." In an order issued in May 1983, the trial court rejected this defense, denied Eugene's motion to reconsider, and held that section 12-1001 is invalid because its phrase "exempt from judgment" is unconstitutionally vague. Because a statute of this State was held to be invalid, Eugene appealed directly to this court pursuant to Rule 302(a)(1) (87 Ill.2d R. 302(a)(1)).

He now raises three issues for our review. The first is whether section 12-1001 of the Code of Civil Procedure constitutes a valid defense to the contempt order. The second question is whether the trial court abused its discretion when it found wilful failure to pay maintenance and, as a result, held Eugene in contempt. Finally, we must decide whether the trial court abused its discretion by denying Eugene's request to terminate the maintenance obligation.

Eugene and Kate Logston were married in 1966, and they resided together until eight months before their marriage was dissolved in January 1981. No children were born during the marriage. At the time of the divorce, Eugene was 52 years old and had been retired, due to poor health, for four years. Kate was 50 years old and had not worked since 1974.

Just before the dissolution of marriage, the Logstons owned their marital home, the house next door, and one vacant lot. Their total equity in the real estate was $42,000. They also owned stock valued at $800, automobiles, and various home furnishings. Kate had no income, and Eugene received a total of $813.32 per month in payments from social security, a private pension, and disability insurance.

The dissolution-of-marriage judgment allowed each party to keep the furnishings, automobile, and personal effects that were in his or her possession at the time the judgment was entered. Kate was awarded the stock, but she retained no interest in Eugene's right to receive pension or disability benefits. Instead, Eugene was ordered to pay her $221.50 per month as maintenance, which is the same monthly amount that the court had ordered him to pay as temporary maintenance in December 1980. Of the $42,000 equity in real property, the parties agreed that Kate would pay $21,000 to Eugene in exchange for quitclaim deeds conveying to her his interest in the property. Kate was allowed to deduct from the $21,000 certain sums that Eugene owed her, so her actual payment to him was $16,887.

From December 1980 through May 1983, Eugene paid no maintenance to Kate. However, in August 1981, the trial court found a $1,993.50 arrearage, which represented two months of the predissolution temporary maintenance and seven months of the permanent maintenance. The court reduced this amount to judgment, and, during the next year, a total of $1,937.40 was paid to Kate through garnishment proceedings against Eugene's disability insurer. When the court issued the May 1983 order from which Eugene now appeals, the total arrearage had grown to $4,707.60, with Eugene being ordered to either pay $4,043.10 within 30 days or serve a jail sentence of not more than six months.

At the time of the hearing, Eugene was still unable to work. He had remarried, and his new wife taught school but would soon retire. For the present, however, she earned a net monthly income from teaching of $1,457, plus an average of $85 per month from part-time work. Eugene resided with her in a house that she owned.

Eugene's petition, as well as his answers to interrogatories, indicate that his income had decreased since his divorce from Kate. However, further examination during the hearing disclosed that his monthly income actually had increased since the dissolution of marriage and now totaled $922.44.

Eugene's financial statement indicates that, at the time he petitioned to modify the maintenance, he owned no real estate but did possess a small amount of cash and $500 of equity in a motorcycle. He had owned a 1978 Chevrolet truck, valued at under $3,000, but had signed the title over to his present wife to help her obtain a loan for a recreational vehicle. Concerning the $16,887 that Kate paid him for his interest in their real estate, he testified that he used about $5,500 to repay debts and spent the remainder during a trip to California.

The financial statement shows that Eugene reported monthly expenses of $80 for rent; $185 for utilities; $365 for automobile expenses; $150 for food; $70 for clothing and laundry; and $160 for recreation, gifts, hobbies, and the costs of volunteer work. The statement also lists monthly obligations on installment contracts which total $816.47. During Eugene's testimony at the hearing, it became apparent that some monthly expenses that he had listed on his written financial statement were costs shared with his present wife, rather than expenses that he alone incurred each month. His testimony revealed that the $816.47 in monthly installment obligations represented payments on an automobile, a motorcycle, a recreational vehicle, and a $7,500 loan obtained to remodel his wife's kitchen. The trial judge and both parties' counsel questioned Eugene about these expenses, but his responses failed to clarify whether he actually paid each of these amounts each month or whether, instead, his wife shared or fully paid the installment debts. Eugene testified to extensive health problems. However, his responses to cross-examination revealed that health insurance fully paid his hospital expenses, and that Medicare paid a portion of his other medical and dental costs.

When Kate Logston testified, she was unemployed and had not worked since her divorce from Eugene. She still owned the two houses; her invalid mother lived with her in one, and for the other she received $350 per month in rent. Mortgage and insurance costs for the houses, which Kate had reported as $300 just before the divorce, now totaled $360. She testified that her mother received a $600 monthly pension, which was available to help Kate pay expenses. Because her mother required extensive care, Kate could not obtain a job that would require her to leave home for more than a few hours at a time. Kate conceded, however, that she had not sought work that she could do in her home.

We first address section 12-1001 of our Code of Civil Procedure (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 110, par. 12-1001) and the question whether Eugene may use the exempt status of his income as a defense to the contempt order. Eugene contends that the order will force him to pay maintenance from income that the legislature intended to protect for the debtor's benefit. In his view, the trial court used its contempt power as an alternate means of enforcing Kate's judgment for the maintenance arrearage. Eugene therefore insists that the contempt order, if enforced, will circumvent the legislative scheme. Kate responds that the exemption statute, with its phrase "exempt from judgment," is unconstitutionally vague and, as such, is not a defense to the contempt order. Alternatively, she claims that section 12-1001 simply does not apply to a marital obligation set out in a dissolution-of-marriage judgment.

Examining the statute itself, we see that section 12- 1001 indeed refers to each ...

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