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Department of Public Aid v. Jones

March 30, 1998

THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC AID EX REL. RANDALL R. JONES, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
YANA D. JONES, RESPONDENT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Morgan County No. 95F113 Honorable Tim P. Olson, judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Knecht

This action was initiated by the State of Florida on behalf of Randall Jones to obtain an order for child support against respondent, Yana Jones, pursuant to the Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act (RURESA) (750 ILCS 20/1 et seq. (West 1996)). Petitioner, Illinois Department of Public Aid ex rel. Randall Jones, appeals from the order of the circuit court of Morgan County finding Yana owed Randall a duty of child support but Randall owed a duty of child support in the same amount to Yana pursuant to an order entered in their disso- lution of marriage proceedings and, accordingly, set off Randall's duty of support against Yana's duty of support and ordered no funds be exchanged between the parties. The issue raised on appeal is whether a trial court in a RURESA action for child support can also consider and enforce an order for a child support arrearage entered in the dissolution of marriage proceedings. We conclude it may not.

A Judgement of dissolution of marriage between Randall and Yana Jones was entered by the circuit court of Macon County, Illinois, in September 1983. Yana was given sole custody of the minor child born to the parties and Randall was ordered to pay $85 per week as "partial and unallocated maintenance and child support" for one year commencing August 12, 1983, and $70 per week as child support thereafter until further order of the court. In June 1994, the child, Miranda, began living in Florida with Randall with Yana's consent.

On November 8, 1994, the State of Florida Department of Reve- nue on behalf of Randall filed a petition under Florida's Revised Uni- form Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act (1968) (Fla. Stat. Ann. §88.011 et seq. (West 1987)) in the circuit court of Brevard County, Florida, to obtain a child support order against Yana. The petition al- leged Yana resided in Jacksonville, Illinois, and Randall had custody of the parties' minor child.

The Florida court issued an order finding the petition and testimony set forth facts from which it may be determined Yana owed a duty of support to Randall and Yana was believed to reside in Jacksonville, Illinois. The petition was sent to the Illinois Department of Public Aid (Department) and filed in the circuit court of Morgan County pursuant to sections 14 and 18 of RURESA. 750 ILCS 20/14, 18 (West 1996). The Illinois Department of Public Aid ex rel. Randall Jones was the named petitioner. On November 15, 1995, the petition and a summons were served on Yana.

On January 11, 1996, Yana filed a motion in the circuit court of Macon County to transfer venue of the postjudgment dissolution proceedings to the circuit court of Morgan County because that was the county where she now lived and where the RURESA petition against her had been transferred. On March 4, 1996, the court granted Yana's motion.

A hearing was held on the RURESA petition on May 16, 1996. Yana was the only witness. Yana testified her daughter Miranda had been living with Randall with her consent since June 1994. She further testified she worked at Hertzberg and J.C. Penney. At Hertzberg she earned $7.36 per hour and worked 40 hours per week and at J.C. Penney she earned $5.30 per hour and worked 8 hours per week.

Over objection of the assistant Attorney General representing the Department, the trial court admitted a copy of a letter dated February 26, 1996, sent by the Department to Yana, advising her of Randall's arrearages in child support under the Judgement for dissolution of marriage. Also admitted over objection was an order entered by the circuit court of Orange County, Florida, dated October 30, 1995, finding Randall was in arrears in child support payments. This order was captioned "Final Order on Contempt on Report and Recommendation of the Hearing Officer and Order to Abate Child Support." In the body of the order Randall was specifically found not in willful contempt of court for failing to pay child support. The record also contains another order entered that same date by the Florida court that abated the amount Randall's employer was deducting as child support and the employer was to deduct $10 per week toward an arrearage of $3,524.17 established in Florida.

On June 6, 1996, the trial court entered a written order finding Yana was the custodial parent of Miranda pursuant to the judgment of dissolution entered in Macon County; the order of the Macon County circuit court requiring Randall to pay $85 per week as child support remained in full force and effect; and Randall was in contempt of court both in Morgan County and Orange County, Florida, for failure to pay child support. Based on these findings the court:

"orders to pay the sum of $85.00 per week to satisfy the Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Order so long as the minor child of the parties re- sides with with her permission or until the minor attains majority whichever occurs first. It is the intention of the court that this payment shall act as a set- off of the order requiring to pay child support in the amount of $85 per week and that no funds will actually be transferred."

On June 14, 1996, the Department filed a motion to vacate the court's order contending a RURESA action was limited to the allegations of that petition and a court considering the RURESA petition had no jurisdiction in that proceeding to consider any other matters between the parties including actions to enforce a Judgement of dissolution. Therefore, the trial court could make no findings concerning Randall's arrearages under the Judgement of dissolution and evidence concerning that arrearage was not relevant for purposes of the RURESA proceeding. The trial court denied the motion and this appeal followed.

The trial court determined since the Macon County Judgement of dissolution had been transferred to Morgan County circuit court, the court had jurisdiction over both it and the RURESA petition. The court stated it was a court of equity in family law matters and Randall did not have clean hands in asking for support from Yana when he was in arrears under the Judgement of dissolution. However, the court recognized the duty of support Yana owed under Illinois law was to her child and not to Randall and RURESA was a valid enforcement mechanism for that obligation. With both parties owing support to each other, the trial court held no money should actually change hands as Randall's support obligation would be set off against Yana's obligation.

The trial court made a sincere effort to be practical. In ordering the setoff, the court was apparently considering the significant arrearages owed by Randall to Yana, and the fact Randall was legally obligated to honor the support order entered in the dissolution case even though he had physical custody of the child. In the effort to be practical, the trial court exceeded its authority.

The sole question for review is whether a trial court in a RURESA proceeding is limited to considering only the RURESA respondent's (Yana's) duty of support and whether the trial court exceeded its authority by addressing and enforcing Randall's child support obligations under the Judgement of dissolution. Because we have been asked to determine as a matter of law whether the trial court has over- stepped its authority under RURESA, our review is de novo and we give no deference to the trial court's ruling. S.B. Lexington, Inc. v. Near North Insurance Agency, Inc., 244 Ill. App. 3d 1023, 1030, 614 N.E.2d 234, 238 (1993). After examining RURESA and judicial decisions inter- preting it, we find in a RURESA proceeding the court is limited to considering the ...


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