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In re Marriage of Richard D. Neuman

March 30, 1998

IN RE: THE MARRIAGE OF RICHARD D. NEUMAN, PETITIONER-APPELLANT, AND JUDITH A. NEUMAN, RESPONDENT-APPELLEE.


Appeal from Circuit Court of Vermilion County No. 95D432 Honorable James K. Borbely, judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Knecht

Petitioner, Richard Neuman, appeals from the denial of his petition to modify support obligations to respondent, Judith Neuman, his ex-wife. The trial court found no substantial change in circumstances had occurred since entry of the Judgement of dissolution. Richard contends this finding was against the manifest weight of the evidence. We affirm.

Richard and Judith were married on June 24, 1967. They had one child, Rebecca, born October 9, 1970. At the time of the parties' separation on July 1, 1995, Richard was 48 and Judith was 49 years old. Judith suffered from depressive disorder and somatoform disorder, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome and migraine headaches, which prevented her from working a standard eight-hour workday due to limitations on standing, walking, lifting, and carrying. At the time of the parties' separation, she operated a beauty shop in her home where she worked part-time and had a net income of $170 per month. Richard was employed as a millwright and earned $14.35 per hour plus overtime and received occasional "gain share" payments from his company.

Richard filed for dissolution on September 22, 1995. On April 10, 1996, a Judgement for dissolution was entered that incorporated a marital settlement agreement previously agreed to by the parties. Per- tinent provisions of the agreement included an award of permanent maintenance to Judith in the amount of $225 per week; a requirement Richard pay the $53.52 per week premium payments required to keep Judith covered under the health care provided by his employer through Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) (Pub. L.100-647, tit.III, §3011(a), 102 Stat. 3616 (codified as amended at 26 U.S.C.A. §4980B(West Supp. 1997))) coverage; a requirement Richard maintain Ju- dith as beneficiary on two life insurance policies until she started re- ceiving social security retirement benefits; and a requirement that Ju- dith apply for social security disability benefits and advise Richard as to the Disposition of her application.

On March 12, 1997, 11 months later, Richard filed a petition to modify alleging a substantial change in circumstances since the entry of the Judgement of dissolution. He alleged Judith's expenses had decreased and she received an award of social security disability benefits while his own expenses had increased without a commensurate increase in earnings. He asked the trial court to reduce his obligations to pay maintenance and insurance premiums. Following a hearing on July 8, 1997, the trial court found no substantial change in circumstances had occurred, since the bulk of Richard's increase in expenses was due to the obligations he owed Judith to which he agreed in the marital settlement agreement. Further, the court found Judith's receipt of social security benefits had been contemplated when the set- tlement agreement had been entered into as it was specifically mentioned in the agreement. Richard contends the court's findings are erroneous as against the manifest weight of the evidence.

Section 510(a) of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (Act) (750 ILCS 5/510(a) (West 1996)) provides the portions of a Judgement of dissolution pertaining to maintenance may be modified only upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances. The Illi- nois courts have held "substantial change in circumstances" as required by section 510 of the Act means either the needs of the spouse receiving maintenance or the ability of the other spouse to pay maintenance has changed. The party seeking modification of a maintenance order bears the burden of showing the change, and the decision to modify maintenance is within the discretion of the trial court and will not be disturbed on appeal absent an abuse of discretion. In re Marriage of Pedersen, 237 Ill. App. 3d 952, 956, 605 N.E.2d 629, 632-33 (1992).

Richard first contends the trial court erroneously interpreted the Judgement of dissolution to preclude consideration of Judith's receipt of social security disability benefits as a substantial change in circumstances. One of the provisions of the marital settlement agreement incorporated into the Judgement of dissolution referred to Judith's impending receipt of social security benefits.

"The record reflects and the parties agree that suffers from a number of medi- cal problems, both psychological and physi- cal. The parties have agreed that a duty shall be imposed upon to immediately take such steps as may be necessary in order to apply for Social Security Disability. shall further be required to advise as to any Disposition of such appli- cation."

In explaining its decision, the trial court stated:

"he Social Security situation was not only contemplated by the parties at the time of the entry of judgment, but it certainly appears to the court it was taken into account in arriving at the number that they did.

The only other mention is that she is obliged to apply and to do that as quickly as she could and to keep everybody posted on the progress of it. The only Conclusion that the court can come to is that they figured that she was going to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, would do so quickly, and that that was part of the basis of the bargaining in the amounts that were ordered."

Changed circumstances justifying modification of maintenance must occur after the time of the award. Pedersen, 237 Ill. App. 3d at 957, 605 N.E.2d at 633; In re Marriage of Zeman, 198 Ill. App. 3d 722, 733, 556 N.E.2d 767, 773 (1990). We do not believe the trial court concluded it was precluded from considering the receipt of social security benefits. Instead, the trial court permitted the parties to engage in a full evidentiary hearing and to offer evidence on that issue. Because the receipt of benefits by Judith was contemplated in the marital settlement agreement, their actual receipt was then interpreted by the trial court as not constituting a change in circumstances.

Richard argues this interpretation is incorrect because the parties did not know the amount of the benefits Judith would receive and there must be a reason she was obligated to apply for the benefits and inform Richard of the results of her application. Because the parties did not know the amount of benefits at the time they agreed to the maintenance amounts, Richard argues the benefits could not have been taken into account when setting those amounts and their receipt would then be a change in circumstances. However, if the parties had meant for a change in Richard's maintenance obligations upon receipt of benefits, they could have so stated. For example, they could have agreed for every dollar of benefits received Richard's obligations would be reduced by a set amount. They did not do this.

Richard argues it only makes sense to allow him to reduce his maintenance obligations upon Judith's receipt of benefits because she was obligated to inform him when she received those benefits. He contends there is no other reason for requiring her to keep him informed other than to allow him to seek a reduction in his obligations toward her. Richard contends the opposing possibility, that Judith was required to inform him of the benefits received so she might seek an increase in maintenance from him, is absurd due to his already generous commitment to pay Judith (or on her behalf) 65.4% of his monthly net in- come. Richard's implication he would not have agreed to what he contends is an outrageously high obligation on his part unless he could get the obligation reduced upon Judith's receipt of benefits is not supported by ...


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