Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Doyle
Honorable Mark W. Dwyer, Judge, Presiding.
delivered the opinion of the court:
Plaintiff, the Department of Public Aid, on behalf of K.W., a minor, appeals an order of the circuit court of Du Page County requiring defendant, Roger Lekberg, a non-custodial father, to pay retroactive child support for K.W. pursuant to a previous declaration of parentage. We conclude that the order appealed from was not final and appealable; therefore, we dismiss the appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction.
On July 30, 1993, plaintiff filed a petition to adjudicate parentage of K.W. against defendant. An agreed order declaring defendant to be the biological father was entered on October 20, 1994, two weeks after K.W. attained the age of 18 years. The agreed order did nothing more than to declare paternity. All other issues incident to the determination of paternity were expressly reserved.
On August 20, 1996, the trial court conducted an evidentiary hearing regarding only the issue of defendant's responsibility for retroactive child support. On August 30, 1996, the court entered a judgment against defendant for retroactive child support in the amount of $29,700. Neither the hearing nor the order addressed any of the other reserved issues raised by plaintiff's petition to adjudicate parentage, including current support, reimbursement for expenses of pregnancy and delivery, health insurance, and payment for blood tests. Both the August 30 order and a December 18, 1996, order denying the custodial mother's motion to reconsider contained Rule 304(a) (155 Ill. 2d R.304(a)) findings by the trial court. Plaintiff now appeals, seeking to challenge the amount of the award of retroactive child support.
Although the parties agree that this court is vested with appellate jurisdiction, we have an independent duty to ensure our jurisdiction is proper. Where an appellate court has reviewed the merits of a case when it had no jurisdiction to do so, its decision must be vacated. Franson v. Micelli, 172 Ill. 2d 352, 355 (1996).
We are presented with the issue of whether the August 30, 1996, order determining retroactive child support but leaving unresolved the other issues raised in plaintiff's petition was appealable or could be rendered appealable by virtue of the trial court's certification that "[t]here is no just reason to delay the enforcement and/or appeal of this order - it being a final and appealable order."
Appellate jurisdiction is limited to reviewing a final judgment that determines the litigation and disposes of the parties' rights on either the entire controversy or some definite and separate part of it. In re Marriage of Verdung, 126 Ill. 2d 542, 553 (1989). An order declaring parentage does not qualify as a final judgment if it does not at least rule on the amount of child support the defendant will be required to pay. Franson, 172 Ill. 2d at 355.
In Department of Public Aid ex rel. Corrigan v. Hawkins, 187 Ill. App. 3d 139 (1989), this court considered whether an order finding paternity and providing for current child support, but reserving ruling on other issues, including retroactive support and apportionment of childbirth and related medical expenses, could be considered final. Following People ex rel. Driver v. Taylor, 152 Ill. App. 3d 413 (1987), we held that the order was not final and, therefore, not appealable. In doing so, we rejected the argument that the reserved matters were merely incidental issues not bearing on finality. Noting that our supreme court, in Deckard v. Joiner, 44 Ill. 2d 412 (1970), enumerated those issues which it considered incidental, i.e., enforcement of the support order and any increases in support deemed necessary at a later date, we held that retroactive support and childbirth expenses could not be regarded as incidental or collateral. We noted that the supreme court stated that the paternity order in question in Deckard was not final and appealable, " 'because it provided that jurisdiction would be retained for the determination of a matter of substantial controversy between the parties, viz., the amount of support and expenses for which defendant was liable.' (Emphasis added.) [Deckard,] 44 Ill. 2d at 417." Corrigan, 187 Ill. App. 3d at 141.
In the present case, a substantial element of defendant's potential liability was resolved by the August 30, 1996, order that determined the amount of retroactive support. However, the order left pending other financial issues of potential importance, i.e., defendant's responsibility for the expenses of pregnancy and delivery, blood testing, health insurance, and child support for the period of time between the filing of the petition to declare parentage and the child's attaining majority.
It is a matter of common knowledge that the expenses of pregnancy and childbirth can be substantial. The record does not reflect what amount of the expenses were covered by insurance. We decline to speculate that the amount of pregnancy and childbirth expenses not covered by insurance would necessarily have been inconsequential, as suggested by plaintiff. Plaintiff also contends that, because defendant's liability for current support and health insurance would be limited to a period of 14 months in view of the child's attaining majority only 14 months after the filing of the petition, we should regard this liability as de minimus. Even if defendant's liability for this item was no more than $1,900, as suggested by plaintiff, it is nonetheless an issue to be resolved by the trial court before its determination of expenses can be considered final. Accordingly, we conclude that plaintiff's appeal from the court's determination only of paternity and retroactive support is premature because there has yet to be a final order adjudicating defendant's liability for child support and expenses.
Although plaintiff's brief acknowledges that "the judgment order of August 30, 1996, is not in and of itself a final and appealable order because it fails to resolve all pending economic issues," plaintiff contends that the trial court's ...