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In re Marriage of Heldebrandt

December 04, 1998

IN RE: THE MARRIAGE OF DEBI HELDEBRANDT, PETITIONER, JAMES RICHARD HELDEBRANDT, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT, AND THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC AID, INTERVENOR-APPELLEE.


Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon Countyand No. 92F521

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steigmann, Justice

IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS

Honorable Robert T. Hall, Judge Presiding.

In September 1997, respondent, James Heldebrandt, filed a motion to reduce or terminate his child support obligation because (1) two of his five children had reached the age of majority; and (2) his children had so vehemently and persistently resisted visitation with him that any semblance of his relationship with them no longer existed. In December 1997, the trial court conducted a hearing on James' motion and later denied it. James appeals, arguing only that the court abused its discretion by denying his motion. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

James and Debi Heldebrandt were married in 1976. Michael Heldebrandt, the oldest of their five children, was born in 1977. Their youngest child, Cody, was born in 1985. In 1989, the trial court dissolved the couple's marriage and awarded custody of the children to Debi. James was granted visitation rights but did not see any of the children for a year or more after the divorce. According to James' testimony, a "big blow up" occurred between him and all of the children at the time of the divorce. He told Debi and the children that he did- not want to see the children until he was "ready," but if the children felt they were "ready" sooner, they could call him. In 1991, James tried to initiate visitation, but the children resisted. James remarried early in 1992, and Debi remarried in the summer of the same year.

In May 1992, James filed a petition to modify visitation. At the June 1992 hearing on the petition, the children testified about James' behavior both before and after the divorce. Several of the children re- membered him as having a bad temper, and they testified to specific incidents in which they experienced that temper firsthand. They re- called that James threw things at them, ripped a telephone out of the wall in a fit of anger, chased them with a knife and plastic baseball bats, disciplined Cody with a belt, and at various times made verbal threats of physical harm. The trial court ordered a psychological assessment of the children and James to determine an appropriate visita- tion arrangement. In early 1993, the court ordered supervised visita- tion with the two youngest children and telephone contact with all of them, with increased visitation dependent on James' successful completion of counseling.

James successfully appealed that ruling because the trial court denied him the opportunity to cross-examine the expert witness who conducted the psychological assessment. Heldebrandt v. Heldebrandt, 251 Ill. App. 3d 950, 956, 623 N.E.2d 780, 784 (1993). In May 1994, on re- mand, the trial court conducted another hearing at which Debi testified that since the previous court date, James had visited three times with three of the children, but he had not visited the other two at all. In June 1994, the court granted James supervised visits with two children at a time on alternating weekends and with all of the children (except Michael) on the Fourth of July and Labor Day holidays and alternating holidays thereafter. On the Fourth of July and Labor Day holidays in 1994, James attempted visitation, but the children refused to go with him. James and his children have not spoken or seen each other since then.

In May 1995, the trial court modified James' child support order by reducing his payments to 40% of his income because of his financial difficulties.

In September 1997, James filed the instant motion to reduce or terminate his child support obligation. At that time, he had not seen or contacted his children in over three years. In January 1998, the trial court denied his motion. In February 1998, in response to James' motion to reconsider, the court reduced his child support obligation to 28% of his income in consideration of both parties' incomes and expenses. Later in February, the court modified the order again to reflect an additional reduction to 25% of James' income upon the emancipation of the parties' second child. This appeal followed.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Effect of Custodial Parent's Actions with Respect to Visitation

1. Standard of Review

When reviewing a ruling on a motion to modify child support, this court will allow the trial court's factual findings to stand unless they are against the manifest weight of the evidence. In re Marriage of Charles, 284 Ill. App. 3d 339, 342, 672 N.E.2d 57, 60 (1996). Further, modification of a child support order lies within the trial court's discretion, and we will not disturb its decision absent an ...


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