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In re Marriage of James P. Connors

February 16, 1999


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Geiger


Appeal from the Circuit Court of De Kalb County.

No. 93--D--306

Honorable Wiley W. Edmondson, Judge, Presiding.

The petitioner, James Connors, appeals from the April 7, 1998, order of the circuit court of De Kalb County requiring him to pay an additional five years of maintenance to the respondent, Patricia Connors. On appeal, James argues that the trial court's order (1) was contrary to the prior law of the case; (2) violated the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel; (3) was based on unlawful considerations; (4) was based on the erroneous finding that Patricia had been reasonably diligent in seeking employment; (5) was against the manifest weight of the evidence; and (6) failed to account for the parties' standard of living at the time of the divorce. We affirm.

The parties' marriage was dissolved on December 27, 1994, following a 23-year marriage. Three children were born to the marriage. One child, having not yet reached majority, was still living with Patricia at the time of the dissolution. During the marriage, Patricia attained a bachelor's degree in education from Northern Illinois University. She also received certification to teach home economics in grades 6 through 12. However, she never worked as a teacher during the marriage. Patricia worked primarily as a homemaker during this time, although she worked occasionally outside the home while her youngest child went to school. At the time of the dissolution, James was employed as a city administrator and was earning approximately $70,000 a year.

The trial court's dissolution order awarded Patricia the majority of the marital property. Patricia was awarded the $114,000 marital residence, subject to the mortgage debt of $55,953. The trial court further awarded Patricia 15% of James's pension, which at the time of the dissolution was valued at $75,112. The trial court also ordered James to pay the family debts of $6,774, Patricia's attorney fees of $3,773, and $786 a month in child support to Patricia. The trial court further ordered James to pay Patricia $982 a month in maintenance after determining that maintenance was necessary in order for Patricia to provide for herself. The trial court declined to classify such maintenance as rehabilitative, specifically finding that "it would be speculation to assume that [Patricia] would be able to maintain herself after any set period of time." The trial court additionally ordered that the maintenance award would be reviewable after one year in order to assess Patricia's progress toward becoming self-sufficient and whether she was still in need of maintenance.

On January 26, 1996, James petitioned the trial court for a review of Patricia's maintenance award. On October 11, 1996, the trial court conducted an evidentiary hearing on the petition. At the close of the hearing, the trial court found that (1) Patricia had not made reasonable efforts to become self-sufficient; (2) the judgment of dissolution did not provide for permanent maintenance; and (3) Patricia, although in need of support, must be encouraged to make progress towards becoming self-sufficient as the original decree provided. The trial court therefore reduced Patricia's award of maintenance to $500 a month and ordered that the award be reviewable in one year to determine if it should be reduced or eliminated. On November 19, 1996, the trial court entered its amended findings and order, specifically finding that Patricia's award of maintenance was "rehabilitatory."

On October 7, 1997, James again petitioned the trial court for a review of Patricia's maintenance award. Between March 17, 1998, and April 7, 1998, an evidentiary hearing on the petition was held before a trial Judge different from the one who had conducted the October 11, 1996, hearing. At the hearing, John Vicha, the assistant superintendent of Community Unit School District No. 300, testified on James's behalf. Vicha testified that his district had advertised three home economics teaching positions beginning in April 1997. He further testified that, as of March 1998, one position was still unfilled because of a lack of qualified applicants.

Barbara Coughman, an education consultant at Northern Illinois University's career planning and placement center, also testified on James's behalf. Coughman testified that she was the editor of the Education Vacancies Bulletin, which listed job openings for teachers in Lake County and northeastern Illinois. She testified that, between February 26, 1997, and August 20, 1997, there were 30 positions listed in the Bulletin for secondary home economics teachers and 29 positions for elementary school positions with a Type 3 certificate. Coughman further testified that Northern Illinois graduates could register as job seekers with the career planning and placement center. Coughman testified that, although Patricia had registered as a job seeker, she had allowed her registration to lapse early in 1997.

Patricia testified that since the previous hearing she had been substitute teaching and had taken two education courses in the spring of 1997. As a result of this course work, she stated, in June 1997 she had obtained her certificate to teach elementary school. Patricia testified that on August 4, 1997, she signed a contract at a salary of $19,550 for a full-time position teaching second grade at the Santa Maria del Popolo School in Mundelein. Patricia stated that, although she had applied for at least 30 full-time positions teaching elementary education since the last hearing, this was the only full-time job offer that she had received.

Patricia also testified that she had interviewed for a home economics position at Zion-Benton High School but that she did not receive the position. She stated that she made a job inquiry to the Carpentersville school district regarding a possible opening for a home economics teacher but learned that they currently had no openings. Patricia testified that, although she had a degree in home economics, she had difficulty finding a job in this area because she had no experience teaching the subject.

Patricia also testified that she had sold the marital home in May 1996 for $136,250, that she had moved out of the home and eventually sold it because it was in "poor repair," and that she was now living with her parents.

At the close of the hearing, the trial court ordered James to continue to pay Patricia maintenance in the amount of $500 per month and ordered that the award would be reviewable in 60 months. In support of its ruling, the trial court made the following factual findings: (1) James was currently earning $83,000 a year; (2) Patricia no longer owned a home and was living with her parents; (3) Patricia had received only 15% of James's pension; (4) Patricia had used reasonable diligence to find employment since the last hearing and was now working full time at a parochial school ...

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