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In re Culp v. Culp

June 30, 2003


Appeal from Circuit Court of Vermilion County No. 99D56 Honorable Joseph P. Skowronski, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Knecht


In February 1999, petitioner, Jerold S. Culp (Jerry), filed for dissolution of his marriage with respondent, Susan K. Culp. In June 1999, the trial court in Vermilion County entered an order of dissolution, reserving jurisdiction to determine all ancillary issues.

In September 1999, the trial court entered a supplemental order incorporating the child support and maintenance provisions to which the parties had agreed. By its terms, the maintenance was to be reviewed in July 2000, two months after the Culps' younger daughter was to graduate from high school and Jerry's child support obligation was to terminate. In June 2001, the trial court entered an order awarding Susan permanent maintenance. Jerry appeals, arguing the trial court abused its discre-tion by (1) awarding permanent maintenance, (2) setting the amount of maintenance unreasonably high, and (3) awarding maintenance retroactively. We affirm.


The parties married in June 1975. They have two children, Jennifer (born December 22, 1978) and Rebecca (Becky) (born February 28, 1982). When the parties first married, Jerry was completing his training with the Illinois State Police and Susan worked full-time as a secretary. In July 1978, Jerry graduated from the Illinois State Police Academy and began working for the Illinois State Police as a trooper. The Culps moved from Springfield to Champaign for Jerry's job, as a result of which, Susan had to leave her job. Because she was then pregnant with their first child, she did not return to work until both children started school. Susan worked throughout the remainder of the marriage; however, for most of that time, she worked only part-time, devoting the remainder of her time to caring for her daughters.

During the early years of their marriage, the Culps lived in mobile homes. In 1984, they purchased a three-acre lot in Oakwood, Illinois, and constructed a 2,000-square-foot, three-bedroom home on it. Jerry did most of the construction work himself. They later added an exercise room, deck, pool, and hot tub.

In 1983, Susan began having problems with her left hip. In 1993, she underwent a hip-replacement surgery. Although these problems do not significantly limit her present activities, they do require ongoing medical care. The average useful life of an artificial hip is 10 to 15 years, after which time she will need another hip replacement. She began experiencing difficulty with her right hip as well, which, ultimately, may also require surgery.

Jerry filed for dissolution in February 1999. The parties sold the marital home in April 1999 and used the proceeds to pay off nearly all their marital debts. The trial court entered an order dissolving the parties' marriage on June 4, 1999. On September 2, 1999, the court entered a supplemental order on ancillary issues. In it, the court ordered Jerry to pay child support of $195 per week for Becky, which was to terminate on May 31, 2000, upon her graduation from high school. Jennifer was already in college at this time. The order incorporated agreements of the parties, including a provision for "rehabilitative maintenance in the sum of $100 per week *** to be reviewable in July 2000 without the necessity of either party filing further pleadings."

The trial judge originally assigned to the case notified the parties of a potential conflict of interest. The case was reassigned. The trial court did not hold the maintenance-review hearing until November 30 and December 5, 2000. At that time, Susan worked as a loan processor for a bank, earning a gross income of approximately $17,000 per year. Her job provided her with health insurance, a 401k retirement account that had accumulated $2,000, and annual raises of $500 per year.

Susan purchased a used, two-bedroom, 1,280-square-foot mobile home but rented the lot on which it sat for $140 per month. Becky, for whom Susan no longer received child support, lived with Susan, and Jennifer stayed with Susan most weekends. Neither daughter contributed financially to household expenses. Susan testified she could not afford to rent a house large enough for herself, her two daughters, and their dog. To help make ends meet, she took on a second job, something she had never had to do during the marriage. She began her second job on November 20, 2000, six days before the maintenance-review hearing. Including her estimated income from the part-time job, her annual income was approximately $22,000. She requested maintenance be increased to $1,600 per month.

Jerry received promotions in his work along with commensurate pay increases. By the time of the maintenance- review hearing, he had risen to the rank of master sergeant and was earning a gross income of $78,000 per year with the likelihood of future promotions and pay increases. On March 25, 2000, he married a woman, also a master sergeant with the Illinois State Police, who earned a salary of $65,000 per year. The couple resided in her three-bedroom, 2,300-square-foot home and pooled their funds for all living expenses. Although Jerry no longer paid child support for Becky, he paid car, health, and life insurance premiums for both girls and helped Jennifer pay her rent at college.

On March 26, 2001, the trial court issued a letter ruling in which it made extensive findings of fact. The court determined the maintenance-review provision did not require Susan to file new pleadings and contained no language limiting the duration of continued maintenance or requiring Susan to file a petition to modify or prove a substantial change in circumstance. The court expressly found the intent of the parties was "to have the [c]court review the entire maintenance issue in July 2000." Additionally, the court found Jerry overstated his expenses in his financial affidavit by including expenses attributable to his second wife without including her income, and, further, Jerry's financial support obligations for Jennifer, then a senior in college, would likely terminate within a year.

On June 12, 2001, the trial court entered an order adopting the findings in its March letter ruling and awarding Susan permanent maintenance of $1,400 per month retroactive to July 17, 2000. Giving Jerry credit for the maintenance he paid under the stipulated order, the court calculated the retroactive maintenance he owed Susan to be $9,838.72. The order contained no payment schedule but did contain a provision stating the court would enter a supplemental ...

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