Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Roper v. Johns

January 28, 2004

[5] JEFFREY L. ROPER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
ALYSON L. JOHNS, N/K/A ALYSON L. BENNETT, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



[6] Appeal from the Circuit Court of Montgomery County. No. 96-F-20 Honorable Mark M. Joy, Judge, presiding.

[9] Justices: Honorable Melissa A. Chapman, P.J., Honorable Richard P. Goldenhersh, J., and Honorable Terrence J. Hopkins, J., Concur

[10]  The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Chapman

[11]   The parties, who were never married, are the parents of Christopher L. Johns. The father appeals from an order increasing his child support obligation. He argues that the trial court (1) erred by deducting only a portion of his student loan payments in calculating his net income for child support purposes and (2) abused its discretion by not ordering child support in an amount below the statutory guideline amount. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand with directions.

[12]   I. BACKGROUND

[13]   Christopher L. Johns was born on May 2, 1991. His parents, Alyson L. Johns, now known as Alyson L. Bennett, and Jeffrey L. Roper (Jeff), were in high school at the time. On January 18, 1996, Jeff filed a petition to establish paternity. He sought visitation with the child but asked that the court reserve a determination of child support because he was then a full-time student in his junior year at the University of Illinois. Alyson, who is two years older than Jeff, had apparently finished her education by this time and was working as a licensed physical therapist assistant. It is not clear from the record what level of education Alyson attained.

[14]   On July 29, 1996, the court entered a judgment declaring Jeff to be Christopher's father and incorporating the visitation schedule to which the parties had agreed. On April 4, 1997, the court entered an agreed order providing that Jeff would pay to Alyson the following: (1) child support in the amounts of $20 per week during the school year and $200 per month during the summer months, (2) half of the cost of Christopher's health insurance premiums and medical expenses not covered by insurance and 40% of the cost of daycare, and (3) $6,635 for a portion of Alyson's pregnancy and childbirth expenses and Jeff's obligations for child support and Christopher's medical expenses from his birth until the entry of the order.

[15]   In May 1997, Jeff graduated from the University of Illinois with a bachelor's degree in business administration. That fall, he enrolled at Washington University School of Law. While attending law school, Jeff decided to enroll in a combined degree program, which meant that he would earn both a law degree and a master's degree in business administration and finish in four years instead of three. In May 2001, Jeff graduated from law school. Prior to graduation, he had accepted a position with Deloitte and Touche, which was to pay him $75,000 per year.

[16]   On June 18, 2001, Alyson filed a petition for a modification in child support, seeking an increase based on the increase in Jeff's income. On August 12, 2002, the trial court held a hearing in the matter. By that time, Jeff had been laid off from his position with Deloitte and Touche, although he has since found another position. The primary issue at the hearing was whether Jeff's student loan payments would be deducted from his income as payments on a debt that was reasonable and necessary for the production of income. See 750 ILCS 5/505(a)(3)(h) (West 2002). Jeff testified that his total student loan debt was $180,000 and his minimum monthly payments on the loans were $2,100 per month. The record is not clear about how much of the debt represents loans Jeff took as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois and how much represents law school loans. Presumably, at least a portion represents undergraduate loans, while the bulk of the debt was incurred attending Washington University.

[17]   In an August 23, 2002, docket entry, the court determined Jeff's child support obligations. The court noted that most of the benefit of Jeff's advanced degrees would be realized after Christopher had reached the age of majority and that it would therefore be unjust to deduct the entire debt from child support payments. The court ruled that Jeff was entitled to a deduction for a portion of his student loan payments, however. For one period of Jeff's child support obligations-December 1, 2001, until August 23, 2002-the court deducted $375 per month in calculating Jeff's income. Using this deduction, the court found that Jeff's income for that period for child support purposes was $2,014.56 biweekly, and the court ordered Jeff to pay child support for that period in the amount of $403 biweekly, representing the statutory guideline amount of 20% of that figure (750 ILCS 5/505(a)(1) (West 2002)). On October 25, 2002, the court entered a written order incorporating the findings from its docket entry. This appeal followed.

[18]   II. ANALYSIS

[19]   The trial court enjoys broad discretion in determining the modification of child support, and we will not overturn its decision unless it results from an abuse of discretion. In re Marriage of Davis, 287 Ill. App. 3d 846, 852, 679 N.E.2d 110, 115 (1997). Jeff's primary contention on appeal is that the trial court abused its discretion in deducting only a portion of his student loan debt in calculating his net income. As an alternative to this argument, he contends that the court abused its discretion by not ordering child support in an amount below the statutory guideline amount of 20%. We may reject this argument at the outset. The statutory guidelines create a rebuttable presumption that child support in the guideline amount is appropriate. Stockton v. Oldenburg, 305 Ill. App. 3d 897, 902, 713 N.E.2d 259, 263 (1999). The proponent of a deviation from the guidelines bears the burden of producing evidence that compelling reasons exist to justify the deviation. Department of Public Aid ex rel. Nale v. Nale, 294 Ill. App. 3d 747, 752, 690 N.E.2d 1052, 1056 (1998). We need not determine whether Jeff's evidence of his debt burden was sufficient to overcome this presumption, because he did not request that the trial court deviate from the guidelines in setting support. A trial court does not abuse its discretion by failing to deviate sua sponte from the presumptively appropriate guidelines. We now turn to Jeff's argument that the trial court erred in calculating his income.

[20]   The statutory definition of "net income" for child support purposes is the total of the non-custodial parent's income from all sources, less certain specified deductions. 750 ILCS 5/505(a)(3) (West 2002). The only such deduction relevant here is the deduction for the repayment of loans for "reasonable and necessary expenses for the production of income." 750 ILCS 5/505(a)(3)(h) (West 2002). This court has recognized that student loans fall within this category. In re Marriage of Davis, 287 Ill. App. 3d at 854, 679 N.E.2d at 116. Although we held that the loans at issue in In re Marriage of Davis were deductible in their entirety (see In re Marriage of Davis, 287 Ill. App. 3d at 856, 679 N.E.2d at 117), our opinion should not be read as holding that student loan payments will always be completely deductible. Like other debt payments deductible under this provision, student loans must be both reasonable and necessary for the production of income. See In re Marriage of Davis, 287 Ill. App. 3d at 853, 679 N.E.2d at 115 ("simply because an expense falls into the category of a debt repayment does not mean that it is necessarily deductible").

[21]   Jeff does not contend otherwise. Rather, he contends that the court erred in finding his loan payments to be only partially deductible. He argues that once the court found that the debt Jeff had incurred was reasonable and necessary at all, it was obliged to find that the loan payments were deductible in their entirety. We disagree. This court has previously found a debt incurred for the production of income to be only partially deductible. In re Marriage of Heil, 233 Ill. App. 3d 888, 892, 599 N.E.2d 168, 171 (1992). There, we held that a non-custodial father's mortgage payments on a hunting lodge that he used to entertain business clients were only partially deductible. We found that only half the debt incurred in buying the lodge was reasonable and necessary for the production of income, because the father used the lodge for personal purposes approximately half the time. In re Marriage of Heil, 233 Ill. App. 3d at 892-93, 599 N.E.2d at 171. We see no principled reason to treat a student loan debt differently from other debt in this regard.

[22]   Moreover, our examination of the purposes to be served by allowing the deduction in the context of student loan payments convinces us that trial courts must have the flexibility to find that a partial deduction is warranted. Because Illinois courts have not previously had the occasion to consider this issue in depth, we look to the decisions of other jurisdictions. In State ex rel. Elsasser v. Fox, 7 Neb. ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.