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Stahl v. DeLeo

May 19, 2004


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County. No. 99-D-1082. Honorable Stephen Sullivan, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Gilleran Johnson


The petitioner, Lisa Stahl, appeals from the August 27, 2003, order of the circuit court of Kane County denying her petition to remove her children and those of the respondent, Carl DeLeo, to Wisconsin. On appeal, Lisa argues that (1) the trial court's decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence and (2) the trial court erred in requiring her to demonstrate the direct benefits that her children would experience by moving to Wisconsin. We affirm.

The parties' marriage was dissolved on December 13, 2000. Pursuant to the order of dissolution, Lisa and Carl were awarded joint custody of their children: Christiana, born July 22, 1994; and Tony, born May 6, 1996. On April 16, 2002, Lisa filed a petition seeking to remove Christiana and Tony to Cedarburg, Wisconsin, a town 20 miles north of Milwaukee.

On August 19, 2003, the trial court conducted a hearing on Lisa's petition. Lisa testified that, prior to the divorce, she began operating a business with Allen Hansen, Hansen Stahl Sales and Marketing (HSSM). Hansen originally started the business in 1996 as Allen Hansen & Associates in Grafton, Wisconsin. HSSM provides sales representatives for several small manufacturing companies. Most of their clients and customers are located in Wisconsin, but they do have a limited number of Illinois-based clients and customers. Until recently, HSSM maintained offices in Geneva, Illinois, and Grafton, Wisconsin. Lisa ran the Geneva office and Hansen managed the Grafton office. When Lisa and Hansen first started HSSM, Lisa, who was still married to Carl at the time, could not move to Wisconsin because Carl's position as a fireman required him to maintain Illinois residency. Most of the main business functions were carried out at the Grafton office. At the Geneva office, Lisa performed duties related to the accounts entrusted to her care. A full-time office manager operated the Grafton office, while two part-time employees performed administrative duties at the Geneva office.

Apparently beginning sometime in 1999, Lisa and Hansen's business relationship evolved into a romantic relationship. Lisa described her relationship with Hansen in the following words:

"It's a wonderful relationship. It is truly great to have a partner that works with me on day-to-day issues with the children and responsibilities, and I'm very much in love with him, and pending the decision, I'm hoping we'll be able to marry."

Hansen is divorced and has two children, 14-year-old Christopher and 10-year-old Nicholas. Hansen has spent time with Lisa's children and, according to Lisa, has developed a close relationship with them. If allowed to move, she intends to purchase a house in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. Cedarburg is just a few minutes' drive from HSSM's main office in Grafton.

Lisa believes that operating two separate offices has caused HSSM several problems. Lisa and Hansen have trouble coordinating and communicating between the offices on client matters. In many instances, they had trouble when they attempted to meet with vendors or clients at the same time.

Lisa testified that there are a couple of different parts of Carl's visitation schedule. First, Carl and Lisa have alternated their visitation with the children on holidays such as Christmas. The second part of the scheduling is more irregular. Carl is a fireman with the fire department in Woodridge. He works a "one day on, two days off" schedule that results in his working about 100 days a year. Carl gives his work schedule to Lisa about two or three months in advance and they then work out a visitation schedule for his days off work. His unique work schedule permits him to see the children about two to three days during the week, as well as on weekends, which amounts to about 10 daytime visits and 2 overnight visits each month. After Lisa filed her petition for removal, Carl made an effort to increase his contact with the children. Lisa claims that she does whatever she can to foster the relationship between Carl and the children. She further tries to encourage the children to spend time with Carl's family, including their paternal grandparents. Lisa primarily oversees the children's education and health care, but acknowledged that Carl has become more involved since the removal petition was filed.

Lisa testified that she began thinking about moving to Wisconsin because she wanted to be closer to Hansen. She explained:

"My relationship with Allen was growing, and we wanted to be able to be in the same area, we talked about getting married, we talked about the stresses of being single--myself being a single parent, taking care of the children, the house, and running the business in a separate location."

Lisa said that she then began looking into the schools and real estate in the area of Grafton. She consulted with the family's therapist, Valerie Jencks, to help determine if the children were ready for the move. She also spoke with her parish priests about parenting values and how to help the children move beyond the divorce.

According to Lisa, the move to Cedarburg would permit her to spend much more time with the children and avoid the need for a child care provider. She believes that the children could still have a "very good relationship" with Carl and visit with him on a regular basis. Lisa investigated the school in Wisconsin that the children would attend, St. Francis Borgia. She believes that St. Francis Borgia is better than the school the children currently attend in Illinois, St. Peter's. For instance, Lisa likes that the Wisconsin school has a full-time school counselor, offers foreign language classes, and serves "home-cooked" meals in the cafeteria.

The move to Wisconsin would permit her to remain at home until the children leave for school in the morning and also to be home when they return from school. She said that she would have significantly more time to spend with the children to help them with homework or take them to after-school activities. In the past, the children have been unable to participate in extracurricular activities. In Cedarburg, Lisa stated, Christiana would be able to participate in gymnastics at a local academy. Tony would be able to join the local children's ice hockey and basketball teams.

Lisa also has family living in Wisconsin. Her parents live approximately four hours away from Cedarburg, in Sayner.

Lisa and Hansen plan to purchase a house in Cedarburg. Hansen and his two children would move in with Lisa and her two children after Lisa and Hansen married. Thus, in their new family, Lisa believes that she and Hansen would be able to pool their finances and share their child-rearing obligations. Moreover, Lisa believes that they would have more flexibility in coordinating their daily lives, given that Lisa and Hansen would be working in the same office.

Lisa also testified that she believes HSSM will experience substantial savings due to the consolidation of the business into a single location. She predicted that the move to Wisconsin would save HSSM about $35,000 annually.

Lisa testified that Carl drove for approximately 30 minutes when he traveled from his home in Woodridge to pick up the children from Lisa's former residence in Geneva. If Lisa moved to Cedarburg, a drive from Woodridge would take about two hours. However, Lisa testified that she has offered to arrange for Carl to pick up the children at Gurnee Mills Mall in Gurnee, Illinois. Under this arrangement, Lisa would drive the children to Gurnee Mills herself. From there, Carl's drive home to Woodridge would take about 45 minutes.

Lisa also testified about closing the Geneva office and selling her home in Geneva before the court ruled on her removal request. She claimed that she closed HSSM's Geneva office because financial pressures forced her to find a way to reduce costs. She further explained that she did not truly intend to sell the house before the court ruled on her removal request. However, the court date, she explained, was moved back several times and she had hoped to sell her home before the children started school in the fall. She placed the house on the market in May and it sold 10 days later. Therefore, when the hearing started in August, she had already sold her home.

In the event that her removal request was denied, Lisa testified that she planned to move to Lake Villa or Antioch. Carl's drive to pick up the children from either location would be about an hour. However, Lisa further planned to commute daily to the Grafton office, approximately a 75-minute drive. Lisa said that she would be gone each day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The children would need to enter an after-school care program. Moreover, Hansen and Lisa's plan to marry would no longer be feasible. She claims that there are simply too many barriers preventing Hansen's and HSSM's relocation to Illinois.

On cross-examination, Lisa admitted that nothing in HSSM's operating agreement requires her to move to Wisconsin. She discussed how she occasionally goes on overnight business trips that may extend up to two or three days. She believes that these trips would become much less frequent if she were allowed to move to Wisconsin. Lisa testified that the Geneva office was operated from an office she had set up in her home. She had agreed with Hansen that she would work each day at least from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thus, she would be at the house most of the day unless she was visiting clients or vendors, or traveling out of town. While working from her home office in Geneva, she was generally around when the children left for school and when they returned home. She claimed that, even though she was home when the children arrived home from school at 3 p.m., she was not "available for them" until at least 5 p.m. At the Grafton office, her work hours would be 9 a.m. to about 3:15 p.m. In Cedarburg, Lisa would be able to focus her full attention on the children. The situation would be "very different" than it was in Geneva.

Lisa testified that there is no statistical data available on St. Francis Borgia, the Cedarburg grammar school, pertaining to such things as the college matriculation rate or average SAT scores of its graduates. Lisa described each of her children as bright and said they are doing well in school. Christiana usually receives "straight A's and some B's."

Lisa acknowledged that Carl often visited with the children during the week on days he was not working. Typically, he would pick the children up after school at 3 p.m. and then drive them back to Woodridge. He would then drive back to Geneva and drop them off at Lisa's house at 7:30 p.m. She does not believe that this type of visitation would have to cease if she moved to Cedarburg, which is over an hour's drive beyond Geneva. She proposed that Carl could simply travel up to Cedarburg and spend the time with the children there instead of taking them back to his home in Woodridge.

Finally, Lisa testified that, if compelled by the judgment, she could buy another house in Illinois. Lisa's income would not significantly change if she moved to Wisconsin. In 2001, her adjusted gross income was $230,310. Lisa claims that she does not have much discretionary monthly income and, currently, she can contribute only limited amounts to the children's educational fund. If her monthly expenses were lower due to sharing expenses with Hansen, she could contribute a greater amount to the children's educational fund. To her knowledge, Carl does not contribute any money toward the children's future education.

Allen Hansen testified that he currently resides in Cedarburg. He testified that, at one point, it made business sense to maintain an Illinois office. However, the Chicago market changed over time. In the past, HSSM maintained about eight accounts in the Chicago area, but that number has dwindled to about two or three. In addition, Hansen explained that the ...

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