Appeal from Circuit Court of Adams County No. 84F134 Honorable Scott H. Walden, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Knecht
On August 10, 2005, the trial court granted respondent Robert Young's motion to dismiss petitioner Candice Green's "amended complaint for modification of child support and determination of past[-]due child support and imposition of sanctions." Candice sought to retroactively modify Robert's child-support obligation, collect arrearages, and hold him in contempt. Candice appeals, and we reverse and remand with directions.
On August 14, 1984, Candice filed a complaint alleging Robert Young fathered a child born to her out of wedlock on January 11, 1983, and asking that Robert be ordered to pay child support. On October 11, 1984, Robert appeared and admitted paternity. The cause was continued to November 15, 1984, for a hearing to determine the amount of child support. On November 15, 1984, the trial court ordered Robert to pay $20-per-week child support and set the cause for review on December 20, 1984.
For the period between November 15, 1984, and July 1989, roughly 20 entries appear in the record ordering defendant to appear in the trial court so the court could review his employment status, child-support payments, and any child-support arrearage. Robert failed to appear at six of these hearings. We describe these proceedings only as necessary to understand the issues in this case.
On January 24, 1985, the trial court "temporarily suspended" Robert's child-support obligation because he had no income. On March 14, 1985, the court continued the "suspension" of child-support payments as Robert was still unemployed.
On June 18, 1987, the Illinois Attorney General (AG) filed a petition to intervene on behalf of the Illinois Department of Public Aid (IDPA). On July 8, 1987, the trial court allowed the petition.
On October 1, 1987, the trial court entered an order stating defendant was $2,287 in arrears in child-support payments. Also on that date, the court entered a withholding order requiring Robert to pay $20 per week for current support and $4 per week toward his child-support delinquency.
At a January 21, 1988, hearing, the trial court found Robert had been employed by the State of Illinois but was now unemployed. Robert received $200 every two weeks in unemployment benefits and was still making child-support payments. The court then reduced Robert's support obligation to $10 per week.
On March 17, 1988, the trial court found Robert "paid $80 on [March 17, 1988,] and is current." The court noted Robert still received unemployment benefits and continued the cause until May 26, 1988, "for review of employment [and] income status." The payments were "to continue as previously ordered."
At the May 26, 1988, the trial court found defendant was $200 in arrears for both Candice's and Una Williamson's cases. (Robert was involved in two paternity actions at the same time. Candice's and Una's actions followed a similar track and often included identical orders. Una's action is not related to Candice's appeal.) The court's order was preprinted and stated "Respondent shall pay $'Abated' per for child support." The word "abated" was handwritten on a blank line. The order did not indicate payments were to accrue during the abatement. The order also stated Robert "shall give written notice to the [IDPA] immediately upon obtaining or changing employment." The cause was continued until August 18, 1988, when defendant would be required "to present proof of applications for employment."
At the August 18, 1988, hearing, the trial court ordered Robert to appear at a September 22, 1988, hearing for review of his employment status, again requiring defendant to present a log of prospective employers to whom he had applied. On September 22, 1988, the court found defendant to have income of $65 per week. The cause was continued to November 17, 1988, for "[a]rrearages to be set at that time. Respondent to appear and review job status." Robert failed to appear at the November 17, 1988, hearing, and the trial court entered a body-attachment order.
On March 15, 1989, the AG filed a petition for rule to show cause. The petition alleged the trial court entered an order on October 1, 1987, requiring Robert to pay $20 per week to Candice as child support. The petition further alleged Robert "has willfully and contemptuously failed to comply with the order and is in arrears $140 as of [May 12, 1988]." The record contains no indication the AG ever set the petition for hearing.
On July 6, 1989, the AG filed a motion to vacate the body attachment previously issued in this case. Later that day, the trial court entered an order vacating the body attachment and placing the cause on the inactive docket.
No orders or pleadings were entered in the case until June 10, 2004, when Candice filed a "motion for judgment of arrears, income withholding[,] and change of payee" and a "motion for contempt-show cause and request for bond." On December 14, 2004, Robert filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted Robert's motion on February 24, 2005, but granted Candice 21 days to file other pleadings.
On March 17, 2005, Candice filed a "complaint for modification of child support, determination of past-due child support[,] and imposition of sanctions." Robert filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Civil Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2004)). On April 14, 2005, the trial court granted Robert's motion to dismiss but gave Candice 14 days to file an amended complaint.
On April 28, 2005, Candice filed her three-count amended complaint. Count I was entitled "contempt." Count I requested the trial court to find Robert became employed after May 26, 1988, and failed and refused to pay the $2,287 arrearage ordered on October 1, 1987. It alleged the arrearage plus interest would total $5,906.18 as of May 1, 2005. Candice asked the court to enter an order finding Robert in contempt and ordering him to purge himself of contempt or that he be incarcerated until the contempt is purged. Candice also asserted the May 26, 1988, order was a void order.
Count II, labeled "modification of child support," asked the trial court to modify the child-support order to reflect Robert's actual income from May 26, 1988, until January 11, 2001 (the date the parties' child reached majority). Count II also asked that (1) the modification be retroactive to Robert's initial refusal to comply with the May 26, 1988, order by reporting his employment and (2) the arrearage be calculated with interest.
Count III sought the imposition of sanctions. Count III requested the trial court to impose sanctions on Robert for failing to pay the arrearage the court found he owed in its October 1, 1987, order and for failing to report his employment. Count III further asked that Robert be required to post a bond in the minimum amount of $34,510.19 (calculated using the $20-per-week amount the court set on October 1, 1987, plus interest) or in such an amount as could appropriately be calculated at the rate of support that would have been paid had Robert properly reported his employment as required by the May 26, 1988, order.
On May 5, 2005, Robert filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to section 2-619 of the Civil Code (735 ILCS 5/2-619 (West 2004)). On August 10, 2005, the trial court granted Robert's motion to dismiss.
In reference to count I of the amended complaint, the trial court stated the amended complaint sought to have Robert found in contempt for failing to pay a support arrearage computed at $20 per week and for failing to notify the IDPA of a change in his employment status. The court held "a contempt proceeding is not a proper means for collecting a child[-]support arrearage after the child has reached majority." Moreover, the court said child support "was abated in this case as of May 26, 1988." Nothing in the May 26, 1988, order suggested that support would continue to accrue, and such an order would have been invalid pursuant to Coons v. Wilder, 93 Ill. App. 3d 127, 416 N.E.2d 785 (1981) (Second District). Further, the court stated Robert was not required to pay child ...