Appeal from the Circuit Court of Williamson County. No. 99-D-62 Honorable James R. Moore and Honorable Brad K. Bleyer, Judges, presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Donovan
The text of this decision may be changed or corrected prior to the filing of a Petition for Rehearing or the disposition of the same.
JUSTICE DONOVAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Welch and Goldenhersh concurred in the judgment and opinion.
The circuit court of Williamson County denied the joint petition of respondent and intervenor to offset respondent's obligation to pay a portion of the accrued medical expenses of his child with the child's social security dependent benefit and to terminate respondent's future medical support obligation to the child. On appeal, respondent and intervenor contend that the circuit court erred in denying a setoff where the dependent benefit was secured through respondent's contributions to social security during his years of employment and that the circuit court abused its discretion in refusing to terminate respondent's medical support obligation where undisputed evidence established that respondent had a substantial change in circumstances.
Petitioner, Kara Rash, and respondent, Jason King, were married on December 4, 1993. The parties have one child, Baylee, who was born on November 11, 1996. The parties' marriage was dissolved on February 17, 1999. According to the terms of the court-approved, marital settlement agreement, respondent agreed to pay $185.70 per month in child support, petitioner agreed to provide medical insurance for the minor child, and petitioner and respondent agreed to split all the medical, optical, dental, and extraordinary expenses that were not covered by medical insurance. The marital settlement agreement was made a part of the judgment of dissolution. In March 2001, the court entered an agreed order in which respondent's child support obligation was increased to $100 biweekly.
In July 2004, respondent was involved in a motor vehicle accident. He sustained severe injuries that left him permanently and totally disabled. In August 2005, Larry King, respondent's father and intervenor herein, was appointed as the guardian of respondent's estate. In November 2007, respondent learned that his application for a social security disability benefit was approved. Respondent was eligible for a monthly disability benefit retroactive to December 2004, and his child was eligible for a monthly dependent benefit retroactive to December 2004. Respondent and his child each received a lump-sum distribution as payment for the benefits that had accrued from December 2004 to November 2007. The child received a lump-sum payment of approximately $13,000. She was to receive a monthly benefit of approximately $500 during her dependency.
In September 2006, the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, Division of Child Support Enforcement, filed a participation notice indicating that it would provide child support enforcement services on behalf of petitioner. On May 22, 2008, intervenor filed a motion to intervene. Intervenor asserted that a dispute had arisen regarding whether a portion of the child's dependent benefit could be applied to offset respondent's share of the uncovered medical expenses of the child that had accrued since respondent's accident. Intervenor asserted that he had an interest in the dispute because he had been appointed as the guardian of respondent's estate and he had a fiduciary responsibility to properly manage respondent's funds.
On May 28, 2008, intervenor and respondent jointly petitioned the court to terminate respondent's child support and medical support obligations and to adjudicate a setoff of the child's accrued medical expenses against the dependent benefit. Respondent and intervenor noted that petitioner had paid all the child's medical expenses since the date of respondent's accident, that petitioner had claimed that respondent's share of the uncovered medical expenses was $3,967.97, and that petitioner had demanded reimbursement of that amount. Intervenor asserted that respondent's social security disability benefit was respondent's only source of funds. Intervenor asserted that under his interpretation of pertinent regulations of the Social Security Administration, a portion of respondent's past medical support obligation should be offset by the lump-sum payment of the accrued dependent benefit to his child and that respondent's future medical obligation should be satisfied by the monthly dependent benefit. Intervenor and respondent also argued that respondent's future child support and medical support obligations should be terminated pursuant to section 510(a) of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (Act) (750 ILCS 5/510(a) (West 2008)), due to the substantial change in respondent's circumstances.
On July 3, 2008, the circuit court entered an agreed order finding that as of January 24, 2008, respondent owed $3,954.80 in unpaid child support and interest. The court ordered respondent to satisfy the arrearage upon receiving the lump-sum payment of the accrued social security disability benefit. The court also found that there had been a substantial change in respondent's circumstances. The court ruled that respondent would not be required to pay child support as long as his only source of funds was a monthly social security disability benefit.
On August 18, 2008, petitioner filed a petition for a rule to show cause why respondent should not be held in contempt for his failure to pay one-half of the uncovered medical expenses incurred on behalf of the child in the years 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008, as required under the marital settlement agreement. Petitioner also sought an order directing respondent to pay $2,500 to cover the attorney fees she incurred in enforcing the agreement. In response, respondent claimed that his obligation to pay one-half of the medical expenses that had been incurred since December 2004 had been met because the child's dependent benefit constituted substitute income to a disabled worker's family.
On November 17, 2008, the parties filed a stipulation setting forth the pertinent facts and the contested issues. The parties acknowledged that respondent was a disabled adult and that their child was receiving a monthly dependent benefit of $514 because of respondent's disability. The parties agreed that respondent's requests to terminate his medical support obligation and to adjudicate a setoff for his share of accrued medical expenses presented questions of law that could be decided based on the stipulated facts and the legal authorities submitted by each party. In accordance with the stipulation, if the position taken by respondent and intervenor prevailed on the law, the contempt petition would be moot, and if their position failed on the law, respondent would owe $3,433.24 in accrued medical expenses, respondent would have a continuing obligation for medical support for the child, and petitioner could proceed with the contempt petition.
On December 2, 2008, the circuit court entered an order denying the request to offset respondent's obligation to pay the accrued medical expenses with the dependent benefit. The court found, "[A]ny amount in excess of the parent's monthly child support obligation paid by Social Security is a gratuity that belongs to the child and should not be set-off against a separate obligation for medical expenses." The court granted the rule to show cause and entered a judgment against respondent in the sum of $3,433.24 for the accrued, uncovered medical expenses. The court determined that there was a sufficient basis for respondent to believe that he was not obligated to pay the accrued medical expenses, based on his interpretation of In re Marriage of Henry, 156 Ill. 2d 541, 622 N.E.2d 803 (1993), and that respondent's conduct was not wilful and contumacious. The court further found that respondent's disability constituted a substantial change in his ...