Appeal from the Circuit Court of Madison County. No. 07-D-1071 Honorable Dean E. Sweet, Judge, presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Stewart
NOTICE Decision filed 11/26/12.
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 STEWART delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Donovan concurred in the judgment and opinion. Justice Goldenhersh specially concurred, with opinion.
¶ 1 On October 19, 2007, Suzie Haller filed a petition for dissolution of marriage from Robert Haller. On March 17, 2011, the parties appeared for trial but reached a settlement agreement, which was read into the record. Both parties testified that it was their desire that the court approve the agreement and that they understood that the agreement was binding. The trial court approved the agreement, entered judgment in a docket entry, and ordered Suzie's attorney to prepare a written judgment to be filed on a later date. Subsequent to the hearing, but before a written judgment was entered, Robert filed a motion to set aside the settlement agreement. Suzie submitted a proposed written judgment and filed a motion for entry of judgment. Following a hearing, the trial court denied Robert's motion to set aside and granted Suzie's motion for entry of judgment. Robert filed a motion to reconsider, which was denied. He filed a timely notice of appeal. We affirm.
¶ 3 On October 19, 2007, Suzie Haller filed a petition for dissolution of marriage from Robert Haller, and on November 13, 2007, Robert filed a response. Between 2007 and 2011, the parties engaged in discovery and filed numerous motions, petitions, and responsive pleadings relating to the issues of maintenance and property rights.
¶ 4 The matter was set for trial on all issues on March 17, 2011. That morning the parties and their attorneys negotiated a settlement agreement that Suzie's attorney, Larry LeFevre, read into the record. At the start of the hearing, the trial court stated that if either party did not understand the terms of the settlement agreement, had any questions, or disagreed with it, that party needed to tell his or her attorney. The court stated that any issues would be clarified such that "at the end we will have on the record a full, final, complete and binding settlement." The court went on to state:
"Now, it's going to be typed so that you will be able to read it later and you'll have it, but it isn't like you're going to be able to get it at home in a couple of weeks, look at it, and have buyer's remorse or second-guess your decision, you know. You've made some concessions. You got some things you wanted; you gave up some things. People on the way home when they leave these hearings sometimes they remember the things they gave up and forgot [sic] the things they got and then they--so, it isn't like--so, you do need to understand today is the day. It isn't like when you get it you can make changes. So, the idea is as you hear this is--it's also known, if you don't understand something and you have questions, ask the questions. We want to make sure everybody understands it."
¶ 5 Pursuant to the agreement read into the record, Suzie was awarded the marital home at 56 Memorial, Highland, Illinois, and Robert was to pay the balance of the mortgage payments to the bank or to Suzie if she sold the home or paid the mortgage herself. Robert was ordered to pay Suzie $317,500. Suzie was awarded the Chrysler Sebring in her possession, any other property in her possession including bank accounts in her name, any life insurance insuring her life, and any retirement benefits to which she may be entitled. Suzie was ordered to pay any debts held in her name or incurred by her except as specifically ordered to be paid by Robert. Suzie was ordered to pay her own car insurance, the balance of her own medical insurance after a $250-per-month contribution by Robert, her own cell phone bill, and her own utilities.
¶ 6 Robert was awarded a house and 33 acres in Pocahontas, Illinois, and all interest in the property in Fulton County, Illinois, subject to any indebtedness on the properties. He was awarded his interest in Plant Maintenance Services (PMS), the Blazer vehicle in his possession, a 1947 Farmall Cub tractor, a golf cart, a bulldozer, $14,000 claimed as dissipation of assets, a 1988 Procraft fish and ski boat, and any other assets in his possession except those awarded to Suzie, including bank accounts in his name, life insurance insuring his life, and retirement benefits to which he may be entitled. Robert was ordered to pay $15,000 of Suzie's attorney fees and any other debts held in his name or incurred by him. Robert was ordered to pay $2,000 per month in maintenance for a period of four years. He was further ordered to pay a contribution of $250 per month towards Suzie's health insurance, which was to be converted to COBRA coverage for a period of three years or until Suzie qualified for insurance through employment or otherwise.
¶ 7 During the recitation of the agreement by Suzie's attorney, Robert's attorney, Gale Stipes, indicated that there was a problem and asked to speak off the record. When the attorneys came back on the record, the following took place:
"MR. LeFEVRE: Judge, I'm going to re-state the maintenance provision. THE COURT: Okay.
MR. LeFEVRE: The maintenance provision is that Mr. Haller will pay Suzie Haller $2,000 a month for a period of four years beginning April 1, 2011. The maintenance is non-modifiable. We can't ask it to go up; he can't ask it to go down. It will terminate on statutory termination events. And it will also terminate at the end of four years.
THE COURT: But again, because I actually have this case in front of me right now, so by agreement are you saying it cannot be extended for any reason?
MS. STIPES: After four years, it's done. She can't ask that it be extended after four years. It's not modifiable during that four-year period. So, he's stuck with two; she's stuck with two. At the end of four it's done.
MS. STIPES: It's not reviewable. It's done in four years. But, it can be terminated upon statutory events--co-habitation--all the statutory events.
THE COURT: For termination.
MS. STIPES: If she remarries, it terminates on the statute; if she co-habits on a continuing conjugal basis. All the statutory factors.
THE COURT: So, you'll put those in the final documents.
THE COURT: Okay. Okay. Otherwise, but as to increase of income, disability, somebody wins the lottery--
MS. STIPES: Two thousand dollars."
Robert's attorney then went on to specify that pursuant to the agreement, Robert was awarded all of his investments in Raymond James, Securitan, and American Capital, and any other accounts that he had, and that he was responsible for his own attorney fees.
¶ 8 After the terms of the agreement had been read into the record, both parties were sworn to testify, and Robert gave the following testimony:
"MS. STIPES: Now, Bob, we've been here all morning and we've worked out a settlement on this case. Is that your understanding?
MS. STIPES: All right. And we've worked hard going back and forth. And do you feel comfortable with the settlement as Larry LeFevre and I have read it on the record?
MS. STIPES: All right. And you understand that this is it today?
MS. STIPES: Do you feel like you've had an opportunity to do all the discovery that you wanted to do and you've had an opportunity to consult with me as much as you wanted?
MS. STIPES: Do you feel like I have competently represented you in this case?
MS. STIPES: And do you feel comfortable with the settlement as it's been read into the record?
MS. STIPES: Now, do you understand the whole maintenance settlement that we've done?
MS. STIPES: Do you understand that you're paying $2000 a ...