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In re Marriage of Epting

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Sixth Division

December 7, 2012

In re MARRIAGE OF BRENDA C. EPTING, Petitioner-Appellee, and PEDRO A. EPTING, Respondent-Appellant.

Held [*]

The trial court had subject matter jurisdiction in a marriage dissolution proceeding because its factual finding of residency was not against the manifest weight of the evidence, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying respondent’s motion to reconsider the prove-up based on his claims that he lacked a “total understanding” of the settlement agreement and that he was coerced into signing it, especially when respondent raised issues not raised in his motion to vacate without explaining why those issues were not raised earlier and he failed to show how the trial court misapplied the law.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, No. 09-D-01839; the Hon. Jeanne Cleveland Bernstein, Judge, presiding.

Paul L. Feinstein, of Paul L. Feinstein, Ltd., of Chicago, for appellant.

Joseph G. Phelps, of Rinella & Rinella, Ltd., of Chicago, for appellee.

Panel JUSTICE R. GORDON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Lampkin and Justice Hall concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 On March 3, 2009, petitioner Brenda Epting filed a petition for dissolution of marriage in the circuit court of Cook County. The Eptings' two children were both emancipated. On July 13, 2011, the parties entered into an oral marital settlement agreement which was included in the prove-up for the dissolution. That same day, the parties reduced the oral marital settlement agreement to writing and signed it. The written settlement agreement provided that respondent Pedro Epting would pay $3, 967 per month for maintenance payments, based in part on Pedro's annual income of $119, 678 and Brenda's annual income of $12, 840. The written settlement agreement included a 50% income-sharing plan, suggested by the trial court during a pretrial conference.

¶ 2 A month after signing the written settlement agreement, Pedro filed a motion on August 11, 2011, to "vacate the prove-up and other relief, " which the trial court denied. On October 11, 2011, the trial court entered a judgment dissolving the parties' marriage and incorporating the written marital settlement agreement. The dissolution judgment was signed by each party's attorney. Pedro's attorney then filed a motion to withdraw, and on October 27, 2011, Pedro filed a pro se motion to reconsider the denial of Pedro's previous motion to vacate the prove-up. The trial court denied Pedro's pro se motion to reconsider on November 17, 2011, after holding a hearing on the motion.

¶ 3 Pedro now appeals, claiming: (1) that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to dissolve the marriage and (2) that even if the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction, it erred in denying his motion to reconsider. For the following reasons, we affirm.

¶ 4 BACKGROUND

¶ 5 I. Pleadings

¶ 6 Brenda filed her petition for dissolution of marriage on March 3, 2009. In her petition, she alleges that she and Pedro resided in Berkeley, Illinois, at the time she filed the petition and that they had both continuously resided in the State of Illinois for at least 90 days preceding the filing of the petition. She alleges that there were two children born to the marriage and none have been adopted, that both children have been emancipated, and that she is not presently pregnant.

¶ 7 Pedro filed a pro se appearance on April 8, 2009, but he did not file an answer. On November 19, 2009, Pedro's first attorney[1] filed an appearance on behalf of Pedro, but he also did not file an answer on Pedro's behalf.

¶ 8 II. Marital Settlement Agreement and Testimony

¶ 9 On April 4, 2011, this case was set for a trial on July 13, 2011. On the trial date, the trial court conducted a pretrial conference and made a recommendation for maintenance based on a model income-sharing plan, which equalized the parties' annual incomes by calculating each party's tax liabilities, medical insurance premiums, the tax benefits to Pedro resulting from his maintenance payments, and the tax liabilities to Brenda resulting from the maintenance payments she received. Later that same day, the trial court held an oral prove-up hearing in which both parties testified and agreed to the terms of the marital settlement agreement.

¶ 10 At the prove-up hearing, Brenda testified that the parties were married in Maywood, Illinois, that the marriage license was registered in Cook County, and that Brenda and Pedro had been residents of Cook County for at least 90 days prior to the date of the hearing for dissolution. Brenda and Pedro then agreed to an oral settlement agreement, requiring Pedro to pay Brenda $3, 976 per month in maintenance payments. The payments were based on $2, 820 for permanent maintenance with a 50% income-sharing plan designed to place the parties "in the same position as a couple." The income-sharing plan was based on Pedro's annual income of $119, 678 and Brenda's income of $12, 840. If the parties' financial picture changed, the agreement provided that the income-sharing plan would be adjusted accordingly.

¶ 11 During the prove-up, Brenda acknowledged in Pedro's presence that the amount she receives from Pedro would decrease if her income increased, and that she would cease receiving payments from Pedro if she were to enter into a continuing, conjugal relationship with another adult or if she or Pedro passed away. During the prove-up, Brenda acknowledged that she understood the oral marital settlement agreement, and entered into it freely and voluntarily, and agreed to be bound by the terms of the agreement.

¶ 12 Pedro testified that he heard "the agreement that was stated by Brenda's attorney" and that he understood the terms of the agreement. Pedro testified as follows:

"Q. And has anyone forced or coerced you into agreeing to this settlement today?
A. No.
Q. And are you doing this freely and voluntarily?
A. Kind of, sort of, yeah.
Q. Well, you can't say kind of, sort of. Because if you aren't doing it freely and voluntarily, that means–
A. Yes.
Q. –someone has forced you ...

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