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In re Marriage of Igene

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Sixth Division

June 26, 2015

In re MARRIAGE OF TAISHEKA R. IGENE, Petitioner-Appellee, and COURAGE IGENE, Respondent-Appellant

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 12 D 530916. Honorable Patrick T. Murphy, Judge Presiding.

For APPELLANT: Michael G. DiDomenico of LAKE TOBACK 33, Chicago Illinois.

For APPELLEE: Owolabi Alaba of LEADERS LAW CENTER, Bolingbrook, Illinois.

JUSTICE HALL delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Hoffman and Justice Rochford concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

HALL, JUSTICE.

[¶1] Respondent Courage Igene appeals a circuit court judgment granting petitioner Taisheka R. Igene's petition declaring her marriage to him invalid (annulled) pursuant to section 301(1) of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (Marriage Act) (750 ILCS 5/301(1) (West 2012)). Respondent argues the circuit court erred in invalidating the parties' marriage. He requests that we reverse the judgment declaring the marriage invalid and remand for further proceedings on his counterpetition for dissolution of marriage. For the reasons that follow, we grant respondent's requests.

[¶2] BACKGROUND

[¶3] Respondent and petitioner met at a church convention in Houston, Texas, in July 2006. Respondent presented himself to petitioner as " Pastor Joshua." At the time of their meeting, respondent was living in Texas and was married to a woman named Alissa Willis.[1] Petitioner was single and living in Atlanta, Georgia. According to petitioner, respondent never disclosed he was married. Upon petitioner's return to Georgia, she and respondent developed a romantic relationship through their telephone conversations.

[¶4] On April 21, 2007, in Atlanta, Georgia, respondent and petitioner participated in a religious marriage ceremony, held without a marriage license. According to petitioner, she and respondent were unable to obtain a marriage license prior to the wedding because three days before the wedding, respondent claimed he left his identification documents in Dallas, Texas. Respondent is an immigrant to the United States from the Republic of Nigeria, Africa. Petitioner alleged she agreed to go forward with the wedding ceremony after respondent's assurances that they would obtain a marriage license in Texas. Petitioner allegedly presumed the marriage ceremony in Atlanta resulted in a valid marriage. Petitioner maintained she was not aware that respondent was married to another woman at the time she participated in the marriage ceremony.

[¶5] After the honeymoon, the parties returned to Atlanta and then left for Dallas. Petitioner alleged that unbeknownst to her, respondent's marriage to Alissa Willis was dissolved on July 5, 2007. The parties obtained their marriage license in Dallas on July 19, 2007, and were married there in a civil ceremony by a justice of peace on July 23, 2007.

[¶6] Petitioner alleged she became suspicious of respondent's marital history when she attended an immigration interview with him and an officer with the Department of Homeland Security asked respondent if he had disclosed all of his previous marriages to her. According to petitioner, respondent told her he was a victim of identity theft and that someone was using his name and was involved in a marriage.

[¶7] Ultimately unsatisfied with respondent's explanations, petitioner eventually moved out of the marital home in September 2011. Petitioner alleged it was not until she moved to Illinois and retained counsel in November 2012 that she discovered respondent was previously married to a number of different women and that he was married to Alissa Willis at the time she and respondent participated in the marriage ceremony in Atlanta.

[¶8] On December 10, 2012, petitioner filed the petition at issue in this appeal requesting the circuit court to declare her marriage to respondent invalid. Respondent filed a counterpetition for dissolution of marriage on March 14, 2013. After extensive motion practice, the circuit court held a hearing on the two petitions, hearing argument from both parties as well as their respective witnesses.

[¶9] On September 13, 2013, the circuit court entered an order invalidating the parties' marriage of July 23, 2007. Three days later, the court issued a memorandum order explaining the reasons for its decision. The court also denied respondent's counterpetition for dissolution of marriage. The court subsequently denied ...


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