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In re Marriage of Frank

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

July 29, 2015

IN RE MARRIAGE OF L. BRUCE FRANK, Petitioner-Appellee, and SHIRLEY A. FRANK, n/k/a SHIRLEY A. PEARSON, Respondent-Appellant.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 14th Judicial Circuit, Whiteside County, Illinois, Appeal No. 3-14-0292 Circuit No. 98-D-142 Honorable John L. Hauptman Judge, Presiding.

JUSTICE O'BRIEN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Holdridge and Schmidt concurred in the judgment and opinion.



¶ 1 Respondent Shirley Frank, n/k/a Shirley Pearson, filed a motion to enforce the terms in a 1998 marital settlement agreement she entered into with her former husband, petitioner Bruce Frank. Shirley sought various pension benefits she claims were distributed to her per the parties' marital settlement agreement but which she did not receive when Bruce retired. The trial court denied Shirley's petition for enforcement of judgment and her motion to reconsider. She appealed. We affirm.


¶ 3 Petitioner Bruce Frank and respondent Shirley Frank were married in April 1978. They had two children during the marriage. At the time of the dissolution proceedings, Bruce had worked for the railroad for 18 years. Shirley had also worked outside the home during the marriage. In April 1998, the parties executed a marital settlement agreement that resolved property distribution, maintenance, custody, child support, visitation, and medical care for the parties' youngest child, who was 16 when Shirley and Bruce divorced. The marital settlement agreement that both parties signed contained the following language in article VIII.

"BRUCE shall have the sole right, title and interest in his pension and individual retirement plans, including but not limited to past, present and future contributions, interest and principal, whether contributed by BRUCE or his employer or both and whether unvested, partially vested, or fully vested, free and clear of any and all claims of SHIRLEY. A Qualified Domestic Relations Order will be entered which will provide SHIRLEY with $621.00 per month upon BRUCE's retirement."

¶ 4 Bruce filed a petition for dissolution of marriage on April 29, 1998, and a judgment of dissolution was entered the following day. The judgment of dissolution, which incorporated the marital settlement agreement, stated:

"Article VIII of the parties' Separation Agreement is incorporated to the extent that it provides that BRUCE is awarded all rights in and to his pension provided by the United States Railroad Retirement Board and to the extent that SHIRLEY will receive a separate payment of $621.00 per month, however, upon clarification by the plan administrator of the provisions of the pension, it appears that SHIRLEY's benefits will commence not upon BRUCE's retirement but upon her reaching the eligibility age for retirement, upon which date she will receive her spousal pension benefits in the amount of $621.00 per month without the necessity for any qualified domestic relations order."

¶ 5 Bruce retired from the Union Pacific Railroad in June 2011. Shirley did not begin receiving pension payments and filed her petition for enforcement of judgment in February 2013. In the petition, Shirley sought entry of an order from the trial court dividing Bruce's pension per the settlement agreement.

¶ 6 A hearing took place on Shirley's petition. At the hearing, the trial court allowed Bruce to introduce evidence regarding his railroad pension and clarifying the availability of the various tiers of benefits, including Tiers 1 and 2, and the spousal annuity benefit. Bruce testified that per the Railroad Retirement Board, Shirley was eligible for $621 in spousal annuity benefits. He never discussed sharing his Tier 2 benefits with her.

¶ 7 Shirley claimed the marital settlement agreement was controlling regarding the distribution of Bruce's pension. Shirley objected to the use of parol evidence at the hearing, arguing that the language of the settlement agreement was unambiguous and should be interpreted on its own terms. Shirley testified that because she did not have her own pension, it was important that she share in Bruce's pension. It was her intent when she signed the marital settlement agreement that she receive $621 from Bruce's retirement funds, presumably the Tier 2 pension. She never reviewed any materials regarding the railroad pension tiers or from the Railroad Retirement Board. Shirley did not read the judgment of dissolution or sign the modification that was presented to the court when it was entered in 1998.

ΒΆ 8 The trial court found that an ambiguity existed between the pension provisions in the settlement agreement and the judgment of dissolution, and that the parties' intent could not be determined from the language of the two documents. The trial court admitted the parol evidence offered by Bruce and found that Bruce's evidence regarding the parties' intent was more credible than the evidence offered by Shirley's testimony. The trial court denied Shirley's ...

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