Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Sixth Division
In re Marriage of WENDY L. DOWD, n/k/a WENDY L. STRAUSS, Petitioner-Appellant, and GEORGE DOWD, Respondent-Appellee.
from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 08 D 010469
Honorable Naomi Schuster, Judge Presiding.
JUSTICE CUNNINGHAM delivered the judgment of the court, with
opinion. Justices Rochford and Delort concurred in the
judgment and opinion.
1 Petitioner-Appellant Wendy L. Dowd, n/k/a Wendy L. Strauss
(Wendy), appeals from the December 31, 2015 order awarding
custody of the parties' children to respondent-appellee
George Dowd (George). For the following reasons, we affirm
the ruling of the circuit court of Cook County.
3 The parties were married in 2001. The parties had three
children (the children): G.D., born in October 2002; R.D.,
born in November 2003; and B.D., born in August 2006.
Notably, all three of the children have been found to have
emotional problems. Further, both R.D. and B.D. have a record
of behavioral problems and have been diagnosed with
disruptive mood dysregulation disorder and oppositional
defiant disorder, respectively.
4 Wendy filed for divorce in 2008. On September 28, 2010, the
circuit court entered a custody judgment awarding Wendy sole
custody of the children (the custody judgment). The custody
judgment provided that the children's primary residence
would be with Wendy, but granted George parenting time each
Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday morning, as well as
5 A "summer vacation time" provision of the custody
judgment specified that each parent would have at least two
uninterrupted weeks of time with the children during their
summer recess from school, and that, if there was an extra
week or more of summer recess in which the children were not
enrolled in camp, such days would be split evenly between
George and Wendy.
6 The custody judgment recited that the parties agreed to
"consult with each other concerning major health and
education matters with a view to arriving at a harmonious
policy" but that, if they were unable to reach an
agreement, Wendy shall have ultimate decision-making
authority. The judgment specified that both parents were
permitted to attend the children's regular medical
appointments and that Wendy was to use her best efforts to
inform George of medical appointments in advance.
7 The custody judgment acknowledged Wendy's intent for
the children to attend North Shore Country Day School (NSCD),
a private school, and specified that both parents had the
right to attend school-related events. In a separate
provision, the parties agreed to confer about "any
disciplinary or behavioral problems *** with the goal of
maintaining a united front to the children in matters of
8 The custody judgment also provided that "Each parent
shall encourage the children to have a warm and loving
relationship with the other parent." The parties agreed
not to disparage the other parent to the children or to
"attempt to curry favor with the children to the
detriment of the other parent."
9 The parties agreed that the children would be raised in
accordance with George's Roman Catholic faith, but
specified that they would not be required to participate in
religious activities during Wendy's parenting time except
for certain one-time events, such as confirmation.
10 The parties were divorced in October 2010 in an order that
incorporated the custody judgment.
11 In October 2011, the court entered an "Agreed Order
Amending and Supplementing Custody Agreement" (the
October 2011 order), which modified the custody judgment
provisions concerning parenting time during summer vacation.
The October 2011 order specified that, in the event that the
children's summer vacation included an extra week or more
when the children were not in camp, George "shall have
the first half of any extra full week or more and Wendy shall
have the second half" and that "the exchange
between the parties shall occur at 12:00 p.m. if there are an
odd number of days or 5:30 p.m. *** if there is an even
number of days, such that each party receives an equal
allocation of time." The October 2011 order also added
that "Wendy shall have the children in all years from
the day that school lets out until 9:00 a.m. on the Saturday
following the dismissal of school for summer recess."
The October 2011 order otherwise provided that "All
other terms and provisions of the September 2010 Custody
Agreement shall remain in full force and effect."
12 In October 2012, George filed a petition to modify the
custody judgment pursuant to section 610 of the Illinois
Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (Act), claiming that
changed circumstances warranted a modification of the custody
judgment to award him sole custody. See 750 ILCS 5/610 (West
2014). George's petition claimed that since the custody
judgment, Wendy had engaged in "increasingly bizarre and
erratic" behavior and "a relentless campaign to
alienate the children" from George.
13 Among other acts, George claimed that on three occasions
in 2012, Wendy had made false allegations of abuse against
him, leading to unnecessary investigations by police and the
Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
Although each DCFS investigation was deemed to be
"unfounded, " George claimed Wendy had
misrepresented these DCFS investigations to the
children's medical personnel and teachers. George also
claimed Wendy had repeatedly made "bizarre and
unnecessary calls" to police that caused mental anguish
to the children and disrupted his parenting time.
14 George also claimed Wendy had refused to communicate with
him regarding the scheduling of medical appointments, school
meetings, and other activities, and had requested that
medical providers not allow George to attend medical
appointments. The petition also alleged that Wendy refused to
participate in family therapy, against the recommendation of
the children's school.
15 George's petition further claimed that the changed
circumstances of the children supported custody modification,
insofar as all three children now suffered "emotional
problems, " and that R.D. and B.D. had behavioral
problems, which had led to R.D.'s expulsion from NSCD in
2011. The petition sought sole custody, claiming Wendy's
animosity toward George prevented her from encouraging a
close relationship between the children and their father.
16 In March 2013, the court appointed Dr. Louis Kraus to
conduct an evaluation of the family pursuant to section
604(b) of the Act (750 ILCS 5/604(b) (West 2012). Over
several months, Dr. Kraus conducted numerous interviews with
George, Wendy, and the children, as well as various other
medical professionals and school personnel.
17 Dr. Kraus completed his evaluation over a year later, in a
report dated May 22, 2014 (the May 2014 report). Dr. Kraus
noted this was the longest it had taken him to complete an
evaluation, as he had reviewed "the most voluminous
amount of information ever given to me for an
18 The May 2014 report detailed a history of abuse
allegations by Wendy against George, occurring both before
and after the 2008 divorce and 2010 custody judgment, none of
which could be substantiated. According to the May 2014
report, Wendy claimed that George "had been physically
and emotionally abusive to the children and to her"
during the marriage and that she was fearful of George. Wendy
reported to Dr. Kraus several incidents of threatening
behavior by George in the months leading up to her filing for
divorce in October 2008, including claims that he attempted
to hit her with a car in August 2008. She claimed that in
December 2008, George had pointed a box cutter at her and
"angrily thrust the blade" through a sofa, in the
presence of the children. George denied these acts and told
Dr. Kraus that Wendy's behavior in the time period was
19 In January 2009, George was served with an ex
parte order of protection. The order of protection was
withdrawn on January 27, 2009. According to the May 2014
report, Wendy told Dr. Kraus that she agreed to withdraw the
order of protection based on George's representation that
he would stay away from her. According to George, the order
of protection had been withdrawn during a hearing at the
urging of the court, as the court presiding over the matter
found Wendy's allegations to be "absurd."
George claimed that the order of protection was not based on
any actual threat by him, but that Wendy simply wanted to
force him to leave the marital home.
20 Over several years, on a number of occasions, Wendy's
allegations of abuse led to investigations by police or DCFS,
none of which resulted in findings of wrongdoing by George.
For example, in February 2, 2009, "there was an event
where [R.D.] was kicking the front seat of the car and that
George reported pushing his leg down, although [R.D.] said he
had hit his leg. Wendy described this as a sprained knee and
that R.D. was unable to walk." Dr. Kraus' May 2014
report noted that police and medical records from the
incident indicated that (contrary to Wendy's claim), R.D.
had no sign of injury and was able to walk. The May 2014
report also states that the DCFS investigator "noted in
her report that [Wendy] had lied to her."
21 On another occasion, in April 2012, a DCFS investigation
was prompted by an incident where Wendy "walked into
[R.D.'s] school saying that [R.D.] had a horrible weekend
with his father." According to DCFS, the school
principal reported that R.D. "mentioned something
happened with [George] during visitation but the special
education teacher does not believe that [R.D.] is being
truthful, " since R.D. "was using [Wendy's]
language and did not seem authentic."
22 Dr. Kraus's May 2014 report emphasized that, although
there were numerous other alleged incidents, "there are
no DCFS findings other than unfounded, only allegations which
were not supported." The May 2014 report states:
"The allegations of abuse have stemmed now for years.
When one attempts to actually substantiate these *** there
really is not clear support of what [Wendy] is saying."
23 Apart from the allegations of abuse, the May 2014 report
describes numerous conflicts after the October 2010
dissolution of marriage, including conflict over Wendy's
alleged efforts to exclude George from meetings with the
children's teachers and medical professionals. George
reported that Wendy did not consistently let him know when
appointments were scheduled, or that she scheduled
appointments at times when she knew he would be working.
24 This issue was highlighted by R.D. and B.D.'s mental
health issues and related behavioral difficulties, such as
refusing to go to school, throwing tantrums, swearing, and
threatening school personnel. These problems led to R.D.
being removed from NSCD in December 2011. B.D.'s
behaviorial issues subsequently led to Wendy's decision
to remove him from NSCD in January 2014. As of May 2014, both
R.D. and B.D. went to North Shore Academy (NSA), a public
special education school for students with emotional and
25 The May 2014 report found that Wendy had requested
George's exclusion on at least one occasion. In January
2012, following his removal from NSCD, R.D. was admitted in a
"day hospital setting" at Alexian Brothers
Behavioral Health Hospital (Alexian Brothers). The record
includes an Alexian Brothers form completed by Wendy in
January 2012, in which she blamed R.D.'s behavioral
problems on his "bad relationship with his father"
and averred that George's "parenting style is
authoritarian which has been hard on [R.D.] physically and
psychologically." In that form, Wendy also reported to
Alexian Brothers that George's "behavior has also
been very tough on his mom who was granted a protective order
26 A June 2012 affidavit from an administrator at Alexian
Brothers stated that George had been excluded from group
therapy sessions at Alexian Brothers, at Wendy's request.
Dr. Kraus's May 2014 report opined that Wendy had
"use[d] the argument that she was fearful of Mr. Dowd as
a way to keep him away from medical and psychological
services for the children."
27 The May 2014 report also noted conflicts arising from
Wendy's resistance to begin family therapy or to locate
additional individual therapists for the children. In April
2013 (approximately six months after filing his petition to
change custody), George filed a petition for family therapy,
which had been offered by NSA. The court eventually entered
an order on August 1, 2014, appointing Michael Wagrowski, a
therapist at NSA, to provide family therapy. Although
Wagrowski worked with R.D. and B.D. individually, the family
therapy did not occur. Dr. Kraus's subsequent October
2014 report acknowledged that Wendy "did not want family
therapy through [NSA]" and "It's unclear
whether or not she actually wanted family therapy."
28 Separately, although NSCD had recommended on October 9,
2013 that B.D. see psychiatrist Dr. Louis Weiss, Wendy did
not set up any appointments until George filed an emergency
motion on November 25, 2013, resulting in a court order on
December 12, 2013 directing her to do so. The May 2014 report
also noted that Dr. Kraus thought counseling with both
parents would be helpful, but that Wendy was not interested.
29 In addition, Dr. Kraus' May 2014 noted a conflict as
to whether Wendy had failed to support the children's
Catholic religious ...