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In re Marriage of Farrell

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fifth Division

December 29, 2017

In re MARRIAGE OF JOANNE FARRELL, f/n/a Joanne Farrell Howe, Petitioner-Appellant, and THOMAS HOWE, Respondent-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 09 D 11344 Honorable Nancy J. Katz, Judge Presiding.

          PRESIDING JUSTICE REYES delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Lampkin and Rochford concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          REYES JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Petitioner Joanne Farrell (Joanne) filed a petition to dissolve her marriage to respondent Thomas Howe (Thomas), and the circuit court entered a judgment dissolving the marriage, which incorporated a marital settlement agreement signed by the parties. The marital settlement agreement provided that the parties would split the marital portion of Thomas' pension from the Fireman's Annuity and Benefit Fund (fireman's fund) equally.[1] Thereafter, Thomas was injured while on active duty as a City of Chicago firefighter and began collecting disability benefits under the fireman's fund. Joanne then filed a petition to enforce the marital settlement agreement and requested that Thomas be ordered to split his disability benefits with her in accordance with the agreement. The circuit court denied Joanne's request. On appeal, Joanne argues that the circuit court erred when it determined that the marital settlement agreement was unambiguous and did not require Thomas to split his disability benefits with her. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 Thomas and Joanne were married in 1990 with Thomas being employed as a firefighter for the City of Chicago during their marriage. After 19 years of marriage, Joanne filed a petition for dissolution, alleging irreconcilable differences as the reason for the dissolution. An agreed judgment of dissolution was entered by the parties in January 2010, which incorporated the parties' marital settlement agreement. The relevant portion of the agreement, section 3.1(d), provided that Joanne would receive one half of the marital portion of Thomas' pension and stated as follows:

"The WIFE shall receive the specific property allocated to her in accordance with exhibit A, *** This distribution includes the execution of a QILDRO awarding 1/2 of the marital portion of HUSBAND's pension from the FIREMAN's ANNUITY AND BENEFIT FUND, and a QDRO conveying HUSBAND's complete interest to WIFE in his Deferred Compensation Plan as of the date of Judgment. Until the date of final approval of the above QDRO and QILDRO, the WIFE shall remain as the beneficiary of these plans to the extent of the interests granted to here in this paragraph." (Emphasis added.)

         Section 3.2(d) further provided:

"The HUSBAND shall retain all the remaining interest in the FIREMAN'S ANNUITY AND BENEFIT FUND not conveyed above."[2]

         Exhibit A provided that the net value of "Thomas's Firemen's Pension" was $778, 957 and that Joanne was entitled to $389, 479. Joanne also waived "any and all claims" against Thomas for maintenance, alimony, and spousal support, whether past, present, or future.

         ¶ 4 Subsequently, in November 2013, Thomas was injured on the job, placed on active-duty disability leave, and as a result, began receiving disability benefits. In June 2016, Joanne filed a petition for rule to show cause to enforce the judgment of dissolution (petition) arguing that she was entitled to one half of Thomas's disability benefits.

         ¶ 5 In his response to the petition, Thomas agreed that section 3.1(d) provided Joanne with a one-half interest in his fireman's annuity but maintained that disability benefits were not part of Joanne's marital property distribution. Thomas explained that he was 61 years old and had not yet retired. Thomas stated that when he attains the age of 63, the mandatory age for retirement, he would begin receiving his fireman's annuity, which would be divided with Joanne in accordance with the agreement. Until then, Thomas asserted that the disability benefits are not a retirement benefit but an income replacement to which Joanne was not entitled under the marital settlement agreement.

         ¶ 6 Thomas further argued that the language of the agreement as a whole demonstrated that the parties did not intend to split his disability benefits. Thomas noted that disability benefits are not allowed to be divided by a qualified domestic relations order, yet the marital settlement agreement provided that Joanne's interest in his pension was to be transferred exclusively by a qualified domestic relations order. Thomas also observed that the marital settlement agreement did not contain any reference to "disability benefits" and that exhibit A placed a present value on Thomas's fireman's annuity. In addition, Thomas asserted that Joanne waived her right to any maintenance and that requiring him to split his disability benefits would be the equivalent to awarding her maintenance. In sum, Thomas concluded that the marital settlement agreement clearly set forth the parties' intent that Joanne was to receive 50% of the marital portion of his fireman's annuity, not of his disability benefits, which he receives in lieu of income until his mandatory retirement at age 63.

         ¶ 7 In reply, Joanne denied that the parties intended to exclude Thomas's disability benefits from allocation and asserted she had a right to Thomas's "disability pension." Joanne contended that Thomas had submitted paperwork to the City of Chicago fire department in October 2013, prior to his injury, indicating his plan to retire in December 2014. She further maintained that Thomas informed her that he had attended a retirement planning session and informed her that she would be receiving $1857 per month. Joanne also indicated that Thomas told her he would pay her a portion of his disability payments until "the retirement annuity rule was triggered at age 63." According to Joanne, Thomas informed her that he had a ...


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