Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fifth Division
In re MARRIAGE OF JOANNE FARRELL, f/n/a Joanne Farrell Howe, Petitioner-Appellant, and THOMAS HOWE, Respondent-Appellee.
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.
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. 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
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.)
3.2(d) further provided:
"The HUSBAND shall retain all the remaining interest in
the FIREMAN'S ANNUITY AND BENEFIT FUND not conveyed
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 ...