Summary Rule 23 order filed May 29, 2019
to publish granted June 17, 2019
from the Circuit Court of Madison County. No. 14-D-315,
Honorable Maureen D. Schuette, Judge, presiding.
Attorneys for Appellant: Curtis L. Blood, Kelly A. Stephan.
Attorney for Appellee: Clifford C. Emons, Emons Law Office,
West Homer Adams Parkway, P.O.
JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Justices Chapman and Barberis concurred in the judgment and
1 The petitioner, Davi Claxton (Davi), appeals the judgment
of the circuit court of Madison County granting Gary L.
Claxton's (Gary) request to bifurcate the parties'
dissolution of marriage proceedings and immediately
dissolving their marriage while reserving ruling on the
disposition of the marital estate. She argues the circuit
court abused its discretion in finding that appropriate
circumstances for entering a bifurcated judgment existed.
James Pepper, Gary's former personal representative and
executor of his estate, filed a cross-appeal from the circuit
court's disposition of the marital estate. Jodi L.
Reeves, Gary's current personal representative and
successor executor of his estate, has filed a motion to
withdraw the cross-appeal and a confession of error. For the
following reasons, this court grants Reeves's motion to
withdraw the cross-appeal and we reverse the circuit
2 Gary and Davi married in 1996. No children were born to the
marriage. Gary adopted Davi's son, Garrod, who was an
adult at the time of the proceedings at issue. Prior to the
marriage Gary and Davi signed an antenuptial agreement which
provided, inter alia, that each party gave up all
claims to the other's retirement benefits and accounts.
On April 21, 2014, Davi filed a petition seeking a judgment
of legal separation and separate maintenance. Gary filed an
answer and a counterpetition for dissolution of marriage, and
a complaint for declaratory judgment seeking a declaration
that the antenuptial agreement was valid and binding.
3 Prior to trial both parties filed position statements with
the court. In her position statement, Davi stated that
Gary's attorney had indicated on numerous occasions that
Gary's health was "precarious" and that he
"could pass away at any moment."
Trial commenced on January 26, 2017. The court first heard
testimony and argument concerning the validity of the
antenuptial agreement. Davi argued that the agreement was
unconscionable because she had no retirement benefits of her
own and that while she would receive part of Gary's
firefighter's pension if he died while they were married,
she would get nothing if he died after they were divorced.
The court found the antenuptial agreement to be valid and
The court then proceeded on Gary's counterpetition for
dissolution of marriage. Gary testified that he had been an
Alton firefighter from 1978 to 2013. He retired in 2013 and
began receiving a pension. Regarding his health, Gary
testified that he had been sick for a while but that he got
really sick "over 4th of July weekend," that he had
been hospitalized in December of 2015, and that he had
"substantial problems" with his health in the fall
of 2016. At the conclusion of his testimony Gary sought a
judgment of dissolution based on the testimony provided and
the court's prior determination that the antenuptial
agreement was valid and enforceable. Davi objected, arguing
that a dissolution at that time would be detrimental to her
"given the precariousness of the health of the
respondent" and the fact that all of the property had
not been divided. The court declined to enter a judgment of
dissolution at that time and continued the proceedings until
March 6, 2017.
6 On February 28, 2017, Davi filed a motion to continue,
arguing that she needed more time to review the voluminous
discovery materials she had recently received, and that she
was concerned about Gary's ability to testify as it had
come to her attention that he had been hospitalized for renal
failure. At the March 6, 2017, hearing, Davi argued that a
continuance was necessary because she had learned during the
first day of trial that Gary had accounts with four different
banks which had not been previously disclosed, and that
subpoenas of those records had produced 3000 to 4000
documents. Gary opposed the continuance, arguing that Davi
was already aware of this information and because of his
"ill health." Based on the need to move
expeditiously because of Gary's "health
issues," the court continued the matter until March 20,
7 At the March 20, 2017, hearing, Davi testified that
"after Gary was diagnosed with his illness he decided
that he was terminally ill." She believed he had been
diagnosed in 2011. She testified that "[Gary] just knew
that the doctor said, you have three to five years."
Trial continued on March 31, 2017. Gary was not present. His
attorney explained that Gary was in the hospital undergoing
testing for a liver transplant. Davi objected to Gary's
absence and the court elected to proceed while reserving
ruling on whether Gary should be required to attend. At the
conclusion of the trial the court ordered the parties to
prepare and submit proposed written ...