IN RE MARRIAGE OF Suzanne WILHELMSEN, Petitioner-Appellee and Thilo Wilhelmsen, Respondent-Appellant.
from the Circuit Court of Lake County, No. 13-D-1116
Honorable Charles L. Smith, Judge, Presiding.
T. Williamson, of The Stogsdill Law Firm, P.C., of Wheaton,
L. Colaluca, of Law Office of Gina L. Colaluca, LLC, of
Chicago, for appellee.
HUTCHINSON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Justices Schostok and Hudson concurred in the judgment and
1 This postdecree appeal presents issues about contribution
for higher education expenses by former spouses. Suzanne and
Thilo Wilhelmsen were married in 1993 and their marriage
resulted in three children— Z.W., M.W., and L.W.
Ultimately, the parties divorced in 2013. As part of the
marital settlement agreement (MSA) incorporated into the
dissolution judgment, the parties agreed to share the payment
of the children's higher education expenses pursuant to
section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of
Marriage Act (Act) (750 ILCS 5/513 (West 2012)), which
applies after a child reaches the age of majority. In
addition, another section of the MSA provided that Thilo owed
Suzanne a support arrearage in the amount of $79,301.44. The
MSA stated that Thilo would pay that money to the
children's college savings plans under section 529 of the
Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C. § 529 (2012)) at a rate
of $734.27 per month— that is, $244.76 to each
child's plan— for 108 months.
2 Within a year of the entry of the decree, Thilo filed a
petition to vacate or modify the judgment and asked the court
to "dismiss any arrearages." During this time,
Thilo maintained a six-figure income as a sales and bid
manager at a design, engineering, and construction firm.
(Suzanne also earned a substantial income as an executive at
an automotive company.) The court found that Thilo had failed
to meet his burden to reopen the judgment. A few months
later, Thilo again asked the
court to modify the judgment to excuse more than $45,000 of
the arrearage to the college plans and to further order that
any further contributions be "considered
voluntary." The court denied the motion. See generally
750 ILCS 5/510(b) (West 2012) (explaining that provisions
concerning property distribution may be modified only on a
finding of conditions that warrant reopening the judgment).
3 Thilo next filed a petition for voluntary bankruptcy under
Chapter 13 (11 U.S.C. § 1301 et seq. (2012)),
which petition was captioned as In re Wilhelmsen,
No. 16-bk-32787 (N.D. Ill.). Suzanne intervened in the
bankruptcy and filed an adversary claim with respect to the
section 529 arrearage. Suzanne's adversary action was
concluded when the bankruptcy court entered an agreed order
classifying the debt to Suzanne as a "domestic support
obligation," which is nondischargeable in bankruptcy.
See 11 U.S.C. § § 101(14A), 523(a)(5) (2012).
4 Next we note that, when the dissolution judgment was
entered in 2014, the parties' oldest child Z.W. was 14
years old. By the time some of these matters were resolved,
Z.W. had turned 18 and would be enrolling in a private
college out of state. Accordingly, Thilo filed a petition to
reduce his child support payment, on the basis that Z.W. had
reached the age of majority, and he filed a petition to set
his contribution for Z.W.'s college expenses to $0 based
on his claimed inability to pay for Z.W.'s college
education. See generally 750 ILCS 5/513 (West 2018) (enabling
court to allocate obligations for educational expenses for a
nonminor child). In the alternative, based on his
interpretation of section 513(h) (750 ILCS 5/513(h) (West
2018)), which we address below, Thilo again asked the court
to credit his arrearage payments to all three of the
children's section 529 accounts against any financial
obligation the court imposed for Z.W.'s higher education.
5 On May 17, 2018, the trial court held a hearing, after
which it determined that Thilo's child support obligation
would be reduced; however, the court ordered that Thilo would
pay 40% of Z.W.'s college expenses (based on in-state
tuition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
(see 750 ILCS 5/513(d) (West 2018)) while Suzanne would pay
60%. In addition, the court ordered that there would be no
modification of Thilo's obligation to reimburse the
children's section 529 plans. On October 1, 2018, the
court denied Thilo's motion to reconsider.
6 Thilo appeals, and we affirm. Thilo challenges the trial
court's application of section 513 of the Act. Under
section 513, the court may award educational expenses for
adult children for college or professional training. The
determination of an award of educational expenses is reviewed
for an abuse of discretion (see Blisset v. Blisset,123 Ill.2d 161, 171, 121 Ill.Dec. 931, 526 N.E.2d 125 (1988);
In re Marriage of Zukausky,244 Ill.App.3d 614, 623,
184 Ill.Dec. 367, 613 N.E.2d 394 (1993) (citing In re
Support of Pearson,111 Ill.2d 545, 551, 96 Ill.Dec. 69,
490 N.E.2d 1274 (1986))), while the trial court's
interpretation of section 513 is reviewed de novo
(see In re Marriage of Petersen, 2011 IL 110984,
¶ 9, 353 Ill.Dec. 320, 955 N.E.2d 1131). "`A trial
court abuses its discretion only where no reasonable person
would take the view adopted by the trial ...