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In re Marriage of Sadovsky

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

December 3, 2019

In re MARRIAGE OF TERI D. SADOVSKY, Petitioner-Appellant, and CLAUDE A. SADOVSKY, Respondent-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 12th Judicial Circuit, Will County, Illinois Circuit No. 07-D-1518 Honorable David Garcia, Judge, Presiding.

          Attorneys for Appellant: Pamela Davis Gorcowski, of Kavanagh, Grumley & Gorbold LLC, of Joliet, for appellant.

          Attorneys for Appellee: Gwendolyn J. Sterk, of Gwendolyn J. Sterk and the Family Law Group, P.C., of Orland Park, for appellee.

          JUSTICE LYTTON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices McDade and Wright concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          LYTTON, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Petitioner Teri D. Sadovsky appeals from an order of the circuit court granting respondent Claude A. Sadovsky's request to terminate maintenance pursuant to section 510 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (Marriage Act) (750 ILCS 5/510 (West 2016)). The trial court determined that Claude's decision to retire from his job as an emergency room physician was made in good faith and reduced his maintenance obligation to zero. On appeal, Teri claims that (1) the trial court's decision to set maintenance at zero was an abuse of discretion because it failed to consider all the statutory factors and (2) a new trial is warranted based on numerous evidentiary errors. She also appeals the denial of her petition for contribution of attorney fees and costs. We find that the trial court abused its discretion in barring the use of a properly disclosed report, striking the testimony of Teri's expert witnesses, and refusing to allow Teri to testify as to her lifestyle during the marriage. We reverse and remand for a new trial on the petition to terminate maintenance and affirm the denial of the petition for fees and costs.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 Claude and Teri married in May of 1982. In 2007, Teri filed a petition for dissolution of marriage, and judgment was entered in March 2009. At the time of the parties' divorce, Claude was employed as an emergency room physician. His yearly income for the three years before trial exceeded $275, 000. Teri had a degree in finance but had not worked outside the home in 25 years. She left her job as an administrative assistant when the parties had their first child. After that, she stayed at home with their two children and was the primary caretaker. At the time of dissolution, both children were adults. In the dissolution judgment, the trial court found that the parties enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle and that Teri required $8000 per month in maintenance to maintain that standard of living. The court awarded Teri 58% of the total marital assets and awarded Claude 42%.

         ¶ 4 In April of 2011, Teri began full-time work as a paralegal. Claude then filed a motion to reduce maintenance. The trial court granted the motion and reduced his maintenance to $6500 per month.

         ¶ 5 In November 2014, Claude filed a petition to terminate maintenance, in which he alleged that by virtue of his profession as an emergency room doctor he suffered extreme stress and that he intended to end his employment on December 20, 2014. He requested that his maintenance obligation be terminated or, in the alternative, reduced.

         ¶ 6 In 2017, shortly before trial, both parties filed financial affidavits with the court. Teri's financial affidavit stated that her gross yearly income was $39, 225. She listed her net monthly income as $2150 and total monthly living expenses as $7698. She did not list any outstanding debts. Claude also filed a financial affidavit in which he listed his earned income for 2017 as $0 and his gross monthly income from retirement accounts and rental income as $2212. He reported a net monthly income of $2128 and monthly living expenses of $6594. His affidavit included a list of bank and credit card debts totaling $4000.

         ¶ 7 At trial, Claude testified that he began working as an emergency room doctor in 1985 and had worked at various hospitals throughout his career. At age 57, he decided to retire because he did not enjoy working anymore. Claude stated that he felt stress on the job because he had been sued for medical malpractice several times. In late 2011, the hospital contracted with a new physician's group, and Claude was subject to patient evaluations. He scored poorly on the evaluations.

         ¶ 8 Beginning in 2011, Claude suffered physical symptoms resulting from the stress and anxiety of his job, including abdominal discomfort, irritable bowel, diarrhea, and visual abnormalities. He did not seek immediate treatment for his condition. He tried to relieve the stress through over-the-counter medications and exercise. He also tried to change his shifts and work at other company-owned hospitals. Although he was aware that taking anxiety medications could reduce the physical symptoms of stress, he resisted taking them because he believed they would compromise his ability to practice medicine.

         ¶ 9 In the fall of 2011, Claude started working as a full-time emergency room physician in Mattoon, Illinois, where he worked until the end of 2014. From January 2014 to August 2014, he worked at another hospital in Belleville that allowed compressed shifts. In the fall of 2014, Claude began making more mistakes. Between July and November 2014, Claude had four malpractice complaints made against him. Finally, in December 2014, he retired. Shortly after he retired, his physical symptoms relating to anxiety subsided. He stated that he stopped making monthly maintenance payments on December 31, 2014.

         ¶ 10 Claude testified that, as of July 2017, he had a retirement account worth $1, 207, 000. He also had a security benefit annuity with a cash value of $295, 238, and a nonretirement investment account worth $286, 592. In addition, he owned three properties in Hawaii; one is his residence, valued at $535, 000, and two are rental properties. His net assets listed on his 2017 financial disclosure totaled $1, 870, 433.

         ¶ 11 From 2012 to 2014, Claude was the sole member of an S corporation. The corporation made deposits into Claude's retirement account and then paid his salary. An offer of proof showed that the corporation had total receipts in 2013 of $915, 024 and had no employees except Claude. In 2014, the gross receipts of the S corporation totaled $867, 276. The corporation was dissolved near the end of 2014. Claude objected to the evidence based on relevance, and the trial court granted his request, refusing to consider the corporate tax returns from 2012 through 2014.

         ¶ 12 Teri testified that she was not working outside of the home at the time of the divorce but began working as a paralegal for a law firm in 2011. Her gross income in 2016 was $39, 225. Her employer does not pay for health insurance. According to Teri's 2017 financial affidavit, her gross assets are worth $1, 616, 887, which includes the marital residence valued at $285, 000. Most of her assets are retirement benefits and deferred compensation accounts. She does not withdraw any money from any of her retirement accounts to pay living expenses because she would be penalized for early withdrawals. Her 2017 financial affidavit also disclosed a bank account with a balance of $162, 261. She testified that she uses the funds in that account to help pay her medical insurance and living expenses.Teri stated that her earnings alone do not allow her to maintain and sustain herself. When Teri was asked by her counsel to describe the standard of living she had enjoyed during the last 15 years of her marriage, Claude objected, and the trial court sustained the objection.

         ¶ 13 Dr. Kevin Klauer, an expert witness for Claude, testified that emergency medicine doctors have the highest level of burnout in the medical profession. He stated that not many doctors stay in the specialty of emergency medicine after the age of 55. He noted that a doctor having four malpractice claims in five months is a concerning trend. Klauer testified that it was reasonable for Claude to step down from emergency room medicine after 32 years, given the malpractice history and the mistakes he was making.

         ¶ 14 Dr. Elbert Lee, a psychiatrist at Sarah Bush Lincoln Hospital, testified that he first saw Claude as a patient in October of 2014. Claude sought his help due to worsening anxiety, depressive symptoms, and stressors at work. Lee explained that Claude felt an undue amount of stress at work and was physically and mentally worn out. He diagnosed Claude as having generalized anxiety disorder, not otherwise specified, and recommended that Claude retire.

         ¶ 15 Dr. Doris Van Byssum, a licensed clinical psychologist, testified as an expert for Teri. She interviewed Claude over Skype on September 30, 2016, and administered a test by asking questions. She also reviewed Dr. Lee's records. At trial, Van Byssum concluded that Claude was not suffering from any mental health issues. She admitted that the stressors that existed in 2014 were not present in 2016 when she conducted her interview. Teri's counsel then asked Van Byssum whether, "within a reasonable degree of medical certainty," she found any psychiatric basis that prevented Claude from returning to work. Claude objected, arguing that Van Byssum's disclosed ...


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