On July 27, 2015, a hearing was held on our client’s emergency petition requesting a bifurcated dissolution of marriage. At the hearing, our client testified that the reason he wished to obtain a bifurcated divorce was so he could marry his paramour and dispose of his assets while he was still alive. After hearing testimony concerning the investment properties and the condition of petitioner’s health, the trial court granted the emergency petition for bifurcation and dissolved petitioner and respondent’s marriage. On July 30, 2015, petitioner married his paramour. On August 21, he died.
On appeal, the ex-wife argued that the trial court abused its discretion in granting petitioner’s emergency bifurcation petition because “appropriate circumstances” did not exist for granting the petition, and in doing so the court needlessly entangled the marital estate with the supervening rights of third parties. The ex-wife argued that the trial court failed to properly inquire how granting the bifurcation coupled with petitioner’s future actions would affect the distribution of the marital estate.
The Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act provides in relevant part, “(b) [j]udgment shall not be entered unless, to the extent it has jurisdiction to do so, the court has considered, approved, reserved or made provision for the allocation of parental responsibilities, the support of any child of the marriage entitled to support, the maintenance of either spouse and the disposition of property. The court shall enter a judgment for dissolution that reserves any of these issues either upon (i) agreement of the parties, or (ii) motion of either party and a finding by the court that appropriate circumstances exist.”
Accordingly, a court may enter a bifurcated dissolution of marriage judgment only when the “appropriate circumstances” exist for doing so.
The Appellate court agreed with the Copeland decision and concluded, as the trial court did below, that the impending death of a party can represent an “appropriate circumstance” for the entry of a bifurcated judgment of dissolution. The Appellate court agreed that such a situation can represent an “appropriate circumstance” for the same reasons set forth in the Copeland decision. First, other jurisdictions have found that the impending death of a party represents an appropriate circumstance. Second, under the statute providing for a bifurcated dissolution proceeding, the death of one party does not result in the abatement of the proceedings and the action does not instantly become a probate matter. 750 ILCS 5/401(b) (West 2014). As stated in Copeland, this indicates our General Assembly “intended the desire of a party seeking a divorce not be frustrated by the simple fact of the party’s death after the entry of the judgment of dissolution.” Copeland, 327 Ill. App. 3d at 867.