In the case of the Wojcik’s, the trial court needed to resolve a conflict between the parties regarding their view of what was “Unallocated Maintenance.” The husband, Michael Wojcik, and the wife, Sandra Wojcik, had been married for over 30 years. They resolved their marriage amicably, and Michael agreed to pay Sandra for 60 months. He made a monthly payment of $13,500.00 for 60 months and thought he was finished with his payments. His ex-wife disagreed. The Court found that maintenance could only terminate based on terms that the Settlement Agreement set forth. The Marital Settlement Agreement set forth certain events that might occur that would serve to terminate Michael’s obligation to pay unallocated family support. Those termination events were: the death of either petitioner or respondent, petitioner getting remarried, or petitioner cohabitating with another person on a resident, continuing, conjugal basis. Well, neither party died and Sandra did not remarry or live with anyone on a continuing, conjugal basis. So no terminating events occurred and now the maintenance was reviewable.
Table of Contents
- Supported Spouse’s Efforts to Secure Employment
- Wife’s Ability to Earn Income Impaired During 30 Year Marriage
- Unallocated Maintenance in the Marital Settlement Agreement
- Modification of Support Obligation Provisions in the Agreement
- Marital Settlement Agreement Terms Controlling
- Court Finds Permanent Maintenance Award Appropriate
- Maintenance Justified When Earning Capacity Cannot Cover Modest Monthly Expenses
- Reasonable Efforts to Become Self-Supporting
Supported Spouse’s Efforts to Secure Employment
At trial, both Michael and Sandra testified. The testimony at trial showed that a month after the judgment for dissolution of the marriage was entered; Sandra was hired as a teacher. However, she resigned her position as a teacher in 2015, because of threats she received from students. Sandra applied for other teaching jobs but did not secure employment as a teacher. About three months after resigning her teaching position, she was hired in a sales associate position earning $9 per hour plus commissions. She received health benefits. She also worked a few hours a month as a tutor for $13 per hour.
Wife’s Ability to Earn Income Impaired During 30 Year Marriage
Sandra testified that she could find a suitable job based on her education and experience, but that she could not earn enough income to support herself. Exhibits introduced at trial and admitted into evidence show that Sandra’s monthly expenses were approximately $6,191 and her monthly income was $1,418. The trial court found Sandra to be credible and found her efforts to secure employment to be reasonable. The court imputed the income she had been earning as a teacher, finding that such an amount was a reasonable baseline for what she could earn from full-time employment. The trial court found that “even with Sandra’s imputed income she can never achieve the level of income that would allow her to maintain the lifestyle the parties enjoyed during the marriage on her income alone.” The court gave “great weight to the 30-year duration of the marriage” and observed that Sandra’s “ability to earn income was impaired by her domestic duties having foregone or delayed her education and employment,” while Michaels’ career was able to thrive. Accordingly, the trial court found that Sandra was entitled to permanent maintenance in an amount ultimately determined to be $5,700 per month. Michael was ordered to pay her back payments of the maintenance in the sum of $239,400.00.
Unallocated Maintenance in the Marital Settlement Agreement
What Michael failed to understand apparently when he signed the Marital Settlement Agreement, is that he was paying child support and maintenance, which is the definition of Unallocated Maintenance. Sandra and Michael still had a minor child when they divorced, so her payment of $13,500.00 per month was for her expenses and for child support. Once the child emancipated, there was no more child support to pay. So there needed to be a modification of the amount he paid. He seemed to believe that he was done once he paid the 60 months and sought to terminate his award, and ended up with a permanent award. Michael believed that a review or an extension of maintenance may only occur where a judgment awards or reserves maintenance in the first place. He was incorrect.
Modification of Support Obligation Provisions in the Agreement
The parties’ marital settlement agreement in this case expressly states that Sandra’s support obligation is “reviewable.” The parties did agree that the support obligation was reserved, they agreed that it could be reviewed. The parties also agreed that the court could modify the support obligation provided that a petition was filed and no termination event had occurred. The Court ruled that “[T]he intent of the parties to preclude or limit modification or termination of maintenance must be clearly manifested in their agreement.” In re Marriage of Brent, 263 Ill. App. 3d 916, 923 (1994). There is no such manifestation of intent to limit the modification of maintenance in the marital settlement agreement in this case. Instead, it was expressly made reviewable.
Marital Settlement Agreement Terms Controlling
After reading the Court’s opinion, it is hard to understand why Michael believed his obligation was over. I can only guess that he just didn’t understand what he was signing. If you are ever in a position to sign something with terms you don’t fully understand, then you need to resist signing it until you understand its implications. Nonetheless, in the Wojcik case, Michael argued that Sandra was required to bring her petition to review and modify the maintenance obligation before the original, reviewable payment period expired. Ultimately, Michael acknowledged that his support obligation was reviewable, but suggests that Sandra had to seek extended support a few weeks earlier than she did. The same argument made by Michael here was squarely rejected in the Rodriguez case, 359 Ill. App. 3d 307, 312-13 (2005).
In Rodriguez, the former husband argued that because the former wife did not petition for review of maintenance within the four-year period set for maintenance in the court’s original order, the former wife was forever barred from seeking an extension of maintenance. That argument was rejected by the reviewing court and they held that the trial court was entitled to review the maintenance award even though the original maintenance payment period had lapsed. In this case, Sandra filed the petition to review maintenance just weeks after the original, admittedly reviewable support obligation ended.
Court Finds Permanent Maintenance Award Appropriate
Michael argued that the trial court erred when it ordered him, based on the evidence adduced at trial, to pay permanent maintenance to Sandra. Permanent maintenance is another term that Michael needed to understand and apparently did not when he appealed. Permanent maintenance does not mean everlasting; it means the obligation is for an indefinite period. Indefinite maintenance is commonly granted where the parties have grossly disparate earning potentials and where the marriage was lengthy. It doesn’t mean forever. Michael can modify his obligation when there is a substantial change in circumstance.
Maintenance Justified When Earning Capacity Cannot Cover Modest Monthly Expenses
In 2015, Michael was earning $700,000 a year while Sandra was making $9.00 an hour. The testimony showed that Sandra helped Michael get his business off the ground while she cared for their three children. When the trial court found that Sandra had “satisfied her obligation at rehabilitation,” the trial court was not making a finding that she had achieved self-sufficiency. Instead, it explained that her efforts at rehabilitation since the divorce, namely: earning a master’s degree, working full time for seven years as a teacher, and then quickly starting a new job as a sales representative after resigning her teaching position, constituted a good faith effort at self-sufficiency. Even so, the court still found that maintenance was justified because it had become clear that petitioner’s earning capacity is such that “she can never achieve the level of income that would allow her to maintain the lifestyle the parties enjoyed during the marriage on her income alone.” But even more than that, the record showed that Sandra cannot earn enough to cover her monthly expenses which are fairly modest in consideration of the marital circumstances. They were married for over 30 years.
Reasonable Efforts to Become Self-Supporting
Michael clearly did not endear the Court to his side when he argued that Sandra was “disinterested in becoming self-supporting,” had “a sense of entitlement,” and analogized her basis for seeking maintenance to “self-imposed poverty.” The trial court obviously disagreed with these characterizations and made a finding that Sandra had made a good faith effort at rehabilitating herself and obtaining suitable employment, considering all the facts. The Appellate Court ruled that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in holding that Sandra had made reasonable and sufficient efforts at becoming self-supportive.