Continuing Confusion About Appellate Jurisdiction In Illinois Post-Dissolution Divorce Proceedings

Elizabeth Demaret got a better job in New Jersey, so she wanted to move there from Illinois with her children. She had sole custody of her four children. James, her ex-husband, had parenting time in accord with a parenting agreement that an Illinois trial court incorporated into the divorce judgment.

Elizabeth asked the trial court for permission to move the children to New Jersey. James fought the request because he felt his time with the children would suffer and diminish. He asked the trial court to award him attorney fees he would incur fighting Elizabeth’s removal request.

The trial court denied Elizabeth’s request to move the children to New Jersey. Elizabeth appealed, but James’s fee request still was pending in the trial court. James argued that was enough to deprive the appellate court of jurisdiction to consider the appeal ― that is, (1) no appellate jurisdiction because (2) the order denying Elizabeth’s request to move the children was not final and appealable because (3) James’s fee petition still was pending in the trial court.

The appellate court acknowledged a split among the Illinois courts on whether a post-dissolution petition was:
• “a new claim within the original dissolution proceedings,” which would preclude appellate jurisdiction, or
• “a separate action from the original dissolution proceeding,” in which case appellate court jurisdiction exists upon a final resolution of that [the removal] petition under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 301 … regardless of the pendency of an unrelated petition.

The First District Illinois Appellate Court concluded “that postdissolution proceedings are generally new actions.” But that did not end the discussion. The court also ruled that James’s pending request for attorney fees was “wholly unrelated to the issues presented in [Elizabeth’s] removal petition.” So the appellate accepted jurisdiction over the case.

According to this appellate court, a split remains over whether a postdissolution petition presents a new action from the original divorce action or a new claim in an existing divorce case. In this case, Elizabeth won the battle over appellate jurisdiction. But she lost the war. The appellate court accepted jurisdiction over her appeal, then affirmed the trial court’s ruling that prevented her from moving with her children to New Jersey.

Read the whole opinion, IRMO Demaret, 2012 IL App (1st) 111916, which reviews the split of authority, by clicking here.