Illinois Supreme Court Rules Premarital Agreement A Separate Claim From Divorce

Before they were married, Steven and Angela signed a premarital agreement. When the couple was divorcing, Steven filed a motion for a declaratory judgment, seeking an order on the validity and construction of the premarital agreement. The trial court ruled that the agreement was enforceable. The trial court also granted an interlocutory appeal under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 304(a) (no just reason to delay enforcement or appeal of the order).

Angela then moved for reinstatement on Steven’s health insurance policy. That provoked Steven’s motion to strike and dismiss Angela’s motion. He argued that Angela waived all rights to support and insurance in the premarital agreement. The trial court disagreed with Steven, and ordered him to reinstate Angela’s health insurance. When Steven’s motion to vacate that order also was denied, he appealed.

On its own motion, the appellate court reviewed the order that declared the premarital agreement valid. The appellate court reversed that order because, it said, it was improperly entered before entry of the final marriage dissolution order. Steven then appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court and complained that the appellate court was wrong on this point

The Illinois Supreme Court viewed this first as a question of appellate jurisdiction. Because the question of the validity of the premarital agreement was a separate claim from the request for dissolution of the marriage, it could be appealed as an interlocutory order − i.e., even before a ruling on the dissolution of the marriage. The Supreme Court stated:

Steven sought nondeclaratory relief under the Marriage Act, as well as declaratory relief under the declaratory judgment statute … His request for nondeclaratory relief sought dissolution of the parties’ marriage. His declaratory judgment request asked the court to address the validity and construction of the parties’ premarital agreement … [T]he two requests for relief here had distinctly different statutory bases. Moreover, if the statutory requirements were met, Steven’s declaratory judgment could be entered even if the dissolution petition were not granted. In addition … the challenged order did not actually make any award to either party.

What constitutes a “separate claim,” mostly in post-dissolution cases, has been contentious recently. Take a look here for other reporting on this question. You can get this whole case, IRMO Best, No. 104002 (3/20/08), by clicking here.