Dawn Marjetko obtained a default judgment in her divorce case. The trial court entered a judgment of dissolution, divided property, granted custody of the children, set child support, and barred maintenance. At the same time, the trial court “reserved” on child visitation, post-high school education expenses, and maintenance.
Frank Marjetko appealed. Although Dawn did not dispute appellate jurisdiction, the court dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The court stated: “Orders resolving individual issues are not appealable … until the court resolves the entire dissolution claim.” The trial court’s “reserves” resulted in a bifurcated judgment, which was not appealable.
The appellate court acknowledged that trial courts often “reserve” on issues they have decided but want to re-visit in divorce cases. “Such a use of the word ‘reserved’ nearly guarantees confusion. The [Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage] Act uses the word ‘reserves’ specifically for instances where the court is bifurcating judgment.”
The lesson here is: You cannot appeal a bifurcated judgment, and reserving judgment on essential questions renders the judgment nonfinal and not appealable. Don’t use the term “reserve” for questions the trial court decides but intends to revisit. Make sure your judgment states your exact intention.