MOUNT VERNON – The Fifth District Appellate Court has overturned a trial court’s dissolution of a couple’s marriage, holding that the lower court failed to explain its decision to award maintenance payments.
According to background information in the ruling, Michelle E. Cozadd and Evan H. Cozadd were married on Nov. 8, 2003. At the time of the marriage, Michelle Cozadd was employed by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Evan Cozadd worked for the Air National Guard as a civilian technician and a reservist.
The couple had no children, though Evan Cozadd has two children from a previous relationship. The parties separated in January 2015.
At trial in St. Clair County Circuit Court in November 2015, the court heard testimony from the parties regarding their income, expenses, debts, retirement accounts and pensions.
Michelle Cozadd testified her annual salary was $80,172.
There was conflicting testimony regarding Evan Cozadd’s annual salary, the court order states. He testified he "made a calculation mistake when he filled out his financial affidavit, including disclosing that he earned bonuses which he did not actually receive," the order states.
During closing argument, Evan Cozadd’s counsel "asserted respondent's gross annual income totaled $182,000 after including child support" and that "according to respondent's W-2 forms and pay stub, his gross annual income totaled approximately $112,000," the order states.
Michelle Cozadd also requested maintenance in the amount of $2,000 per month so she could live a "comparable lifestyle," and further requested that Evan Cozadd contribute to one-half of her attorney fees.
The trial court entered a judgment of dissolution of marriage, citing irreconcilable differences. The court granted Michelle Cozadd’s request for maintenance for 24 months.
Assets were divided, with Evan Cozadd awarded the home, under the stipulation that he refinance the property and remove Michelle Cozadd’s name.
Evan Cozadd then filed a motion to reconsider on Dec. 10, 2015. "A hearing on that motion was held on Jan. 26, 2016, where his counsel requested that the court review his 2015 W-2 forms and a petition to abate child support filed by respondent's former wife after trial," the order states.
After hearing argument from both parties, the trial court denied Evan Cozadd’s motion to reconsider and he filed an appeal.
In his appeal, Evan Cozadd argued that the trial court erred when it failed to make specific findings regarding his income, failed to identify reasoning for awarding maintenance with citation to relevant statutory factors, and failed to calculate the amount and duration of maintenance under the guidelines.
Moreover, effective Jan. 1, 2015, if a court determines maintenance is warranted it is required to state its reasoning.
Justice Richard P. Goldenhersh, for the three-judge panel, wrote that the record shows that both in its oral ruling from the bench and in its written order, St. Clair County Associate Judge Julia Gomric failed to state specific findings regarding its reasoning for awarding maintenance with reference to relevant factors provided in the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act.
Goldenhersh also wrote that Gomric "failed to state specific findings regarding its downward deviation of maintenance ($2,000 per month for 24 months)" and the "amount of maintenance or duration that would have been required under the guidelines."
“The plain and ordinary meaning of section 504(b-2) of the act requires the court to make specific findings of fact regarding its maintenance determination,” he wrote.
As a result, the appeals court vacated the judgment of the St. Clair County Circuit Court and remanded this cause with directions for the court to enter into the record specific findings regarding its maintenance determination in accordance with section 504(b-2) of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act.