Trial Court Had Authority To Modify Parentage and Child Support Judgment Issued by Thailand
This procedurally complex case, which has previously been appealed twice during the proceedings, involves the parentage and child support of triplets born via IVF to unmarried parents, an American businessman father who spent significant amounts of time in Thailand and a woman in Thailand. In re Parentage of A.H., 2023 IL App (1st) 190572. After the father stopped voluntarily supporting the triplets and the relationship ended, the mother filed for parentage and support in Thailand. The father was found to be the biological father via DNA testing, although he consistently denied parentage throughout the lengthy and protracted proceedings. The Thai court ordered him to pay $500 per month per child in child support until the children were 20 years old. 2023 IL App (1st) 190572 at ¶6. The father did not pay any of the court-ordered support. The mother subsequently moved to the U.K., where she later married and filed her petition to enroll, enforce, and modify support in Illinois (where the father resided) pursuant to the jurisdictional provisions of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), 750 ILCS 22/101, et seq. The Illinois trial court ruled that it had jurisdiction and authority to enroll, enforce, and modify a child support order originally issued in Thailand. The father appealed, and the appellate court upheld. Traditional common-law principles of comity allow Illinois courts to enforce the terms of a child support order entered in the court of a foreign nation absent a showing of fraud in the procurement of the judgment or if the enforcement of the judgment violated public policy. Further, the laws of both Illinois and Thailand allow for modification of an existing child support order upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances. Therefore, once a foreign judgment is properly enrolled as a domestic support judgment, an Illinois court may entertain and decide an application for enforcement or modification under §510 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA), 750 ILCS 5/101, et seq. The court also analyzed the issue under §615(a) of UIFSA and whether Thailand qualified as a “foreign country” as defined by the statute and whether Thailand was refusing to exercise jurisdiction to modify its own support order. The court ultimately held that Thailand was not a defined foreign country under UIFSA because it has not been declared a foreign reciprocating country under federal law and has not established a reciprocal arrangement for child support with Illinois. The court therefore rejected the father’s argument that Thailand met the definition of a “foreign country,” which would require an understanding of whether it was refusing to exercise jurisdiction to modify its own order before the Illinois court could proceed on the modification issue. As a result, the Illinois trial court had authority to consider and adjudicate the mother’s petition to modify support.
Trial Court Properly Applied Pre-2017 Child Support Statute to Modification Proceeding
The father appealed the trial court’s application of the pre-2017 child support amendments (2016 statute) to A.H., supra, and argued that the post-amendment statute should have been the statutory guidelines utilized. The appellate court affirmed the trial court. Section 801 of the IMDMA states that the amendments apply to all proceedings commenced after its effective date (July 1, 2017) for the modification of a judgment or order entered prior to the effective date. The mother had filed her petition to modify child support in 2011, and the original Thai judgment was entered in 2010. Because both the entry of the Thai judgment and the filing of the petition seeking modification of that judgment took place before July 1, 2017, the 2016 statute applied. In its ruling on the requested modification, the trial court found that guideline support based on the father’s monthly income of $133,113.84 was $45,596.42 per month but deviated downward to an award of $11,000 per month per child ($33,000 per month total). 2023 IL App (1st) 190572 at ¶48.
Refusal To Allow Expert Testimony Regarding Immigration Law an Abuse of Discretion, But Harmless Error
At issue was whether the trial court abused its discretion by refusing to admit expert testimony from a U.K. immigration attorney in A.H., supra. The mother had filed an emergency motion for modification of child support on the grounds that she was facing immediate deportation along with her triplets because she could not adequately provide for their means and support, among other grounds. The trial court had dealt with the immigration component of the case a number of times before trial, and it indicated it would not address the immigration issue but rather would focus solely on the child support and best interests of the children under the relevant Illinois laws. At trial, the court barred testimony from both parties’ immigration law experts. The father’s offer of proof showed that the intended testimony would have discussed U.K. immigration laws, asylum, and lawful residency in the U.K. The appellate court reasoned that if the U.K. deported the mother and triplets to Thailand, that would be relevant information for the court to know in determining whether a substantial change in circumstances existed. Although this testimony would have been relevant, it was harmless error because no deportation had occurred and the mother and triplets remained in the U.K.
Substantial Change of Circumstances Existed in Foreign Child Support Case in Which Mother and Children Reside in U.K. and Father Is in Illinois
The father appealed the trial court’s finding that a substantial change in circumstances existed warranting a support modification from $500 per month per child to $11,000 per month per child in a complex and contentious foreign support case. See A.H., supra. It was undisputed that the father was a successful businessman with significant holdings. He had a wife and one child in the U.S. when he fathered three triplets with a woman in Thailand via IVF. At the time of trial, the mother was living a frugal existence in the U.K. with her husband and the triplets, which included receiving public aid. The mother could not work due to her immigration status in the U.K., and her husband had a very modest job. The triplets were on public healthcare, which was not sufficient for at least one of the children who had some challenging health issues. The father argued that the mother’s request for modified support was a disguised request for maintenance. At the time of trial, the triplets were approximately eight years old, their needs had increased since the original order, and the mother and her husband could not provide for them to attend extracurricular activities, have computers for school, or dental care. The father also challenged the trial court’s ruling that support should be modifiable back to the date of the mother’s filing, but the court held there was no abuse of discretion with the trial court’s ruling and upheld. The total arrearage was calculated to be just under $2 million dollars including past-due interest.
Creation of IMDMA §503(g) Child Support Trust Upheld
In A.H., supra, the trial court ordered that the father fund child support trusts with $4.5 million dollars, and the father appealed. Prior to the creation of the trusts, the father had consistently denied that he was the father of the children despite DNA evidence to the contrary and had consistently refused to voluntarily pay support. Due to the protracted litigation and his failure to comply with court orders, the trial court had to appoint a receiver to seize control of his assets and income in order to compel compliance with support obligations. The father had also taken action to see that the triplets were specifically written out of his various estate planning documents. The manifest weight of the evidence indicated that the creation of the child support trusts was necessary and in the children’s best interests. The court engaged in a lengthy discussion regarding the necessary elements of a IMDMA §503(g) trust and found that the language of the trust complied with all requirements with the exception of a provision that if father died prior to the termination of the trust that any remaining funds would be distributed to his heirs at law. Instead, the funds should have been returned to his estate.
Award of Fixed-Term Maintenance Upheld
In In re Marriage of Carbone, 2023 IL App (4th) 220983, the husband appealed the award of fixed-term maintenance of a monthly amount plus a percentage of his bonus, claiming that the wife had the ability to meet her own financial needs without maintenance. The appellate court affirmed. The parties had been married for 18 years. At the trial, the wife reported a monthly cash-flow deficit of $2,505.50. The husband had a cash-flow surplus of approximately $11,000. 2023 IL App (4th) 220983 at ¶4. The wife earned $89,000 per year, and the husband earned over $300,000 per year. 2023 IL App (4th) 220983 at ¶¶6, 4. The trial court awarded the wife 13 years of maintenance per the statutory guidelines in an amount of $2,696 plus 21 percent of the husband’s annual bonus up to $125,000. In its analysis, the appellate court stated that the trial court’s decision to award maintenance is presumed to be correct. The benchmark for determining the amount of maintenance is the recipient’s reasonable needs in light of the standard of living established during the marriage. The wife would likely never match the husband’s earning capacity. Therefore, fixed maintenance was required for her to have some reasonable approximation of the standard of living established during the marriage.