Dentist’s wife not entitled to a change in alimony, court says

A St. Clair County appeals court recently denied the request of a dentist’s former wife to increase her alimony payments. Modifying alimony can be a difficult process in Illinois, and the wife failed to show that she had a “change in circumstances” that warranted an increase of her alimony payments from her former husband.

The case involves Michelle N. Renner, who was married to Joseph A. Renner, a dentist who specializes in periodontics. The couple married in 1985 and divorced in the fall of 2002.

The original maintenance agreement called for Michelle to receive $3,000 per month in maintenance for a four year period and $3,000 per month in child support.

Michelle successfully petitioned to extend her maintenance in 2005, prior to the expiration of the original agreement. The child support ceased in the fall of 2006.

The new alimony amount was for $5,000 per month which would decrease in a tiered manner to $2,000 per month. These payments would finally end when Michelle turned 62 years old.

In July of 2010, Michelle filed a petition for the modification, claiming that her ongoing health issues prevented her from sustaining gainful employment. A hearing was conducted on the petition to modify in August of 2012, where Joseph testified about his income.

Joseph testified that he had accumulated over $2 million in assets since the divorce and that he earned $311,000 in the first six months of 2011 from his periodontics practice.

Michelle’s only income was the $3,000 she was currently receiving in alimony. She also testified that she had a $52,000 credit card bill with a minimum payment was $2,000 a month. Michelle sought an increase in alimony of approximately $10,000 a month so she could support her monthly expenses.

A circuit court judge denied Michelle’s petition. It found that she testified that she was unable to work when she received the modification in 2007, and that she failed to seek work or education since 2007. The court also found that Joseph’s income, while substantial, had not really changed from 2007 to 2012.

An appeals court recently affirmed the decision of the circuit court. Appeals court judges found that the 2007 modification was not modifiable and that Michelle failed to show a significant change in circumstances even if she could modify the agreement.

This case shows that Illinois courts have a large amount of discretion in alimony cases, but parties cannot simply increase alimony without showing the necessary change in circumstances.

Rolling Meadows attorney Donald J. Cosley is highly experienced in alimony cases. If you have a question about modifying an alimony agreement, contact him online or call 847-253-3100.

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