Petitioner and Respondent had a daughter (“S.K.”) who was six years old when the case was decided. In the Judgment for Dissolution, Petitioner was given liberal parenting time which constituted essentially a 50/50 split of parenting time. After the Judgment for Dissolution was entered, Respondent filed a motion for relocation, pursuant to §609.2 of the IMDMA. Respondent informed the court that she had accepted a new job in North Carolina. The trial court entered an order allowing the Respondent to remove the child to North Carolina. Respondent appealed that order.
The Appellate Court noted that each of the parties’ expert witnesses, as well as the trial court, had described just how difficult a decision this was and that it was a “close call.” On appeal, the Petitioner argued (a) the trial court focused too much on the alleged improvement the move would have on Respondent’s quality of life, (b) the trial court unreasonably reduced his parenting time, (c) reduced the quality of his remaining parenting time, (d) the trial court imposed a significant financial burden on his right to exercise parenting time, and (e) the decision was against the weight of the evidence.
Petitioner argued that the trial court gave too much weight to the benefits the Respondent would realize from a move. He relied on In re Parentage of P.D. (2017 IL App [2d]170355) in which the Court stated whether a move will enhance a custodial parent’s life “is unhelpful in evaluating the trial court’s best determination in the case before us.” In re Parentage of P.D. relied on case law that gave little weight to the benefits a move would have on the party seeking removal.
The Appellate Court found “nothing in P.D. prohibits a court from considering an enhancement to the custodial parent’s quality of life. In fact, in deciding a motion to relocate, section 609.2 . . . directs the court to consider “any other relevant factors bearing on the child’s best interest.” (emphasis added). The Court found that the increase in quality of Respondent’s life was directly related to increases in S.K.’s quality of life.
At the trial level, the Court did find direct benefits to S.K. created by the move, including:
- The presence of S.K.’s maternal grandmother in North Carolina;
- S.K. would not be in daycare in North Carolina;
- Respondent’s position would allow her more time at home with S.K.;
- Respondent’s job would allow for S.K. to receive free tuition in the future
According to the Petitioner, the original allocation judgment allowed him approximately 164 overnights per year. Under the removal order, Petitioner calculated that he was allotted only 82 overnights. The Appellate Court noted that each of these calculations had changed throughout various stages of the litigation and agreed with the trial court’s assessment that the Petitioner had presented “flawed math.” Further, the Appellate court noted that the relocation order states that “the parties could agree to additional parenting time for petitioner and petitioner was allowed additional weekend visitation anytime in North Carolina with proper notice to the respondent.”
Petitioner next argued that the proposed parenting time schedule would impair the quality of his parenting time. Specifically, Petitioner complained that his parenting time in North Carolina would have to occur in a hotel room and he would not be able to include the day-to-day interactions that he enjoyed with the minor child. The court rejected that the relocation should be denied because some of Petitioner’s parenting time would occur in a hotel. The court noted that if it accepted such an argument, removal would never be proper. Additionally, during hearing before the trial court, Petitioner had argued that S.K. should stay in Illinois because his work schedule was flexible and would allow him to spend more time with S.K. This argument cut against him in this instance, as the court found that he could use this flexibility to enjoy more long weekends with S.K. in North Carolina.
The court rejected the argument that the parenting time as outlined in the removal order would impose too great a financial burden on the Petitioner. The Court acknowledged that case law supports the proposition that removal requests can be denied if relocation would impose too great a financial burden on the non-relocating parent’s parenting time. The court found, however, that the Petitioner’s gross income was not inadequate. Further, under the relocation order, the Respondent was ordered to pay all costs related to S.K. traveling to Illinois for her parenting time with Petitioner.
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