Quick Take on Illinois Supreme Court Opinion Issued Thursday, October 24, 2019
The Illinois Supreme Court handed down one opinion on Thursday, October 24. In Yakich v. Aulds, the court vacated a circuit court judgment, which declared unconstitutional section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act.
By Karen Kies DeGrand, Donohue Brown Mathewson & Smyth LLC
Making clear that the Illinois Supreme Court, and only that court, may overrule and modify its opinions, the court vacated a circuit court judgment declaring unconstitutional section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, 750 ILCS 5/513(a) (West 2018). The vitality of section 513(a) arose in the context of a fight over payment of the college expenses of the child of parents who had never married. Invoking section 513(a), which pertains to payment of “Education Expenses for a Non-minor Child,” the mother sought an order requiring the father to share in the college costs anticipated for their daughter. The father objected on the basis that he did not have input in his daughter’s college selection.
After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court indicated that it thought the statute was unfair, because it treated married parents and unmarried or divorced parents differently: the court noted that married parents have no obligation to pay college educational expenses and have input in the college selection process. Despite that observation, the trial court initially ordered each parent to pay 40 percent of their daughter’s college expenses. Months later, the trial court granted the husband’s request to terminate the college expense order. The court found that the supreme court’s decision in Kujawinski v. Kujawinski, 78 Ill. 2d 563 (1978), which upheld a similar equal protection challenge to section 513, was behind the times. In the trial court’s view, the Kujawinski court’s rationale for upholding the statute—the greater disadvantages faced by children of unmarried parents—no longer was viable. Citing precedent of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court interpreting that state’s college expense contribution statute, the trial court held that section 513 violated the father’s right to equal protection and was unconstitutional as applied. The court vacated its earlier order.
The Supreme Court determined that the trial court “committed serious error” by failing to apply on point Illinois Supreme Court precedent. Regardless of any perceived “societal evolution,” the trial court was bound by Kujawinski and the fundamental principle of stare decisis. The trial court could question but could not declare the precedent no longer viable. Declining to evaluate the appeal on the merits, the supreme court vacated the circuit court’s judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.