May 20, 2010
In re Marriage of Baumgartner, Ill, No. 109047 (per Freeman)
In their judgment for dissolution of marriage, Susan and Craig Baumgartner both agreed to contribute to the postsecondary educational expenses of their son Max. After Max was convicted of a criminal offense and was serving a three-year sentence, Craig motioned the court for the removal of the couple’s obligation to pay postsecondary educational expenses for Max. Without receiving any evidence on Craig’s motion, the circuit court ruled sua sponte that son Max’s incarceration constituted his full emancipation and that any future obligation on Craig’s part to pay for Max’s college education was abated. The circuit court denied Susan’s motion for reconsideration. Finding no authority to support the argument that Illinois would recognize incarceration as a self-emancipating event, a divided panel of the appellate court reversed, finding the trial court erred in ordering the termination of Craig’s obligation to contribute to Max’s education expenses based solely on the basis of Max’s incarceration.
Whether the trial court erred in determining that incarceration alone is a self-emancipating event for a minor?
Yes. The trial court erred in determining that incarceration was a self-emancipating event for a minor. Appellate court judgment affirmed. Cause remanded.
The minor’s incarceration alone was not dispositive as to whether he was emancipated. Although lengthy incarceration is one of the many situations in which a minor may be found to be emancipated, based on the circumstances of a particular case, the circuit court failed to complete the required analysis to determine the minor’s status in this case. The circuit court record contained no evidence whatsoever pertaining to the parents’ care, custody, control, or support of the minor or whether the minor voluntarily abandoned that support. Minors can emancipate themselves, i.e., place themselves beyond the care, custody and control of their parents. However, emancipation cannot be presumed. Whether a minor is emancipated depends upon the relevant facts and circumstances of each particular case.
Further, emancipation is not necessarily a continuing status. A minor may become unemancipated if there has been a sufficient change in circumstances. The burden of proving emancipation is on the one asserting it. Changes in life circumstances for a minor such as entering into marriage or the armed services may or may not lead to emancipation, depending on the resulting effects on the minor’s status relative to his or her parents. Even the commission of a crime by the minor, by itself, is not dispositive of emancipation, although lengthy incarceration is one of many situations in which the minor may be found to be emancipated. The inquiry is whether the minor has become self-emancipated by any means other than reaching majority age, which was not addressed in this case.
The basic ruling here is not necessarily radical. The trial court probably should have heard some evidence before ruling. Neither the statute nor the case-law automatically presume emancipation. But what I find interesting about this case is the notion of emancipation potentially morphing back to unemancipation. Under this ruling, a child could be married for ten years, divorce, and then potentially have a court order one or both parents to contribute to her expenses. In my mind this is particularly egregious in light of the fact that children of in tact families have no right to any contribution from their parents. The legislature needs to correct this legal anomaly. SNP