In this case, the husband filed an emergency petition to grant him a divorce from his wife before the assets were divided.  This is known as a bifurcated divorce. The husband had a terminal illness.  He  wanted to marry his long-time girlfriend (7 years) before he died.  He wanted to dispose of his share of the assets before he died.

The evidence in court showed the parties had been separated for approximately ten years. The trial court granted the bifurcated judgment and the husband died less than a month later.  On July 27, 2015, the Court held a hearing and granted the husband’s request for the divorce to be granted.  On July 30, 2015, petitioner married his girlfriend. On August 21, husband died. Hs ex-wife filed her appeal August 25, 2015.

Ex wife argued that no appropriate circumstances existed which would give the court the power to grant the divorce before the property was divided. The law states that the court can do so, if appropriate circumstances do exist.  The Appellate Court looked both to Illinois cases and to cases from other states. The Court concluded that the impending death of a party is an ‘appropriate circumstance’ for the entry of a bifurcated judgment of dissolution.

The second phase of the divorce process would be the division of marital property.  The ex wife argued that bifurcation would complicate this division.  The original court, the trial court, had heard testimony about the couple’s investment properties and other issues that may arise if the bifurcation was granted.  The trial court was in the best position to determine how husband’s actions would affect the marital estate and wife.

Despite the subsequent remarriage and death of ex husband, the Court went on to state that, ex wife is entitled to her portion of the marital estate at the time the trial court entered the bifurcation. The ex wife was not affected by the earlier granting of the divorce.  Also, the death of one party does not result in the divorce case then being sent to probate court.  The divorce case can continue.

In re Marriage of Breashears, 2016 IL App (1st) 152404

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