Wife filed a petition for dissolution for marriage.   Husband filed an answer and counterpetition.  He also filed a declaratory judgment action.  He was asking that their antenuptial agreement was valid and binding.

At the conclusion of trial, husband’s counsel requested the court to enter a judgment of dissolution.   Wife objected.

Husband had a serious medical condition.  The Trial Court found that based upon this, appropriate circumstances existed to warrant a bifurcated judgment.   It entered a judgment of dissolution.   It reserved ruling on disposition of property.   Wife appealed.   She contends that dissolving the parties’ marriage prior to husband’s death deprived her of her survivor’s benefit under husband’s pension without providing any benefit to husband or his estate.

She further argues that there was no evidence regarding why husband wanted or needed an immediate dissolution of the parties’ marriage. She also notes that there is no evidence regarding the precise nature of husband’s illness or whether he was facing impending death as a result.

Section 401 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act provides, “[j]udgment shall not be entered unless *** the court has considered, approved, reserved or made provision for *** the disposition of property. The court shall enter a judgment for dissolution that reserves any of these issues *** upon *** a finding by the court that appropriate circumstances exist.”

Five weeks later, husband died.  Wife told the court that she had learned that there were no death benefits payable to any heir from husband’s firefighter’s pension other than her and then only if the judgment of dissolution were vacated. In response, husband argued that pursuant to the antenuptial agreement wife had no interest in or claim to husband’s pension assets.

The Appellate Court said that there had been a lack of actual evidence as to husband’s health.    A bifurcated judgment of dissolution denied wife survivor benefits from his pension.  Therefore,  appropriate circumstances did not exist for entering a bifurcated judgment of dissolution.

The case was returned to the Trial Court for further proceedings.

Claxton v. Reeves, 2019 IL App (5th) 170200 (June 17, 2019).