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Can a Judgment Be Enforced if a Spouse Dies Before a Divorce Is Final?

Posted on in Divorce

Naperville divorce attorney judgment order

Divorce cases in Illinois often take many months--and sometimes years--to fully resolve. During this time, it is possible that one spouse may pass away. If this happens, what effect does it have on the divorce case? For example, can the surviving spouse enforce a property division order against the deceased spouse’s estate?

Deceased Husband Owes Wife $25,000 for Misconduct in Divorce Case

A March 2020 decision from the Illinois Third District Appellate Court, In Re Estate of Strong, addressed the rights of a person to assert a creditor claim against the estranged spouse’s estate. In this case, the husband and wife married in Germany in 1986. The husband returned alone to the United States in 2013 and filed for divorce in Illinois a year later. When the wife failed to respond, the Illinois court granted the husband a default judgment of divorce.

In 2016, the wife appeared and moved to vacate the default judgment, alleging her husband had made “misrepresentations” in order to obtain the divorce. The husband passed away in early 2017, while the wife’s motion to vacate was still pending. The divorce court informed the wife in August 2017 that it would grant her motion immediately, with a formal opinion to follow later.

Meanwhile, the husband’s sister opened a probate estate in Will County, Illinois. The petition for probate included a will, signed by the husband in 2015, that made no provisions for the wife. The wife maintained she was still entitled to certain rights as the “surviving spouse.” She also presented a creditor claim for approximately $25,000; this reflected the divorce court’s final order against the husband for his misconduct in connection with the improper default judgment.

The sister, acting as executor of the estate, argued the wife waited too long to file her creditor claim and refused to pay the $25,000. Illinois normally requires creditors to file any claims within six months of the executor’s appointment. Here, the six-month deadline expired in January 2018. The wife’s attorney forwarded a copy of the divorce court’s final judgment a few days later.

Nevertheless, both the probate court and the Third District said the wife’s claim was valid. As the appellate court explained, the wife notified the sister of her claim in August 2017, when the judge in the divorce case actually granted the motion to vacate. Even though the judge did not issue his final decision regarding damages until later, the August 2017 ruling was sufficient to put the sister and the estate “on notice” that the wife had a valid claim. Due to this decision, the husband’s estate had to pay the wife the $25,000 divorce court judgment.

Contact a DuPage County Divorce Lawyer 

A divorce can be complicated under any circumstances, with numerous legal issues to resolve. Many other problems can arise if a spouse dies before a divorce becomes final. If you have any questions or concerns on this or any related subject, you should speak with an experienced Naperville family law attorney. Attorney Ronald L. Hendrix has more than 30 years of experience resolving all types of divorce and family law matters. Contact the Law Office of Ronald L. Hendrix, P.C. today at 630-355-7776 to schedule your free consultation.


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