Posted on June 11, 2023

Motion For Directed Finding In An Illinois Divorce Hearing

In a divorce trial or hearing, the movant puts on their case first. Witnesses are called. Witnesses are questioned and the cross-examined. Exhibits are put into evidence. A movant’s hearing may be going so poorly that the other side may say, “We don’t need to hear anything more. They haven’t proven their case. Just deny their motion and let’s all go home.” It is an arrogant position to take…but, it can’t hurt to make an oral motion for a directed finding at the close of the movant’s case.

“In all cases tried without a jury, defendant may, at the close of plaintiff’s case, move for a finding or judgment in his or her favor. In ruling on the motion the court shall weigh the evidence, considering the credibility of the witnesses and the weight and quality of the evidence.” 735 ILCS 5/2-1110

An Illinois court can make a directed finding dismissing the movant’s motion by finding that the movant did not present sufficient evidence to establish each of the necessary elements required.

“In ruling on [a] motion [for directed finding], a court must engage in a two-prong analysis.  First, the court must determine, as a matter of law, whether the plaintiff has presented a prima facie case. A plaintiff establishes a prima facie case by proffering at least some evidence on every element essential to the plaintiff’s underlying cause of action.” People ex rel. Sherman v. Cryns, 786 NE 2d 139 – Ill: Supreme Court 2003

For example, most motions post-divorce require a “substantial change in circumstances.” If the movant did not prove a substantial change in circumstances, a motion for directed finding should terminate the matter immediately with no further evidence needed from the other side.

If the movant has presented something for each necessary element of their motion. The court can then look at the evidence presented in total and still say, “Eh, probably not enough to proceed. My mind is made up so I don’t need to hear anything else.”

“If, however, the circuit court determines that the plaintiff has presented a prima facie case, the court then moves to the second prong of the inquiry. …[T]he circuit court must weigh all the evidence, determine the credibility of the witnesses, and draw reasonable inferences therefrom. This weighing process may result in the negation of some of the evidence presented by the plaintiff. After weighing the quality of all of the evidence, both that presented by the plaintiff and that presented by the defendant, the court should determine, applying the standard of proof required for the underlying cause, whether sufficient evidence remains to establish the plaintiff’s prima facie case. If the circuit court finds that sufficient evidence has been presented to establish the plaintiff’s prima facie case, the court should deny the defendant’s motion and proceed with the trial. If, however, the court determines that the evidence warrants a finding in favor of the defendant, it should grant the defendant’s motion and enter a judgment dismissing the action.” People ex rel. Sherman v. Cryns, 786 NE 2d 139 – Ill: Supreme Court 2003

One the motion for directed finding is granted, the case is over and everyone can go home.

“If the ruling on the motion is favorable to the defendant, a judgment dismissing the action shall be entered.” 735 ILCS 5/2-1110

If the motion for directed finding is not granted, the other side must put on their case and the judge will weigh the evidence of both sides in the end.

“If the ruling on the motion is adverse to the defendant, the defendant may proceed to adduce evidence in support of his or her defense, in which event the motion is waived.” 735 ILCS 5/2-1110

Motions for directed findings really only apply to other motions or independent pleadings in an Illinois divorce (of which there are very few).

A motion for directed finding will likely not work in an Illinois divorce trial because the elements that must be proven in order to secure a judgment for dissolution of marriage in Illinois are ridiculously simple.

In fact, there is only one element which must be proven to secure an Illinois divorce: irreconcilable differences.

“Irreconcilable differences have caused the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage and the court determines that efforts at reconciliation have failed or that future attempts at reconciliation would be impracticable and not in the best interests of the family.” 750 ILCS 5/401(a)

Furthermore, the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act states that testimony that the parties lived apart for over 6 months is an “irrebuttable presumption” that the element of irreconcilable differences has been proven.

“If the parties live separate and apart for a continuous period of not less than 6 months immediately preceding the entry of the judgment dissolving the marriage, there is an irrebuttable presumption that the requirement of irreconcilable differences has been met.” 750 ILCS 5/401(a-5)

In fact, the better way to stop a divorce is to point out to a court that all of the necessary findings that should occur after the divorce: property division, maintenance (formerly known as alimony), child support and parenting time have not been adequately discussed.

“Judgment [for dissolution of marriage] shall not be entered unless, to the extent it has jurisdiction to do so, the court has considered, approved, reserved or made provision for the allocation of parental responsibilities, the support of any child of the marriage entitled to support, the maintenance of either spouse and the disposition of property.” 750 ILCS 5/401(b)

But such an objection does not really dismiss the divorce case. Rather, it just forces the court to expand the arguments relating to the divorce.

If you are cocksure enough that you are thinking about making a motion for a directed verdict at your next divorce hearing, then you may want to speak with an experienced Illinois divorce attorney first. Contact my Chicago, Illinois family law firm today to schedule a free consultation.

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Russell Knight

Russell D. Knight has been practicing family law as a Chicago divorce lawyer since 2006. Russell D. Knight amicably resolves tough cases while remaining a strong advocate for his client’s interests.

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