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Posted on October 26, 2023

Narrative Responses To Motions In An Illinois Divorce

Divorces take a while to get finished. Even when a divorce is finished, a divorce’s orders can be modified in perpetuity. Almost all actions before the court before a divorce is finalized or after a divorce is finalized can be characterized as “motions.”

A large portion of family law practitioner’s do not answer motions in the correct manner: in the narrative style. This article hopes to instruct the family law practitioner or the humble pro se litigant in the correct format to answer a motion in an Illinois court.

What Is A Motion Supposed To Look Like?

Broadly, a motion is “a written or oral application requesting a court to make a specified ruling or order.” Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019)

More specifically to Illinois, a motion “is an application to the court for a ruling or an order in a pending case.” In re Marriage of Sutherland, 622 N.E.2d 105, 107 (Ill. App. Ct. 1993).

Allegedly, motions must follow “the rules.”

“The form and contents of motions, notices regarding the same, hearings on motions, and all other matters of procedure relative thereto, shall be according to rules.” 735 ILCS 5/2-620

What rules must motion in an Illinois court follow? There are a lot! Specifically, the word “motion” is mentioned 699 times in the Illinois Supreme Court Rules, 141 times in the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure, 67 times in the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act and tens of thousands of times in the case law which discusses those rules and statutes.

Furthermore, the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act allows that during a divorce proceeding “[e]ither party may petition or move for:…other appropriate temporary relief” 750 ILCS 5/501(a)(3). It doesn’t get more broad than that.

The sheer variety of rules and relief provided by the various statutes, rules and case law requires that there can be no standard format for a motion. Because of this lack of motion standardization there should NOT be a standard format for a response to a motion.

Furthermore, the format of motions is never discussed in case law except to say that the courts should look at the substance not the format of the motion. “[T]he caption of a motion is not controlling; the character of the pleading is determined from its content, not its label.” Sarkissian v. Chicago Bd. of Educ., 776 NE 2d 195 – Ill: Supreme Court 2002

A motion is like any other written communication. You are trying to communicate something clearly to a predetermined audience: the judge. The best way to write a motion is to clearly base that motion upon clear facts and clear law. If the law or the facts are not clear, it is the motion’s author’s duty to clarify both as persuasively as possible.

How Does a A Court Rule On A Motion In An Illinois Divorce?

A motion is requesting the court order something specific. If you have not already agreed to that specific request, it is presumed that you are opposed to the court ordering that specific relief.

How will the court decide to rule on the motion? Unfortunately, motions are as common to courts as water is to fish. Therefore, there is no canon for ruling on motions besides the application of the thousands of potential rules to the motion.

Expecting a judge to apply the thousands of rules and the myriad of substantive laws in order to deny your opponent’s motion is a bridge too far. The party who is opposed to the motion should answer the motion exactly as the original motion is written: with clearly communicated alleged fact and applicable laws.

What Should The Answer Or Response To A Motion Look Like

The answer to a motion should look like a motion itself. In fact, the answer to a motion is a motion. The answer to a motion is ALSO, per Sutherland “an application to the court for a ruling or an order in a pending case.” The relief requested in the answer to a motion is that the relief requested in the motion being answered be denied!

The answer to a motion should be more persuasive than the original motion. That will require clear facts, clear law and application of the law to the facts with a logical conclusion to your benefit.

A narrative response is the best way to communicate facts, the law and the application of the facts to the law.

Humans communicate in narratives. We tell each other stories.

We are not robots. We don’t come back from the grocery store and tell our family: “3 bananas, 12 eggs, 1 pound of white flour, 1 gallon of milk.”

We say, “I was at Jewel today where I got all the ingredients for your favorite banana bread! 3 bananas, 12 eggs (we only need one), a bag of flour and some milk. I hope you really enjoy it.”

Your answer should have greater clarity, emotion and persuasiveness than the motion itself. Otherwise, your opponent’s motion will be granted!

An answer is not just a mere response to the motion. An answer is the persuasive request for relief based on the motion you are responding to. If an answer was a mere response, answers would be mandatory or the motion would automatically be granted.

“[T]he failure to file a written response to a motion within the time allowed therefor does not waive the right to contest the merits of the motion” In re Marriage of Fahy, 208 Ill. App. 3d 677, 685 (Ill. App. Ct. 1991)

Furthermore, the courts are supposed to look at the substance of your motion NOT the motion’s title. A well-crafted and convincing narrative response might be deemed to also be a motion for summary judgment or a motion in limine. A simple set of denials will never be considered anything but what it is: the legal writing path of least resistance.

What Are People Filing As Responses To Motions If Not Narrative Answers?

In the civil practice of law, court actions start with a pleading which should be distinguished from a motion. A pleading starts a case, a judgment ends a case, motions are what happens in between.

“A pleading…consists of a party’s formal allegations of his claims or defenses.” In re Marriage of Wolff, 355 Ill. App. 3d 403, 407 (Ill. App. Ct. 2005)

Pleadings DO have a formal format that must be adhered to.

Pleadings “shall be divided into paragraphs numbered consecutively, each paragraph containing, as nearly as may be, a separate allegation.” 735 ILCS 5/2-603(b)

A divorce’s pleading is the Petition For Dissolution Of Marriage. That’s it. There is no other pleading in an Illinois divorce (note: this not technically true but is effectively true).

“[A] petition for dissolution advances a single claim: the parties’ request for an order dissolving their marriage.” In re Marriage of Crecos, 183 NE 3d 67 – Ill: Supreme Court 2021

Everything else filed in an Illinois divorce is a motion or should be presumed to be a motion.

The formal allegations in a Petition For Dissolution Of Marriage must include:

“The complaint or petition for dissolution of marriage or legal separation shall be verified and shall minimally set forth:

(1) the age, occupation and residence of each party and his length of residence in this State;”

(2) the date of the marriage and the place at which it was registered;

(2.5) whether a petition for dissolution of marriage is pending in any other county or state;

(3) that the jurisdictional requirements of subsection (a) of Section 401 have been met and that irreconcilable differences have caused the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage;

(4) the names, ages and addresses of all living children of the marriage and whether a spouse is pregnant;

(5) any arrangements as to support, allocation of parental responsibility of the children and maintenance of a spouse;

(6) the relief sought.”

These specific allegations must be answered specifically, admitting or denying their veracity.

“Every answer and subsequent pleading shall contain an explicit admission or denial of each allegation of the pleading to which it relates” 735 ILCS 5/2-610(a)

If the allegations in a Petition are NOT denied…they are deemed admitted by the other party.

“Every allegation, except allegations of damages, not explicitly denied is admitted” 735 ILCS 5/2-610(b)

This fear of not denying allegations in motions has caused many family law practitioners to answer each paragraph of a motion with a brief “admit,” “deny,” or “deny in party.”

When reviewing these admit/deny answers, the judge has to shuttle back and forth between the motion and the answer, cross-referencing each in the hopes of understanding what the answerer’s argument is to the motion beyond “No.” Judges hate this!

In fact, when you answer with just admits and/or denies, a judge only internalizes the actual motion…NOT the admissions and denials.

Nothing is less persuasive than a blanket denial.

Imagine a child telling on his sibling.

“Mom, I saw cigarettes in Judy’s dresser so she hit me.”

Judy could say, “I did not!,” leaving lots of questions outstanding to be investigated.

Or Judy could state, “Actually, I caught Bobby going through my dresser. Bobby grabbed the candy cigarettes I had in the dresser and said, “What’s this?” I explained that I used them as a prop in my social studies presentation. When I tried to take them back, Bobby hit me and I raised my arms to defend myself.”

Which is more persuasive? An answer without context or an whole counter-narrative?

Do yourself and the judge a favor: answer motions with a narrative response.

No numbered paragraphs. Instead, a story.

Failure to answer in a narrative form just allows your opponent to have the only actual argument…because you are NOT making an argument by merely denying allegations.

Sometimes Motions Can Be Pleadings

Despite my rant against answering motions like you would a pleading…some motions are pleadings.

“”[P]leadings” includes any petition or motion filed in the dissolution of marriage case which, if independently filed, would constitute a separate cause of action, including, but not limited to, actions for declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and orders of protection. Actions under this subsection are subject to motions [to strike and/or dismiss] filed pursuant to Sections 2-615 and 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure” 750 ICS 5/105(d)

If a motion substantively falls into one of these above delineated categories, the admit/deny response is required or the allegations will be deemed admitted.

If you would like to see what a narrative answer to a motion looks like (because it can look like anything), please contact my Chicago, Illinois family law firm. I really like talking about these issues as well as writing about these issues.

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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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