Divorce and Plastic Surgery

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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Plastic Surgery and Divorce in Illinois

Divorce and Plastic Surgery

A divorce in Illinois can be a cause for a lot of changes.  It’s not surprising to see my divorce clients undergo physical changes.  My male clients will often see their hair go grey under the stress.  All of my clients either lose or gain a lot of weight.  Some of my clients take the crisis of divorce and turn it into an opportunity to improve their health as they work out to deal with the stress. Some clients take self-improvement to the point where they undergo plastic or cosmetic surgery to improve their self, and outward image during their divorce.  How does plastic surgery affect a divorce in Illinois?

Why Does Plastic Surgery Matter In A Divorce In Illinois?

Plastic surgery is a signal. If plastic surgery is obvious, it signals wealth.  If plastic surgery is not obvious, it signals beauty and health. 

Plastic surgery may indicate that the plastic surgery recipient is confident, forward-thinking, vapid, vain or any number of characteristics that will either overtly or subconsciously affect a judge, opposing counsel or spouse’s reaction.

An Illinois divorce lawyer needs to be aware of how plastic surgery can affect a divorce both through legal maneuvers and the presentation of the plastic surgery recipient to the final decision maker, the divorce judge.

Legally Attacking A Plastic Surgery During An Illinois Divorce

Plastic surgery can be attacked by the other spouse as a possible dissipation of assets. 

If the expenses related to the plastic surgery occurred after the irreconcilable breakdown of the marriage occurred between the two divorcing parties, it can be argued that the plastic surgery was purchased for a non-marital purpose which would make that expense a dissipation of marital assets.

“Dissipation is defined as the use of marital property for one spouse’s benefit for a purpose unrelated to the marriage at a time when the marriage is undergoing an irreconcilable breakdown” In Re Marriage of Tietz, 605 NE 2d 670 Ill Appellate Court, 4th Dist. 1992.

Dissipation of assets requires that the dissipated asset become a credit to the non-dissipating spouse’s share of the marital assets.  So, if a $10,000 plastic surgery expense was deemed a dissipation of the marital estate then the non-dissipating spouse will get an extra $ 5,000 during the final allocation.

The point to underscore is that the marriage was undergoing an irreconcilable breakdown and the other party made physical changes to their body…for whose benefit? A new boyfriend or girlfriend? 

I once had a case in Cook County where the divorce judge once awarded a Victoria’s Secret credit card debt to a separated wife “because the husband didn’t get to enjoy the purchase.”

What’s more an implant or surgical procedure has some kind of value, otherwise no one would do it.  That value is not divisible and should therefore be allocated to the plastic surgery recipient.  The exact same concept is regularly applied to student loans in Illinois

There are numerous amorphous types of value that are allocated during an Illinois divorce such as a business enterprises good will or stock options which have not been vested yet? Why should the tangible results of a plastic surgery be treated as less authentic than these non-actual, yet marital assets under Illinois divorce law.

Legally Defending A Plastic Surgery During An Illinois Divorce

The defense to such an accusation is to say that people’s bodies are off limits to judicial scrutiny…especially women’s bodies.  Having a court inspect a person’s body as a commodity subject to a transaction is sexist at best and disgusting at worst. 

Furthermore, people’s rights to the privacy of their bodies are a legal and political lightning rod.  The right to privacy of one’s body is the basis for making abortion a constitutional right. Surely, this must also apply to the voluntary modification of one’s body. 

If plastic surgery is being compared to a student loan in Illinois, the only appropriate analogy is if there is a debt associated with that plastic surgery (actually, many plastic surgeries are financed). Perhaps the debt for a plastic surgery can remain with the plastic surgery recipient but no marital value can be allocated to the plastic surgery just as how no marital value can be assigned to the education a student loan recipient received.

While enterprise goodwill and not yet realized stock options may be divisible during an Illinois divorce, anything personally related to the actual person is not divisible during an Illinois divorce. Personal goodwill is not to be considered a divisible marital asset.  In re Marriage of Zells, 143 Ill.2d 251, 157 Ill.Dec. 480, 572 N.E.2d 944 (1991)

The above notes about legally attacking and defending plastic surgery during an Illinois divorce are all just arguments based on logic and inference. Plastic surgery, specifically, is not mentioned in the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. Plastic surgery is not mentioned in Illinois appellate cases either, so Illinois residents don’t have a real “plastic surgery” rule when it comes to divorce.

What Other States Say About Plastic Surgery And Divorce.

When an issue is not mentioned specifically in an Illinois statute, the appeals courts and supreme court will “fill in the blank” and clarify the rule. Illinois courts have not made any rules as to plastic surgery.

Other states’ courts have discussed plastic surgery and made rules regarding plastic surgery. 

The Supreme Court of Hawaii held that if a plastic surgery was not considered a reasonably necessary marital expense, then the court should include the cost of the plastic surgery as a marital asset and assign the cost of the plastic surgery to the plastic surgery recipient’s share of the marital state. Okada v. Okada 137 P.3d 386 (Haw. 2006)

The Supreme Court of North Dakota, however, takes an extremely dim view of considering plastic surgery when allocating marital assets.  The Supreme Court of North Dakota even quoted the district court to underscore how plastic surgery should not be considered in a divorce.

“[Breast implants are] the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen listed on a property and debt listing, next to the cat litter and cat box I had in my very first divorce, is going to be stricken. It’s just insulting that people would waste time putting that on a property and debt listing. Likewise item 96, the Lasix eye surgery is going to be stricken. . . . I can’t imagine people would actually waste time thinking that breast implants are marital assets and Lasix surgery was a marital asset. It just defies common sense. I don’t know how you would expect me to award breast implants. Do you want me to have them cut out and given to Mr. Isaacson, have the Lasix surgery given to Mr. Isaacson? It’s absolutely nonsense. Do not waste the Court’s time with stuff like this.” Isaacson v. Isaacson, 777 N.W.2d 886 (N.D. 2010) (No. 20090114).

How To Really Handle Plastic Surgery During A Divorce In Illinois?

Plastic surgery is supposed to be subtle.  When plastic surgery is not subtle, people have strong opinions about how people look.  These opinions can be for the good or the worse. 

There is no reason to bring plastic surgery to the judge’s attention in writing. An Illinois divorce judge will see the plastic surgery recipient and make their own conclusions. Furthermore, family law attorneys have the opportunity to discuss matters “off the record” during an in-camera pre-trial.

If you’re eligible to pay maintenance, you might want your ex-spouse to be as attractive whether it’s caused by plastic surgery or not. Remarriage and even moving in with someone terminates the right to receive maintenance.

“A payor’s obligation to pay maintenance or unallocated maintenance terminates by operation of law on the date the recipient remarries or the date the court finds cohabitation began.” 750 ILCS 5/510(c)

Issues regarding plastic surgery are a double-edged sword.  The plastic surgery recipient can look vain.  The other spouse can look petty.  There are probably bigger issues in your divorce but every possible aspect of a divorce should be investigated by an Illinois divorce attorney.  Contact my office to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Chicago divorce lawyer.