Stipulating to evidence in an Illinois divorce

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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Stipulations In An Illinois Divorce Case

Stipulating to evidence in an Illinois divorce

An Illinois divorce is the process by which two married people unwind their joint lives into two separate rights and obligations. The parties to an Illinois divorce will come to an agreement regarding the various conclusions of their divorce: division of assets, maintenance, child support, parenting time and parental responsibilities.

There will be issues, however, that the parties cannot agree upon and must, therefore, take to an Illinois divorce judge to decide at hearing or trial.

While the parties may not agree as to final conclusion of the contested matter, the parties may agree to the facts upon which the contested matter is decided. In lieu of presenting all the facts via the rules of evidence, the parties may stipulate to the facts via an agreed stipulation outlining those facts and any stipulated exhibits.

A stipulation may agree to conclusions (ex: amount of child support) as well as facts in order to present to the court a full battery of issues agreed to without losing the leverage of letting a divorce judge finalize all matters.

“A stipulation, or a judicial admission, is an agreement between the parties or their attorneys with respect to business before the court….There is, however, no absolute rule on the subject.” Lee v. Chicago Transit Authority, 605 NE 2d 493 – Ill: Supreme Court 1992

“The general rule is that litigants may stipulate regarding matters involving the individual rights of the litigants themselves…Courts look with favor upon stipulations which are designed to simplify, shorten or settle litigation and save the costs of the parties. Furthermore, matters subject to stipulation may relate to procedural or even evidentiary matters.” Swank v. Bertuca, 353 NE 2d 415 – Ill: Appellate Court, 4th Dist. 1976

Each individual Illinois divorce judge will either require or not require stipulations to be submitted by a date certain in advance of an Illinois divorce trial.

“The recognition of the court’s inherent authority is necessary to prevent undue delays in the disposition of cases caused by abuses of procedural rules, and also to empower courts to control their dockets.” Sander v. Dow Chemical Co., 166 Ill.2d 48, 209 Ill.Dec. 623, 651 N.E.2d 1071 (1995)

Proposed stipulations presented during pre-trial are often an excellent way to resolve final issues and let the opposing side know that you are truly ready for trial.

Failure to submit a stipulation simply means that all evidence will have to be presented formally via the rules of evidence which include laying foundation, authentication and sustaining objections.

A stipulation must be in writing. (Note: I have included a sample stipulation at the end of this article for your possible use) You cannot merely say “we stipulated to this.”

“In the absence of any further evidence regarding a stipulation, we cannot agree that the parties in fact agreed to stipulate.” City of Chicago v. Ross, 369 NE 2d 298 – Ill: Appellate Court, 1st Dist., 3rd Div. 1977

Once signed and presented to the court, a stipulation is binding.

“The parties clearly made the stipulation to eliminate the need for defendant to produce evidence, and [parties] are now bound by their stipulation.” Klucznik v. Nikitopoulos, 503 NE 2d 1147 – Ill: Appellate Court, 2nd Dist. 1987

While a stipulation will be binding upon the parties in a divorce trial, the stipulated matters may still be presented in court for cumulative effect. One can imagine a particularly salient issue having more weight after emotional testimony than any stipulation could provide. In such a case, why wouldn’t the party hoping to elaborate on that evidence simply not stipulate to it? Perhaps to avoid a possible objection.

“[A]n offer to stipulate to certain facts does not foreclose the presentation of such evidence.” Lee v. Chicago Transit Authority, 605 NE 2d 493 – Ill: Supreme Court 1992

With enough matters stipulated to, the trial will be relatively brief. In fact, the trial may be decided on arguments regarding the stipulated facts alone.

“[T]here is no rule prohibiting the parties from waiving their right to an evidentiary hearing, as in any other civil action. The parties may stipulate to entry of judgment based on the pleadings, citation examinations, and other stipulated evidence… However, in contested matters, a trial is required.” Workforce Solutions v. URBAN SERVICES, 977 NE 2d 267 – Ill: Appellate Court, 1st Dist., 2nd Div. 2012

Parties to a divorce may stipulate to matters in order to remove those matters from the Illinois divorce judge’s purview. A judge is not bound by your stipulations if the stipulations are against public policy.

“Courts will not acknowledge a stipulation which is contrary to public policy.” Swank v. Bertuca, 353 NE 2d 415 – Ill: Appellate Court, 4th Dist. 1976

The best interests of the child, an equitable division of assets and debts, a fair maintenance and child support amount are all matters of public policy.

Furthermore, the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act encourages agreements such as stipulations.

“To promote amicable settlement of disputes between parties to a marriage attendant upon the dissolution of their marriage, the parties may enter into an agreement containing provisions for disposition of any property owned by either of them, maintenance of either of them, support, parental responsibility allocation of their children, and support of their children as provided in Sections 513 and 513.5 after the children attain majority.” 750 ILCS 5/502(a)

Some things CANNOT be stipulated to without further investigation by the court.

“The terms of the agreement, except those providing for the support and parental responsibility allocation of children, are binding upon the court unless it finds, after considering the economic circumstances of the parties and any other relevant evidence produced by the parties, on their own motion or on request of the court, that the agreement is unconscionable.” 750 ILCS 5/502(b)

For the most part, the court has to adopt your stipulations so just don’t make them too extreme. “The trial court, unless it finds the agreement unconscionable as provided in section 502 of the Act, must give full effect to the terms stipulated by the parties before dividing the remainder of the marital estate.” In re Marriage of Dunlap, 294 Ill. App. 3d 768, 777 (Ill. App. Ct. 1998)

Whatever is stipulated to will not be appealable in the future. “A stipulation is an agreement between parties or their attorneys with respect to the business before the court, and, generally, matters which have been stipulated to by the parties cannot be disputed on appeal….While a stipulation need not follow any particular form, it must be clear, certain, and definite in its material provisions, and it is essential that it be assented to by the parties or those representing them….Courts look with favor upon stipulations designed to simplify, shorten, or settle litigation and save costs to parties unless they are illegal or contrary to public policy.” In re Marriage of Galen, 157 Ill. App. 3d 341, 344 (1987).

Finally, below is an example of a stipulation for trial for Cook County, Illinois.

IN THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS

COUNTY DEPARTMENT – DOMESTIC RELATIONS DIVISION

IN RE: THE MARRIAGE OF:                                )

)

JANE DOE,                                   )           NO.    

)

                        Petitioner,                                            )

)  

and                                                                   )           CAL.

)

JOHN DOE,                                                       )          

)

            Respondent.                                         )

STIPULATIONS FOR TRIAL

THIS MATTER coming before this Court to be heard on Trial on Petitioner’s, JANE DOE’s (“JANE”) Petition for Dissolution of Marriage filed on February 23, 2018, with the parties being in agreement on the terms of this Stipulation, agree to the admission of the following facts:

  1. JANE is fifty-two (52) years of age and is presently residing in Chicago, Illinois.
  2. JANE has resided in the State of Illinois for more than 90 days.
  3. One child was born to the parties during the course of their marriage, namely Josefina Doe, born on April 1, 2004 and presently sixteen (16) years of age.
  4. JANE is currently employed by Little Company, Inc. and receives a monthly net income of approximately $500.00 per month.
  5. JOHN DOE is forty-five (45) years of age and presently resides in Chicago, Illinois.
  6. JOHN DOE has resided in the State of Illinois for more than 90 days.
  7. JOHN is currently employed by Big Company, Inc. and receives a total monthly compensation package totaling approximately $10,000 per month.
  8. JANE and JOHN were lawfully married on January 1, 2000 in Las Vegas, Nevada where the marriage is registered.
  9. JANE filed her Petition for Dissolution of Marriage on April 1, 2019.
  10. JOHN filed his Appearance through his attorneys into this matter on April 15, 2019.
  11. JOHN filed his Answer to JANE’s Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and a Counter Petition for Dissolution of Marriage on May 15, 2019.
  12. The parties jointly own a parcel of real property located at 2000 N. Clark Ave, Chicago, Illinois 60610.
  13. The parties acquired the marital property of, but not limited to, a 2010 Honda Civic and a 2015 Honda Accord.
  14. The parties possess the following bank or investment accounts:
    1. Fidelity Joint Checking Account (ending in 1001);
    1. JANE’s Chase Savings Account (ending in 1002);
    1. JANE’s Chase Bank Checking Account (ending in 1003);
    1. JANE’s Fidelity IRA account worth approximately $10,000 as of May 1, 2020;
    1. JOHN’s Chase 401(k) account worth approximately $100,000 as of May 31, 2020.          
  15. Each party shall be awarded the vehicle and real property that is currently in their possession. Each party shall be solely responsible for any and all debt, maintenance, liability, etc. in said property and shall indemnify and hold the other party harmless from the same.
  16. The parties have reached a total impasse as to the division of the retirement accounts acquired during the marriage, since separation, and any additional assets not previously disclosed or updated during the pendency of this litigation.
  17. There are no orders awarding either party any marital assets or the division of the parties respective property.
  18. The parties have entered into an Allocation of Parenting Time and Parenting Responsibilities.

Stipulated Exhibits to be Admitted at Trial

  • JANE’s financial affidavit dated May 1, 2019.
  • JOHN’s financial affidavit dated May 29, 2019.
  • A screenshot showing the sale of $100,000 in Chase 401(k) assets on June 1, 2019.
  • JOHN’s Responses to Interrogatories issued by JANE.
  • JANE’s Responses to Interrogatories issued by JOHN.

Remaining Issues to be Decided at Trial

  1.  The parties agree that the issues to be heard at trial are the following;
    1. Division of the retirement accounts.
    2. Attorney fees (Whether JOHN will be ordered to contribute towards JANE’s Attorney’s Fees and Costs).
    3. Whether JOHN shall contribute towards JANE’s maintenance
    4. Whether JOHN shall pay child support.

_________________________                                     ________________________

JANE DOE                                              JOHN DOE
Petitioner,                                                                     Respondent,

_________________________                                     ________________________

Russell D. Knight                                                         Oppo Counselieri

Attorney for Petitioner                                                 Attorney for Respondent
1165 N. Clark St., Suite 700                                        1 N. State St.

Chicago, IL 60610                                                      Chicago, IL 60601

 (T): 773.334.6311                                                       (T):

(F): 773.681-7317                                                        (F):
(E): russell@rdklegal.com                                           (E):

Doesn’t this stipulation make the judge’s job so much easier? All the facts and all the issues are there. If you’ll notice, there’s even a strong implication of what the judge should do. The judge will reward you for making his or her life easier and not having to slog through hours of testimony in order to establish what a two page stipulation can communicate.

Finally, there’s one last “stipulation” in an Illinois divorce that needs to be distinguished from the trial stipulations I’ve been discussing thus far.

Parties are encouraged to stipulate as to whether they’ll be resolving, via stipulation, outstanding attorney’s fees at the final hearing or not.

“After proofs have closed in the final hearing on all other issues between the parties (or in conjunction with the final hearing, if all parties so stipulate) and before judgment is entered, a party’s petition for contribution to fees and costs incurred in the proceeding shall be heard and decided” 750 ILCS 5/503(j)

In Cook County, there’s a form that stipulates as to whether the parties wish to proceed as an uncontested hearing and specifies whether they will address outstanding attorney’s fees or not.

The language of the form states.

“STIPULATION AND REQUEST TO HEAR UNCONTESTED CAUSE
We, the undersigned parties, STIPULATE AND AGREE that all matters pending between us, have been settled, agreed and compromised, freely and voluntarily after full disclosure, and we hereby REQUEST that this cause be heard as an uncontested matter. We further STIPULATE AND AGREE that:

  • we have waived our right to a CONTRIBUTION HEARING on the issue of fees and costs, pursuant to 750 ILCS 5/503
  • OR a CONTRIBUTION HEARING will occur subsequent to the prove-up and before Judgment.”

I only mention this particular type of stipulation as it is done in every case while stipulating evidence and facts for trial are rarely done. So, mention of a stipulation in an Illinois divorce case often causes family law practitioners to think of this particular stipulation.

If your Illinois divorce case is going to trial, consider making everyone’s job easier and preparing a stipulation. Contact my Chicago, Illinois divorce firm for a free consultation with an experienced Chicago divorce attorney.