Most court cases involve a moment in time: a crime was allegedly committed or an accident happened. A divorce, however, is an evolving situation. Because of the ongoing nature of a divorce case, the courts require frequent check-ins to ensure that the parties and their children (if applicable) are cooperating with the court’s requirements and not aggravating their deteriorating relationship as the divorce process winds down their marriage.
Most of a divorce case, discovery, mediation, negotiation, can be done without the supervision or recommendation of a judge. Sooner or later, an Illinois divorce case will be called for status. The frequency of the status calls is determined by local court rules.
“The number and frequency of automatic status calls during a calendar year shall be pursuant to order of the Presiding Judge of the Domestic Relations Division. Notice of the first status for any case shall be sent by the Clerk of the Circuit Court to the attorneys of record by postcard no less than thirty (30) days prior to the commencement of said call and shall also be published in a newspaper of general circulation and posted in the courtroom. All cases shall be called for status report no later than six (6) months after the case is filed. Failure of the petitioner to answer the status call shall result in a dismissal for want of prosecution.” Cook County Court Rule 13.4(h)
Some events like mediation or even reconciliation will be cause for a long break between status calls. In Cook County, those breaks are never more than six months apart.
“The order submitting an issue to mediation or the utilization of another form of ADR does not excuse the requirement of Cook Co. Cir. Ct. R. 13.4(h) that all cases shall be called for status report no later than 6 months after the case is filed. Failure of the petitioner to answer the status call shall result in a dismissal for want of prosecution.” Cook County Court Rule 13(e)(iv)(b)
Illinois divorce cases with children must be called within 90 days.
“In child custody proceedings…an initial case management conference pursuant to Rule 218 shall be held not later than 90 days after the petition or complaint has been served upon the respondent.” Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 904
Not surprisingly, cases with children require extra care from the court to ensure the parties are prioritizing the best interests of the children during the divorce process.
“In addition to other matters the court may choose to address, the initial conference shall cover the following issues:
(1)Parenting Education. The parents shall show proof of completion of an approved parenting education program as required by Rule 924, provide a fixed schedule for compliance, or show cause to excuse compliance;
(2) Allocation of Parental Responsibilities and Parenting Plan. The parents shall provide the court with an agreed order regarding allocation of parental responsibilities and an agreed parenting plan, if there is an agreement. In the event that the parents do not agree to a parenting plan, then each parent must submit a proposed parenting plan to the Court within 120 days after service or filing of a petition for allocation of parental responsibilities;
(3) Mediation. If there is no agreement regarding allocation of parental responsibilities or a parenting plan or both, the court shall schedule the matter for mediation in accordance with Rule 905(b) and shall advise each parent of the responsibilities imposed upon them by the pertinent local court rules.” Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 923
“If not previously resolved, the court shall address the appointment of a guardian ad litem or counsel for the child and counsel for any indigent party entitled to the assistance of appointed counsel at the initial case management conference.” Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 904
Outside of these deadlines, an Illinois divorce judge can do whatever they want with their court docket.
“[T]he trial court possesses the inherent authority to control its own docket and the course of litigation, including the authority to prevent undue delay in the disposition of cases caused by abuse of litigation process.” J.S.A. v. M.H., 863 N.E.2d 236, 244-45 (Ill. 2007)
Status Calls Vs. Case Management Conference
Status calls have a casual atmosphere. The judge is literally asking “what is the status of this case?” The judge is looking to see if either party needs a recommendation, a hearing or an order to move the case forward.
The more formal version of the status call is the case management conference.
“Case management conferences shall be held as prescribed by Illinois Supreme Court Rules 218, 904 and 923.” Cook County Rule 13.4(i)
In contrast to a status date, case management conferences have an agenda.
“At the [initial] conference counsel familiar with the case and authorized to act shall appear and the following shall be considered:
(1) the nature, issues, and complexity of the case;
(2) the simplification of the issues;
(3) amendments to the pleadings;
(4) the possibility of obtaining admissions of fact and of documents which will avoid unnecessary proof;
(5) limitations on discovery including:(i) the number and duration of depositions which may be taken;(ii) the area of expertise and the number of expert witnesses who may be called; and(iii) deadlines for the disclosure of witnesses and the completion of written discovery and depositions;
(6) the possibility of settlement and scheduling of a settlement conference;
(7) the advisability of alternative dispute resolution;
(8) the date on which the case should be ready for trial;
(9) the advisability of holding subsequent case management conferences; and
(10) any other matters which may aid in the disposition of the action including but not limited to issues involving electronically stored information and preservation.” Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 218(a)
After a case management conference, the court will determine what is necessary for the parties to proceed to trial. The court will order the parties to do what is necessary (usually discovery) and set a status date to confirm that the order was complied with.
“At the initial and any subsequent case management conference, the court shall set a date for a subsequent management conference or a trial date.” Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 218(b)
The court, satisfied that the parties are or will be prepared for trial, will set a trial date with appropriate deadlines for discovery in advance of that trial.
“At the case management conference, the court shall make an order which recites any action taken by the court, the agreements made by the parties as to any of the matters considered, and which specifies as the issues for trial those not disposed of at the conference. The order controls the subsequent course of the action unless modified. All dates set for the disclosure of witnesses, including rebuttal witnesses, and the completion of discovery shall be chosen to ensure that discovery will be completed not later than 60 days before the date on which the trial court reasonably anticipates that trial will commence, unless otherwise agreed by the parties. This rule is to be liberally construed to do substantial justice between and among the parties.” Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 218(c) (emphasis mine)
Sua Sponte Decisions During A Status Call In An Illinois Divorce
A status call is supposed to be a date where the court can provide direction to the parties in order for the parties come closer to settlement or closer to trial.
Often, however, the court will make immediate rulings at a status call without having a full hearing. These off-the-cuff rulings from the court are called “sua sponte decisions.”
Sua sponte means a court has acted “of his or its own will or motion ; voluntarily; without prompting or suggestion.” Black’s Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014)
Some Illinois courts “have approved the practice [of sua sponte decisions] under the rationale that a sua sponte disposition is proper under the inherent authority of a court to control its docket. Still others prohibit the practice entirely, reasoning that a petitioner must be given notice and the opportunity to respond (in the absence of any responsive pleading) before the trial court may rule.” People v. Vincent, 871 NE 2d 17 – Ill: Supreme Court 2007
Courts should not be making substantial rulings out of the blue without proper notice and hearing. The entire Anglo-American system is set up to provide due process which requires procedural fairness. The United States Supreme Court has opined:
“In our adversary system, in both civil and criminal cases, in the first instance and on appeal, we follow the principle of party presentation. That is, we rely on the parties to frame the issues for decision and assign to courts the role of neutral arbiter of matters the parties present. To the extent courts have approved departures from the party presentation principle in criminal cases, the justification has usually been to protect a pro se litigant’s rights. [Citation.] But as a general rule, [o]ur adversary system is designed around the premise that the parties know what is best for them, and are responsible for advancing the facts and arguments entitling them to relief.’ [Citation.] As cogently explained: [Courts] do not, or should not, sally forth each day looking for wrongs to right. We wait for cases to come to us, and when they do we normally decide only questions presented by the parties. Counsel almost always know a great deal more about their cases than we do * * *.’ [Citation.]” Greenlaw v. US, 554 US 237 – Supreme Court 2008
Any substantive order (anything that isn’t scheduling) must be agreed to. If not agreed, the parties can demand a hearing on the matter at a later date.
When there is no filed motion pending, a motion cannot be heard. Yazzin v. Meadox Surgimed, Inc., 586 NE 2d 533 – Ill: Appellate Court, 1st Dist., 5th Div. 1991
“Orders entered in the absence of a justiciable question properly presented to the court by the parties are void since they result from court action exceeding its jurisdiction.” Ligon v. Williams, 264 Ill. App. 3d 701, 707 (Ill. App. Ct. 1994)
Lack of a motion on file can easily be circumvented by either party making an oral motion.
“Courts, particularly volume courts, often deal with oral motions and honor those well taken.” Modern Mailing Systems v. McDaniels, 547 NE 2d 762 – Ill: Appellate Court, 4th Dist. 1989
“At a minimum, due process requires that a deprivation of property cannot occur without providing notice and an opportunity for a hearing appropriate to the nature of the case.” In re Marriage of Beyer and Parkis, 753 NE 2d 1032 – Ill: Appellate Court, 1st Dist., 1st Div. 2001
Notice is also required if any decisions are made in regards to child custody.
“When a proceeding for allocation of parental responsibilities is commenced, the party commencing the action must, at least 30 days before any hearing on the petition, serve a written notice and a copy of the petition on the child’s parent, guardian, person currently allocated parental responsibilities.” 750 ILCS 5/601.2(c)
Demanding hearings for decisions a judge will inevitably make is not a good use of the court’s time. Insisting on a hearing for everything may cloud the court’s opinion of you and your case. So, be wise as to your objections.
If you’re looking for an immediate decision from a judge in your Illinois divorce case, even at a status call, simply have written motions filed and noticed at a prior date. Those motions will be pending weeks or months later and you may request immediate ruling if the facts of your case warrant an immediate ruling.
Illinois divorce cases can seem like just a series of never-ending status calls but the experienced divorce practitioner can make much hay out of each five to thirty-minute appearance in front of a judge. At the very least, a status call is an opportunity to make a small impression on the judge about your case. Be sure that you are taking advantage of every opportunity you have in front of a judge…your family’s future might depend on it.