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Illinois appeals court OKs maintenance award in sham marriage

After talking about annulment in our last post, we came across an unusual case involving an Illinois man and his Canadian wife. In divorce proceedings, the couple did not deny that they had never consummated the marriage. Usually, this would be grounds for an annulment, but that wasn't really an option -- because they had been married for 17 years.

The two married in 1993, but togetherness may not have been a high priority. By 2000, they had only cohabited for three months. A few years into the marriage, though, the husband became a U.S. citizen. For reasons not addressed in court documents, the wife, a Canadian citizen, never received a green card. (A green card allows a foreign national to live and work in the U.S. permanently. It does not grant citizenship.)

Court documents tell the story of a difficult relationship. The husband gave his wife money, but he forced her to sign IOUs. She claimed that he also torpedoed a job opportunity for her; he accused her prospective employer, a Ugandan ambassador, of sleeping with her.

Finally, in 2003, the husband filed for divorce. He did not tell his wife. The court granted a default judgment, but that wasn't the end of the marriage. When the wife discovered the divorce, she successfully petitioned the court to overturn the judgment. In the eyes of the law, they remained married.

Seven years later, and a year after a 19-day trial, a Cook County court granted the divorce. The husband was ordered to pay spousal maintenance of $1,000 per month for three years. The court also ordered him to pay about a third of his marital assets to his ex-spouse. She will receive $126,000 over a three-year period.

The wife appealed the judgment, though. Her attorney explained to the appeals court that three years of spousal maintenance was not enough. The wife is over 50 and has been unemployed since 2000. The court denied her appeal.

For family law professionals, the case poses a number of challenges. The immigration issues, the erroneous default judgment and the sham marriage itself aren't things you come across every day.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Appeals court: 'Shell marriage' will cost NU moral philosophy professor," Steve Schmadeke, Jan. 05, 2012

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