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HRK Prevails on Property Classification

HRK prevails on issue of property classification at First District Appellate Court

HRK recently appealed a Judgment obtained at trial at the First District Appellate Court in the matter of In re Marriage of Solomon, 2016 App (1st) 142969-U (an unpublished opinion). While the Appellate Court affirmed one of the appealed issues, it reversed the ruling of the trial court that jewelry given to Appellant Wife during the marriage was marital property, and that the property would have otherwise been returned to Husband. The Appellate Court found that the property was a gift to Wife, making it her non-marital property.

During the marriage, Husband had given Wife possession of his mother's jewelry collection. Wife had full control of the pieces, even modifying them as she desired. Wife testified that Husband had told her the pieces were a gift to her, as a token of his gratitude for Wife's care for his mother prior to her death. Husband testified at trial that at no time was a gift made to Wife, and that he was simply allowing her to use the pieces during her lifetime, as a life estate, to be donated to Northwestern Memorial Hospital upon her death. Wife presented documentary evidence that Husband had prepared during discovery, which was a document Husband had authored during discovery that was entitled "Items I gifted to [wife] from my mother's jewelry collection."

In its judgment for dissolution of marriage, the circuit court found that because there was no formal record in the party's antenuptial agreement gifting the jewelry to Wife, "the court [was] left only with the testimony and credibility of the parties in determining the status of...jewelry" and that the Husband's testimony was more credible than the Wife's testimony. The court did not consider the documentary evidence, and ordered the jewelry to be returned to Husband.

The Appellate Court reversed this ruling, finding that "when a husband voluntarily transfers property to his wife as a gift, without fraud or coercion, and the husband and wife provide conflicting testimony, the circuit court must consider the documentary evidence, to determine whether there is clear and convincing evidence that a gift occurred between spouses." The circuit court's failure to consider the document that Husband had authored was held to be an error, because it should have been given more weight than the parties' conflicting testimony. The court cited to Welch v. Worsley, 330 Ill.172 (1928) and Vallarta v. Lee Optical or Missouri, Inc. (1973) in support of this proposition. Furthermore, the Appellate Court found that the circuit court's finding that Husband lacked donative intent was against the manifest weight of the evidence.

The Appellate Court also opined that "under Illinois law, it is well settled that property voluntarily conveyed by a husband to a wife, without fraud or coercion, is presumed to be a gift." The Wife was ultimately a judgment with respect to the ownership of the jewelry.

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