In In re Marriage of Armstrong, an Illinois appellate court held that although the Family Support Act uses the term "jurisdiction," it must be understood as only a procedural limit on when a trial court may modify a maintenance order issued in another state and not a precondition to the exercise of a trial court's inherent authority.
The spouses married in October 1993, in Illinois. Two children were born of the marriage. In July 2002 a Connecticut court ordered the dissolution of the spouse's marriage, and in February 2003 the same court ordered Husband to pay child support and maintenance. Shortly thereafter, the spouses relocated to DuPage County, Illinois, and the circuit court of DuPage County granted Husband's petition to enroll the Connecticut judgments. A few months later, Husband filed a petition to modify child support and maintenance. In July 2003, the DuPage County court issued an order lowering the amount of child support and maintenance but extended the time period that Husband was obligated to pay maintenance.
In March 2014, Wife filed a petition for a rule to show cause, alleging that Husband had failed to pay maintenance. In response, Husband filed a motion to dismiss Wife's petition and to vacate the DuPage County court's July 2003 order as void for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The trial court denied Husband's motion.
On appeal, Husband argued that the July 23, 2003, order was void for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, because only Connecticut, as the issuing state, had continuing, exclusive jurisdiction to modify maintenance, pursuant to Section 211 of the Family Support Act.
The jurisdictional challenge raised by Husband was premised on Section 211 of the Family Support Act, which provides:
- A tribunal of this State issuing a spousal-support order consistent with the law of this State has continuing, exclusive jurisdiction to modify the spousal-support order throughout the existence of the support obligation.
- A tribunal of this State may not modify a spousal-support order issued by a tribunal of another state having continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over that order under the law of that state.
- A tribunal of this State that has continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over a spousal-support order may serve as:
- an initiating tribunal to request a tribunal of another state to enforce the spousal-support order issued in this State; or
- a responding tribunal to enforce or modify its own spousal-support order.
Illinois Constitution Confers Subject Matter Jurisdiction
The Illinois appellate court explained that subject matter jurisdiction refers to a court's power to hear and determine cases of the general class to which the proceeding in question belongs. With the exception of the circuit court's power to review administrative actions, which is conferred by statute, a circuit court's subject matter jurisdiction is conferred entirely by the Illinois Constitution.
Under Section 9 of article VI of the Illinois Constitution, the jurisdiction of circuit courts extends to all "justiciable matters except when the Supreme Court has original and exclusive jurisdiction relating to redistricting of the General Assembly and to the ability of the Governor to serve or resume office." The Illinois appellate court explained that as long as a matter brought before a circuit court is justiciable and does not fall within the original and exclusive jurisdiction of the Illinois Supreme Court, the circuit court has subject matter jurisdiction to consider it.
Non-Compliance with Family Support Act Does Not Affect Jurisdiction
The Illinois appellate court explained that compliance with a statutory requisite presents a different matter from whether a circuit court has subject matter jurisdiction. Except when the proceeding is one for administrative review, a deviation from a statutory requirement does not divest the court of jurisdiction. A circuit court's subject matter jurisdiction over all justiciable matters is conferred by the Illinois Constitution and cannot be negated or divested by the failure to satisfy a certain statutory requirement or prerequisite. The Illinois appellate court went on to explain that where the Illinois General Assembly created a new justiciable matter through legislation (the Family Support Act) that identified rights or duties that had no counterpart in common law or at equity, the establishment of the new justiciable matter neither extends nor constrains a court's jurisdiction.
The Illinois appellate court explained that although section 211 uses the term "jurisdiction," it must be understood as only a procedural limit on when a trial court may modify a maintenance order issued in another state and not a precondition to the exercise of a trial court's inherent authority.
The Trial Court Had Jurisdiction to Consider Husband's Case
In May 2003, Husband filed a motion seeking modification of child support and maintenance due to a change in circumstances. The Illinois appellate court explained that the question of whether child support and maintenance should be modified clearly presented a justiciable matter. That is, Husband raised a claim falling within the general class of cases the trial court had the inherent power to hear and decide. The trial court therefore had subject matter jurisdiction to entertain Husband's motion. Whether or not the trial court should have considered Husband's motion on the merits does not implicate subject matter jurisdiction. At best, the judgment of July 2003 was voidable; it was not void for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Therefore, the Illinois appellate court held that the trial court properly denied Husband's section 2-1401(f) motion to vacate the trial court's judgment.