Divorce is an all too common occurrence for many couples today. It’s also one of the most stressful life events a person can endure. Many couples face a hard choice of dissolving a marriage and being happier, or trying to stick it out for a variety of reasons ranging from children to the financial costs.
Many are under the misconception that divorce always has to be an expensive, long, and vitriolic process. That’s simply not the case. In fact, if you and your significant other are still on amicable enough terms there are a number of options that can save you time, money, and future headaches.
There’s no doubt that people who collaborate together, compromise, and act pragmatically end up having better, longer-lasting divorce resolutions. The more contentious a divorce, the more likely you’ll be going back to court eventually to renegotiate or, worse yet, argue again.
Before you go straight to a divorce lawyer to embark upon a contentious divorce process, consider these faster, simpler, and more affordable options.
One of the defining characteristics of the collaborative divorce process is the written agreement wherein both parties agree to keep the divorce out of the courts. Both parties should have their own attorneys trained in the collaborative divorce process and have the choice of using other collaboratively trained professionals. The collaborative process focuses on the family’s goals, needs, and interests. Both parties and their attorneys will negotiate toward an agreement with the pre-established goal of completing the process quickly, affordably, and in a manner that promotes cooperation and undistorted communication.
Because there are only minimal court appearances and no lengthy divorce fights, collaborative divorce tends to be a much more affordable option than divorce litigation. The terms agreed to in the collaborative process are generally easier for both parties to accept, as they were negotiated and agreed to with everyone’s cooperation, and the process stays focused on each parties’ needs and interests.
Negotiated Divorce Settlements
Negotiated divorce settlements are similar to collaborative divorce agreements except no trained collaborative professionals are required for the negotiated divorce process, and there is no agreement to stay out of court. In a negotiated settlement, both parties work together with their family law attorneys to negotiate an agreement.
If both parties are amicable and are in agreement on the general division of assets, debts, parenting time, and other important factors, then a negotiated divorce may be the ideal solution for them. Negotiated divorces are generally finalized more quickly than prolonged divorce litigation, and cost significantly less because there’s a diminished need for involvement of attorneys or courts.
Specially trained divorce mediators are available for divorcing couples who wish to cut court and legal costs and accomplish their dissolution quickly and without a lot of fighting. One of the mediator’s jobs will be to establish each party’s goals, needs, and interests, after which they will work on helping you develop a resolution that will provide the best outcome for all parties and the smoothest transition. Good mediators should be impartial, objective, and excel at keeping communication progressing in the right direction.
Mediation can be especially beneficial when the divorcing parties are parents to children. In addition to helping divorcing parties come to negotiated agreements, mediators are also trained to advise and help parents on transitioning their children into a two household family.
Divorce by its very nature is a contentious process, which is why it’s not overly surprisingly that many couples just can’t communicate, amicably or otherwise, in the manner required for mediation, collaboration, or negotiation. In these situations divorce litigation is often the only option.
There are also situations of impropriety, such as one party attempting to hide assets or accusations of abuse. In these circumstances divorce litigation is generally unavoidable.
In divorce litigation, a judge will be the final arbiter on issues of assets, children, maintenance, and support issues. There are many steps in the litigation process, beginning with a petition of divorce and ending with a trial, and a judgment for dissolution of marriage.
If you would like to learn more about the steps in between or would like to speak with an attorney about your divorce options, please contact the experienced family law attorneys at the Conniff Law Offices today.
Allocation of Parenting Time
The 2016 changes to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (the “Act”) appear to be the Illinois legislature’s acknowledgment that, in most households, both parents work, and children are becoming busier with school and extracurricular activities. This changing demographic requires each parent to accept more responsibility when it comes to their children. The Act now presumes that all parents are entitled to parenting time. When determining parenting time, formerly known as visitation, a judge will consider, among other elements, the level of involvement of each parent during the two (2) years immediately before a petition for allocation of parental responsibilities was filed. 750 ILCS 5/602.7(b)(3).
Along with the presumption that every parent is entitled to parenting time comes consequences for this presumption. Now, parenting time is not only a right, it is also a responsibility. A significant change to this section of the Act is the category described as “abuse of parenting time.” If a parent fails to exercise the parenting time allocated to him or her, the court has authority to use its contempt powers. This new addition to the Act will likely cause more litigation about parents who do not show up for their parenting time, or for parents who refuse to make a child available for the other parent’s parenting time.
Also, the Act now includes a section for the parent who has not been allocated any parental responsibilities. There is a presumption that a parent has a right to parenting time, unless it would “seriously endanger the child’s mental, moral, or physical health or significantly impair the child’s emotional development.” 750 ILCS 5/602.8(a). The Act redefines a “restriction” on parenting time as “any limitation or condition placed on parenting time including supervision.” (Emphasis added) 750 ILCS 5/600(i). The important addition is “or condition.” Now, if there is any argument over parenting time and a parent wants to impose a condition on another parent’s parenting time, that parent must show endangerment. This is yet another change to the Act that will likely lead to more litigation.
The Act was significantly revised to provide more controls and limitations on “relocation.” See 750 ILCS 5/600(g). The term “relocation” or “removal” means one parent’s moving a child’s residence away from his or her current residence and away from the other parent. Before the revisions to the Act, the parent requesting the removal could move the child anywhere in the State of Illinois without a court order; but a parent wanting to move with the child across state lines could not do so without a court order. For example, a parent could move his or her child from Chicago to Champaign, 140 miles downstate, without seeking the court’s permission, but would have to seek court permission to move the child 24 miles away to Indiana.
Fortunately, the Illinois legislature recognized that the old rule was not fair. Now the Act provides that a parent can move up to 25 miles across state lines or 50 miles within the State of Illinois without a court order. However, if a child and the parent seeking the removal live in the counties of Cook, DuPage, Kane, McHenry or Will, then the parent and child can only move up to 25 miles from the child’s current residence without a court order. 750 ILCS 5/609.2(h). Back to the example previously used, the parent wanting to move twenty-four (24) miles to Indiana with the child would now be able to do so without a court order; but the parent wanting to move to Champaign would not be able to do so without a court order. However, if the child moved with a parent to Indiana, the Illinois would continue to be the child’s home state.
It is important to remember that every case is different with varying circumstances and facts. Because of the potential for complicated and emotional issues for minor children of divorcing parents, it is best to choose an experienced attorney to advocate for yours and your children’s interests. With assistance from an experienced attorney, the parties can sometimes reach an agreement on a proposed parenting plan which in turn can avoid inconsistent and unpredictable allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time. At Conniff Law Offices, our attorneys are experienced in family law with years of combined experience in divorce and allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time. Contact one of our attorneys today to see if we can help you determine what choices will be best for you and your family.
Conniff Law Offices is proud to announce that James T. Keleher has become the firm’s newest partner. After working for ten years at Conniff Law Offices, this latest accomplishment for Mr. Keleher is a reflection of his continued hard work and dedication. In recent years, Mr. Keleher has made a name for himself both as a distinguished attorney among his peers in the legal profession and as a reliable and capable legal representative among his clients. Now a partner at Conniff Law Offices, Mr. Keleher brings to the firm a specialized experience in complex divorce litigation.
As a student at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, Mr. Keleher knew early on that he wanted to focus his legal profession exclusively on family law. His early awareness of his interest in family law has allowed him to accumulate a great deal of knowledge and experience in areas related to divorce, such as child custody, mediation, arbitration, and negotiation. This knowledge gives him a unique set of skills that makes him a highly capable attorney for clients who are pursuing their divorce either through litigated or alternative means. While at The John Marshall Law School, Mr. Keleher’s skills and ambition were recognized early on. He was named to the Dean’s List, received the CALI Award for scholastic excellence, and was nominated as a Who’s Who Among Students In American Universities and Colleges.
Since joining Conniff Law Offices as a Law Clerk in May 2005, Mr. Keleher has proven himself to be a committed and effective member of the firm’s team. After graduating from John Marshall Law School he was made an Associate at the firm before most recently being named a Partner. As a practicing attorney, Mr. Keleher has made a name for himself both in and out of the courtroom. In litigated cases he has been particularly successful in the area of child custody and he has had two child custody rulings affirmed on appeal. His clients have also recognized the value and professionalism of his service and he was awarded the Avvo 2015 Clients’ Choice Award as a result of their high satisfaction.
Mr. Keleher is also a member of the Chicago Bar Association and the West Suburban Bar Association. Furthermore, he has supported a number of charitable organizations, including Opportunity Knocks, the Kathleen Marian Garrigan Leadership Scholarship, and the Joshua Davis Scholarship Fund.
Mr. Keleher specializes in complex divorce litigation and brings his experience and knowledge of this important area of family law to Conniff Law Offices. As a firm that has already built up a considerable reputation in the family law community–especially in the areas of collaborative and mediated divorce–Mr. Keleher’s unique expertise makes Conniff Law Offices even more diverse and well-rounded in the services we offer our clients. For anyone who is considering a divorce, the team at Conniff Law Offices has the breadth and depth of knowledge and experience needed to help ensure clients’ needs and expectations are met throughout the divorce process.
Changes to Illinois Custody Law: Allocation of Parenting Responsibilities & A Parenting Plan, Part 1
The Illinois legislature’s recent changes to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (“the Act”) is an attempt to adapt to the ever-evolving parenting roles in today’s society. While there have been many revisions to the Act as of January 1, 2016, arguably the most drastic changes relate to child custody, visitation, and relocation. It is fair to say that the revisions to the Act reflect an intention to ease the negative effect that divorce has on children.
The most notable change is the elimination of the terms “custody” and “visitation.” Instead, a judge must make a determination of the “allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time.” A judge now must review a “proposed parenting plan” submitted by the parents. This parenting plan will include proposed parental responsibilities and a parenting time schedule. However, the change in terminology does not change the basic nature of what judges must do, which is to determine what is in the best interests of the child.
Allocation of Parental Responsibilities
“Parental decision-making responsibilities,” formerly known as “custody,” include four (4) categories of responsibility: health, education, extracurricular activities, and religion. 750 ILCS 5/602.5(b). These four categories are known as “significant decision-making responsibilities.”
Extracurricular activities is a recent addition to the list of parental responsibilities, formerly known as custody. For example, do I have to enroll the children in these activities? Can the other parent enroll the children in activities during my parenting time? Do I also have to take the children to the practice or lesson? Can my new spouse or significant other attend these activities? The addition of extracurricular activities to the statute reflects ongoing battles between parents over these issues.
Religion was previously considered an element of “custody.” The new Act, however, adds the requirement that there must be some evidence of an established religious tradition during the marriage before a court will make a decision about the child’s future religious upbringing, or a parent’s responsibility in continuing that tradition. This is an important change because it tells the court to keep a “hands off” approach unless there was an express or implied agreement between the parents regarding the child’s religion before their divorce.
Determining a Child’s Best Interests
There are also new factors to consider when a judge determines the child’s best interests. These new factors are: the ability of the parents to cooperate to make new decisions, level of conflict between parties to share decision-making, the distances between the parties’ residences, and the cost and difficulty of travel. These are important considerations for a judge when determining parental responsibilities.
Another significant change to the Act is the addition of the term “caretaking functions.” Some of these caretaking functions include: giving your child a bath, making sure your child goes to school and has good hygiene, providing moral and ethical guidance, and more. 750 ILCS 5/600(c). The newly added caretaking functions could cause more litigation. For example, will a parent be held liable if he or she omits or fails to supervise one or more of the elements described under “caretaking functions”? A parent could be subject to criticism in a court proceeding and subject to potential liability if another parent were to use failure to perform a caretaking function as evidence of deficient parenting skills.
Understanding More about the new Act
Contact the experienced and caring family law attorneys at Conniff Law Offices to discuss how you can craft a parenting plan that meets your family’s needs and the requirements of the new Act.