Using Collaborative Law to Resolve Family Legal Issues

Family law issues are deeply personal and private matters. In our legal system, a judge is the chief decision-maker who ultimately determines what is best for a family in terms of a divorce decree, a child custody order, a visitation schedule or spousal support award. There is another option, however, for those who wish to make these legal decisions for themselves: collaborative law.

In Illinois, the use of a collaborative approach for solutions to divorce, property division and support issues is a growing trend. Currently, there are attorneys practicing collaborative law in 16 counties in the state, including Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall and Will. For more information on this innovative method to resolving family law disputes, please review the information below.

What is collaborative law?

Collaborative Law recognizes that although a marriage is ending, obligations and relationships continue, especially when children are involved. It is a process for resolving legal disputes outside of the courtroom in a respectful, mutually agreeable manner. The parties generally sign a contract (a "participation agreement") agreeing to make a good faith effort to work together to come to an agreement on their family law issues. The parties agree to be honest and to fully disclose any and all information that may be relevant to the proceeding, including any documents.

Each party will retain his or her own attorney with specific training in collaborative law. The attorneys are still bound by their ethical and professional duties to their own clients — meaning each attorney will only represent one of the parties and will work diligently to protect his or her client's interests. Among the attorneys' roles in the process are to identify the relevant legal issues, create a framework for discussing and resolving these issues and help the parties communicate effectively with one another.

The parties set a schedule of meetings to discuss their particular family law issues and negotiate agreements. The atmosphere during these discussions is meant to be respectful and cooperative. If the parties are unwilling to work with one another or incapable of maintaining a professional attitude toward each other, the meetings can be temporarily or permanently discontinued.

Additional experts and specialists may be used to resolve certain issues. If the parties determine it is best to consult an expert, the expert will be retained jointly by both parties. Some examples of specialists who may be consulted include financial advisors, tax specialists, accountants and child specialists. Unlike the traditional court process, the role of these professionals is not to argue for one side over the other, but to help both parties jointly make the best decisions.
Once the parties have come to an agreement on their family law issues, the attorneys then will draft legal documents reflecting their agreement and submit them to the court for approval.

What happens if the parties cannot come to an agreement?

The goal of the collaborative process is encourage mutually agreeable solutions without the involvement of the court. If the parties cannot come to an agreement during the collaborative process, a mediator may be brought in to facilitate settlement. If this is unsuccessful, the Collaborative Law Attorneys are obligated to withdraw from the process and the parties will hire new counsel and use the traditional court process to resolve their differences.

In some cases, the parties may be able to come to an agreement on one issue — such as property distribution, for example — but not on the other family law issues. If this were to happen, they may submit the issue they were able to agree on to the court for final approval and then request the court settle the remaining issues between them.

The pledge made by the parties and the attorneys in the collaborative process is to avoid the adversarial process of the court and encourage settlement. If the parties resort to the court system, none of the experts, specialists or information shared during their collaborative discussions can be used in court.

Who is best-suited for this approach?

While any couple can use the collaborative approach, those who will reap the most benefits from the process are those willing to work together and able to commit to being respectful, honest partners working towards shared goals.

If there is too much anger, distrust and animosity between the parties — if they cannot speak to one another without yelling or they cannot stand to be in the same room together — collaborative law may not the best approach.

Collaborative Law is also not a suitable approach in divorce or other family law cases that involve allegations of domestic violence, substance abuse or mental illness.

What are the benefits of collaborative law over the traditional court system?

Collaborative law has several advantages over the adversarial court process:

* It gives families the power to make their own decisions about what is best for them instead of the court deciding for them
* It can be much cheaper than litigation
* It can be more efficient than litigation with quicker outcomes
* The process is confidential
* The process can be less emotionally draining than a court process

The collaborative approach will not be right for every family or every situation. Those parties who wish to put aside their differences to find a common ground, however, tend to find the process a satisfying means to resolve family law issues.

Unconventional penalty for late child support payees gaining momentum

Both federal and state governments all across the U.S. have passed laws that penalize parents who fail to pay child support orders mandated by court orders.

Under the federal Child Support Recovery Act, parents can face up to a maximum of six months in jail if they accrue past due child support payments that exceed $5,000. If parents accrue an arrearage of more than $10,000, they will face felony charges.

Individual states have passed similar laws. The state of Illinois, for example, will deem individuals in contempt of court and put them in jail.

One county located within the state of Michigan, however, is gaining widespread media attention for their latest, unconventional punishment assessed against parents who fail to pay court ordered support.

The "boot" proves successful

Typically, in the state of Michigan, those who fail to pay child support will face jail time. However, Ottawa County, located in the popular Grand Haven Michigan has decided to try a different route-they have opted to "boot" the person's car.

A "boot" is essentially a device that is attached to the wheel of a vehicle that prevents the car from moving. If a driver attempts to drive the car with the device, the device essentially will shred the vehicle's tire. So the driver can't get to work, and must get a new tire.

And, the initiative seems to be working. According to the Friend of the Court Department, child support payments have increased. Thus far, out of the 35 vehicles that have been booted, only two cases haven't been paid. A reported $17,000 total has been collected and provided to children in need.

Many say it's no surprise the program is a success. Many areas of the country simply don't have adequate public transportation for individuals to use as an alternative to getting around to a job. In some places, if you don't have a personal vehicle, it's likely you won't be going to work.

One deputy with the Ottawa County Sheriff's Department reported the desperation in some individuals. As soon as they seen someone with a boot to put on their vehicle, they take immediate action to pay the arrearage.

Interest gaining in other jurisdictions

Due to the effectiveness of the program, at least three other counties in Michigan have expressed interest. It's reported that individuals in charge of the program have even traveled to meet with authorities in those jurisdictions to provide an onsite demonstration.

It remains to be seen whether this new, unconventional initiative to help children receive the support they need will expand into other areas of the country.

The Basics on the Enforceability of Premarital Agreements in Illinois

Premarital agreements (also known as "prenuptial agreements" or "antenuptial agreements") are contracts that are entered into by two people prior to their marriage. Traditionally these agreements were used almost solely for very wealthy individuals, but they are becoming more common.

A popular use of them today is for second or subsequent marriages to dictate that property or funds will be reserved for children or grandchildren of a former marriage. Prenuptial agreements are versatile, and can be used to arrange for the disposal of property, set parameters for later spousal support/alimony payments, to protect family-owned business assets, and to limit future litigation.

Illinois is one of nearly 30 states that have adopted the basic concepts set forth in the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act (UPAA). The UPAA was enacted into law as the Illinois Uniform Premarital Agreement Act (IUPAA); it governs all premarital agreements signed in Illinois since January 1, 1990.

In addition to giving information about drafting enforceable premarital agreements, the IUPAA provides guidance for judges who must decide if an agreement should be voided. For example, a prenuptial agreement could be rendered unenforceable if the party who wants it voided can prove that:

  • There was never a written, signed record of the agreement
  • One party was under duress when signing the contract
  • One party either was not given adequate time to fully read the agreement, or the language was so dense that it was essentially unreadable to a layperson
  • There are provisions in the agreement that are unenforceable - like those containing illegalities or those attempting to contract away child support obligations
  • One or both parties has lied about income, debts, assets or other important information
  • Both parties were represented by a single attorney during negotiations of the premarital contract
  • The agreement is unconscionable

Of course, the validity and enforceability of every Illinois premarital agreement is a unique determination that must be made based on an analysis of the specific facts of a particular case. If you or a loved one have questions about drafting or enforcing a prenuptial contract, speak with an experienced family law attorney in your area for more information. The family law attorneys at Andrew Cores Family Law Group can help you understand the benefits of a prenuptial agreement and assist you in determining whether a prenuptial agreement is right for you.

Tips to Protect Your Credit During and After Divorce

Experienced Divorce Attorneys for DuPage County Business Owners

Divorce is a life-changing process. For some, divorce feels liberating. For others, going through a divorce causes significant stress and anxiety.

Divorce doesn't just affect your emotional well-being. It can affect your financial health as well. Wheaton divorce attorneys see far too many people who have been financially hurt in divorce, either by their former spouses' financial misdeeds, or by not fully recognizing what life will be like when the same income that supported one household must now support two households.

If you are going through a divorce, you need to take steps to protect your credit and your finances. Start with these tips:

Create a realistic budget: Your household income will be cut after a divorce. This means you need to prioritize your spending. Focus first on the essentials -housing, food and transportation; then see what else you can afford. In the divorce agreement, be realistic about what financial obligations you can take on. This is the time to reassess your family's needs and determine ways to effectively manage your financial future. It's far better to let things go than to go broke.

Assess your obligations: You and your spouse may have one or many joint credit cards that you used regularly. You probably also have credit accounts you totally forgot about, like store credit cards you stopped using years ago. Get a copy of your credit report so you can see every credit account you and your spouse have, and work to close all your joint accounts by the end of the divorce. You should also determine who are "authorized users" on your credit cards. Even if your account is not a joint account, if your spouse is an authorized user on your card, they can continue to incur charges on your credit card. After your divorce is finalized, you should ensure that all joint accounts are closed, that your spouse is no longer an authorized user on your credit cards, and consider obtaining new credit card numbers on your accounts.

Maintaining joint accounts after the divorce allows your credit score to be damaged by your ex's behavior, even if you are a responsible spender. It's better to not take the risk.

Determine how to pay joint debts: If possible, it is usually best to get rid of all joint financial obligations during the divorce process . If you have a joint mortgage, consider refinancing it in the name of the person who will keep the house. If it is not possible to refinance the home, you should discuss with your attorney options for protecting your interests, while only one spouse is staying in the home. If neither of you are staying in the home, consider selling it and dividing the profits.

Similarly, pay off credit cards if you are able. This will allow you to have a fresh start after the divorce that is debt free. However, if there are not sufficient assets to pay off all existing debts, you need to address how your debts will be paid after the divorce is finalized. It may be possible to transfer each person's portion to individual credit accounts. This way you won't be harmed if your former spouse doesn't keep current on the payments.

If you have to keep joint accounts, it's important to monitor them closely, even if you're not responsible for the payments. Get regular copies of the account statements and keep a close eye on your credit report.

Divorce doesn't have to be a financial mess, as long as you stay on top of your obligations.

If you are considering a divorce, it is important to consult with an experienced attorney who can assist you assessing your current and future financial situation. The family law attorneys at Andrew Cores Family Law Group can discuss with you in detail the divorce process, your financial options incident to a divorce and help you better understand your changing financial circumstances during this stressful period of your life.

Separate Lives - One Roof: Divorced Roommates Common in Illinois

DuPage County Foreclosures Impact Divorced Spouses Living Together

Between January and June of this year, the number of Illinois couples filing foreclosure papers increased by 29 percent — twice as high as the national average. In Cook County, during the month of July, one in every 401 homeowners were served with foreclosure actions.

While Illinois is one of the hardest hit states, much of the nation currently suffers from a similar trend.

For couples going through a divorce, or considering one, this continued decline in the housing market is forcing tough decisions and giving rise to some interesting living arrangements. Even couples who have already been legally separated now often find themselves sharing a home — sharing chores, time with the children, dinners and the other intricacies of day-to-day "family living."

It may seem like an unusual situation, but the "divorced roommates" phenomenon is far from rare. While some divorced couples have worked out a smoothly operating plan and exist in relative peace, this is almost always a choice made of necessity, not desire.

Even though most divorcing couples put their house up for sale, the struggling economy often means few potential buyers. When homebuyers do appear, there are so many houses to choose from that the chances of finding a buyer and acceptable price may be slim.

With Illinois ranking in the top ten nationally for foreclosures, it may take some time for things to improve.

For those couples continuing to stay in a single home despite changes in family dynamic, the increasing number of families in their situation shows that, while potentially difficult, co-habiting during a divorce is possible. If you are considering such an arrangement, however, you should be aware of potential legal roadblocks that may arise. Contact an attorney for help with saving money during a divorce.

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DuPage County Divorce Attorneys

DuPage County Divorce Attorneys

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Wheaton Office

400 S. County Farm Road
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Wheaton, IL 60187

630-871-1002

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Suite 334
Oswego, IL 60543

630-518-4002

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In response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19), our law firm's priority is keeping our clients and employees healthy and safe.

We are not conducting in-person meetings at this time, but remain available for video conferences and phone calls for any and all matters. We also remain available for all emergencies. We are closely monitoring court closures in DuPage, Kendall, Cook, Will, Kane, and the surrounding counties and will be in touch should there be postponements or delays in your case.

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