Posts

Preparation for a Family Court Trial

Your divorce and/or custody has been set for trial. With so much at stake, being well-prepared can help you feel more confident and calm. Here are some useful steps that can help you to prepare your case effectively in family court.

When parents divorce in the state of Illinois, their divorce settlement must outline a plan for different issues regarding their children. This plan should include child support, custody and visitation. Some parents are able to utilize mediation or work together to determine where their children will live and how much time will be spent with each parent.

There are some cases in which parents are unable to resolve custody disputes without legal intervention. In that situation, it is best to get a family lawyer to advise parents to prepare themselves for a potential child custody evaluation. Here’s some ways to prepare for a family court trial.

Preparing For Trial

Attorneys will guide you through the preparation process and help you gather evidence. Your job is to provide everything your attorney asks for and be 100% honest so they can prepare for arguments the other party may be compiling. 

If you plan on representing yourself, most legal experts would recommend consulting with an attorney to ensure you’re ready for court. This is different from hiring a lawyer to represent you since they will provide you with advice during meetings.

You’ll need to present evidence to support your case, which includes exhibits and witnesses. It’s always important to review the Illinois Rules of Evidence, and remember that witnesses cannot testify to hearsay.

Examples of Evidence You Can Provide

  • Bills and medical reports 
  • Photos/Videos of you and your child
  • Phone logs and visits with your child
  • A calendar showing when you care for your child
  • Anything that proves you to be fit as a parent and meets evidence requirements

It’s important to be prepared and have the judge know your stance on what is best for your child. You can do this by providing a parenting plan and parenting time schedule to trial. Along with all documents, bring a copy for the court, one for the other parent and one for yourself.

Witnesses can be anyone with knowledge relevant to the case. Parents almost always testify as witnesses. A child is more likely to do an interview with the judge outside of the courtroom, since the probability of them testifying is low. Expert witnesses provide professional opinions and are appointed by the court or hired by a party. Examples of expert witnesses are child custody evaluators or psychologists. Lay witnesses do not offer expert opinions, but they testify about their personal knowledge of a situation. These witnesses include family members, friends, and teachers.

Trial Scheduling

Trials usually take place several months after the initial filing. If the case is not progressing 18 months after filing, the judge may decide to issue a ruling at that time. Trials typically tend to be a few hours and will often be done in one sitting. 

Longer trials may be broken up into sessions spread out over days, weeks or, in some complicated cases, months. Be aware that the court may delay your trial date due to requests for more time from the other parent.

Trial Procedures

The parent who requested parental responsibilities, also known as the petitioner, may give an opening statement to explain how they see the case. The other parent, also known as the respondent, can then follow. 

If you are represented by an attorney, they will speak on your behalf. The petitioner calls witnesses and presents exhibits first. Any number of witnesses can be called to testify, as long as they were on the list that was filed with the court and provided to the other parent. 

Following Procedures:

  • Next, the respondent calls their witnesses and presents their exhibits.
  • Later, each side can submit additional evidence (called rebuttal evidence) to disprove the other side’s claims.

Finally, both parties give closing arguments to summarize their points. Judges announce rulings immediately following closing arguments, but they can take several days or weeks to decide. The final judgment replaces temporary orders previously put in place. Your options for changing a final judgment include appealing to a higher court or applying for a modification.

Final Thoughts

Masters Law Group understands that preparation for a family court trial can be a stressful situation. Our firm makes sure they are with you every step of the way. We currently handle family law matters in Cook County and surrounding counties and concentrate in the area of domestic relations, which includes divorce, allocation of parental responsibilities, child support and related family matters.

We offer a wide range of services tailored to our clients’ unique legal needs and have a unique depth of knowledge, experience and talent in the Family Law and Divorce field. Click here to set up a consultation today.

New Child Tax Credit 2021 for Parents Who Share Custody

As a part of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, monthly child credits are starting this July. But if you share custody with your ex-spouse, who claims the child tax credit? 

President Joe Biden recently signed into law the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act. Amongst other things, the legislation will increase the child tax credit to $3,000 per child ages 6 to 17 and $3,600 annually for children under 6 for the tax year 2021. Here’s what else you should know…

How Claiming Child Tax Credit Typically Works

When parents share joint custody, they usually work out a schedule according to their work requirements, housing arrangements and the children’s needs. This includes financial plans like which parent is eligible for child tax credit payments. 

However, if you are recently divorced or separated – or simply don’t have a plan in place – which parent claims the new tax credits? 

Fundamentals of the New Child Tax Credit

The American Rescue Plan temporarily expands the child tax credit for 2021 which aims to substantially reduce child poverty by supplementing the earnings of families receiving the tax credit. The U.S. Department of the Treasury states that Child Tax Credit has been revised in the following ways:

  1. The credit amount has been increased. The American Rescue Plan increased the amount of the Child Tax Credit from $2,000 to $3,600 for children under age 6, and $3,000 for other children under age 18.
  2. The credit’s scope has been expanded. Children 17 years old and younger, as opposed to 16 years old and younger, will now be covered by the Child Tax Credit.
  3. Credit amounts will be made through advance payments during 2021. Individuals eligible for a 2021 Child Tax Credit will receive advance payments of the individual’s credit, which the IRS and the Bureau of the Fiscal Service will make through periodic payments from July 1, to December 31, 2021. This change will allow struggling families to receive financial assistance now, rather than waiting until the 2022 tax filing season to receive the Child Tax Credit benefit.
  4. The credit is now fully refundable. By making the Child Tax Credit fully refundable, low- income households will be entitled to receive the full credit benefit, as significantly expanded and increased by the American Rescue Plan.
  5. The credit is now extended to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Territories. For the first time, low- income families residing in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Territories will receive this vital financial assistance to better support their children’s development and health and educational attainment.

To facilitate the disbursement of Child Tax Credit advance payments during 2021, the American Rescue Plan requires the IRS to establish an online portal for taxpayers to update relevant data for mid-year payment adjustments (for example, the birth of a child during 2021). In addition to this online tool, the Treasury Department and the IRS will carry out a sweeping public awareness campaign parallel to its Economic Impact Payment campaign to reach all Americans who may be eligible for this financial assistance.

What Are The Updated Requirements For The New Tax Credit?

There are net income limits and rules to be aware of. But simply put, if your adjusted gross income is $75,000 a year or less and you are a sole taxpayer, you can receive a full tax credit for your child. It fluctuates as your net income increases.

For now, the tax credit extends to:

Children ages 5< 

  • $3,600 per child

Children age 16<

  • $2,000 per child

Children age 17<

  • $3,000 per child

Children 18-24 currently enrolled in college and full-time status

  • $500 per child

To help see exactly how much money you’ll receive in advance, Kiplinger has released a Child Tax Credit Calculator. Try it out here.

Can Both Parents Receive The Monthly Payment In A Shared Custody Situation?

For parents who share custody, child support can sometimes add complications to their stimulus check total and eligibility. Furthermore, rules for the third payment have changed from the first two payments, removing a loophole that allowed some families to “double-dip” (both parents receiving their own dependent payment for the same child), among other major changes as listed earlier. If you are wondering if there are the same loopholes when it comes to claiming the new child tax credits, the short answer is “no”. Only one parent can claim a child and receive the credit.

So which parent gets the tax credits? When the terms of the divorce clearly identify a custodial parent — the parent who has primary custody of the child — that parent is legally entitled to claim the child as a dependent and receive any associated tax refunds. Many parents have a 50-50 custody agreement but don’t have a written agreement regarding which of the parents claims the child on their taxes. Whether you have primary custody or joint custody of a child after divorce, the fact remains that only one person can claim the child on each year’s tax forms.

Be aware that if you falsely claim your child, you will possibly have to pay all or a portion of that payment back the following year.

Can The Tax Credit Money Pay For Overdue Child Support?

If you are divorced and haven’t been paid the correct child support unfortunately, the tax credit cannot be used for overdue payments – according to the congressional research service. However, the credit you will claim in 2021 and 2022 can be subject to overdue child support CRS stated. 

What Action do Families Need to Take to Receive the Payment?

Most families won’t have to do anything to receive their child tax credit payment starting July 15. Similar to the stimulus payments, the CTC payments will be automatically deposited into the taxpayer’s bank account, or sent in the form of a prepaid debit card or paper check (depending on what information the IRS has on file for each qualifying taxpayer).

However, action should be taken for non-filers. Even those who made too little to file a 2020 tax return should do so now in order to receive the advanced monthly CTC payments in the future. The Treasury Department and the IRS say they will continue efforts to make more families aware of their eligibility.

Conclusion

If you have children or other dependents under the age of 17, you likely qualify for the Child Tax Credit that hits bank accounts July 17. When you address the issue of claiming children on taxes, it’s important to research your rights and make your claim correctly. 

If you need further assistance with a parenting plan or child support, you can contact Masters Law Group to schedule a consultation. We represent individuals in the Chicagoland area in both their initial quest to set a parenting time schedule, as well as parents looking to modify a previously determined schedule, child support orders and allocation of parental responsibilities.

 

Helpful Actions for Children While Going Through a Divorce

Each year, thousands of US children face the extreme stress associated with divorce. Parents should provide their children with understanding and support with patience, reassurance, and a listening ear as your children learn to cope with unfamiliar circumstances.

Going through the process of divorce is a challenging life transition for both parents and children. Many times the initial reaction is one of shock, sadness, frustration, anger, or worry. But kids also can come out of it better able to cope with stress, and many become more flexible, tolerant young adults. While you can’t make your child’s hurt go away, you can help them cope with the various disappointments divorce brings. Here are some suggestions to keep in mind.

Breaking the News

When it comes to telling your kids about your divorce, many parents freeze up. Of course how you tell your children is a very personal choice, but try to make the conversation a little easier on both yourself and your children by preparing what you’re going to say before you sit down to talk.

Because children often assume that they are somehow to blame, begin by letting them know what happened is definitely not their fault and they are loved by both parents – and that will never change. If possible, try to break the news together with your ex partner. By demonstrating solidarity and maturity, you will help paint a picture of a drama-free future as their minds race to “what now?”.

The discussion should fit the child’s age, maturity, and temperament; with younger children try to keep things simple, older teens will be more in tune with what you, as parents, have been going through, so more details will be beneficial.

Avoid the Blame Game

It’s vital to be honest with your kids, but without being critical of your spouse. Confining negativity and blame to private therapy sessions or conversations with friends outside the home will help children feel less “torn” between parents, therefore creating less stress on them.

If you and your ex can’t agree on matters like parenting time or allocation of parental responsibilities, save this information for your family law attorney as you navigate these new waters. Your message to the kids should be united, reassuring, and free of bickering and blame.

Expect the Unexpected

While many children will be confused, hurt, saddened and shocked, many also don’t react right away when faced with the news their parents are splitting. Sometimes it’s simply because they are overwhelmed and don’t know how to process the information, while others don’t want to upset their parents by acting as if everything is fine, or try to avoid any difficult feelings by denying that they feel any anger or sadness at the news. Let them know that that is OK, too and that they can talk when they are ready.

Whether your kids express fear, worry, or relief about your separation and divorce, they’ll want to know how their own day-to-day lives might change.

Be prepared to answer these possible questions:

  • Who will I live with?
  • Will I go to the same school?
  • Where will each parent live?
  • Where will we spend holidays?
  • Will I still get to see my friends?
  • Can I still do my favorite activities?

Being honest is not always easy when you don’t have all the answers or when children are feeling scared. But telling them what they need to know at that moment is always the right thing to do.

Helping Children Cope

Like any big life change, many children experience grief when parents are divorcing. Mourning for the family unit they once had is normal, but over time, you and your children need to work through the grieving process and accept and adapt to the new situation.

Here are some ways to help kids cope with the upset of a divorce, according to KidsHealth.org:

  • Encourage honesty. Kids need to know that their feelings are important to their parents and that they’ll be taken seriously.
  • Help them put their feelings into words. Kids’ behavior can often clue you in to their feelings of sadness or anger. You might say: “It seems as if you’re feeling sad right now. Do you know what’s making you feel so sad?” Be a good listener, even if it’s difficult for you to hear what they have to say.
  • Legitimize their feelings. Saying “I know you feel sad now” or “I know it feels lonely without dad here” lets kids know that their feelings are valid. It’s important to encourage kids to get it all out before you start offering ways to make it better. Let kids know it’s also OK to feel happy or relieved or excited about the future.
  • Offer support. Ask, “What do you think will help you feel better?” They might not be able to name something, but you can suggest a few ideas — maybe just to sit together, take a walk, or hold a favorite stuffed animal. Younger kids might especially appreciate an offer to call daddy on the phone or to make a picture to give to mommy when she comes at the end of the day.
  • Keep yourself healthy. For adults, separation and divorce is highly stressful. That pressure may be amplified by custody, property, and financial issues, which can bring out the worst in people. Finding ways to manage your own stress is essential for you and your entire family. Keeping yourself as physically and emotionally healthy as possible can help combat the effects of stress, and by making sure you’re taking care of your own needs, you can ensure that you’ll be in the best possible shape to take care of your kids.
  • Keep the details in check. Take care to ensure privacy when discussing the details of the divorce with friends, family, or your lawyer. Try to keep your interactions with your ex as civil as possible, especially when you’re interacting in front of the kids. Take the high road — don’t resort to blaming or name-calling within earshot of your kids, no matter what the circumstances of the separation. This is especially important in an “at fault” divorce where there have been especially hurtful events, like infidelity. Take care to keep letters, e-mails, and text messages in a secure location as kids will be naturally curious if there is a high-conflict situation going on at home.
  • Get help. This is not the time to go it alone. Find a support group, talk to others who have gone through this, use online resources, or ask your doctor or religious leaders to refer you to other resources. Getting help yourself sets a good example for your kids on how to make a healthy adjustment to this major change.

The process of explaining the issue and giving suggestions to your children will help them see divorce in a better perspective.

Adjusting to a New Life

While it’s good for kids to learn to be flexible, adjusting to many new circumstances at once can be very difficult. Help your kids adjust to change by providing as much stability and structure as possible in their daily lives.

It’s crucial that you and your ex create a schedule that lessens the likelihood that your child will experience divided loyalties because they may feel like they have to choose sides. When both parents work together to determine schools, activities, social calendars and all the other aspects of the child’s life, it fosters a cohesive daily experience for the child, no matter whose house they are at on a given day.

At the end of the day, children are the most important assets a married couple can own. When children are confident of the love of both of their parents, they have an easier time adjusting to co-parenting after divorce.

————————————————————————————————————————————–————————————————————————————————————————————–

Masters Law Group – Experienced Divorce and Family Law Attorneys

Divorce certainly has the potential to change the lives of parents and children, and while it is a difficult process, help and support is available.

Masters Law Group understands that divorce is a stressful situation for everyone involved. As such, we move through settlement negotiations, mediation or litigation with our clients assurance and well being in mind. Whether you are facing a contested divorce, uncontested divorce, or civil union divorce, our firm’s attorneys are ready to skillfully advocate for your position and provide your voice when you need it most.

Divorce cases involving children require specialized knowledge.  The attorneys at Masters Law Group are highly experienced in the following legal areas associated with separating parents:

Don’t go it alone. Schedule a Consultation with us here today to speak about your family law case.