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Got Half? Property Division in Illinois

Marital property is any property or money that either spouse got during the marriage. If you cannot come to an agreement, a judge will have to make decisions about dividing your property and debt, and also about spousal support. 

Illinois may boast some of the lowest divorce rates in the nation, but think twice before you dub the state a lover’s paradise. In 2019, there were 1.3 divorces per thousand inhabitants in the state. However, this figure is a decrease from 1990, when the divorce rate was 3.8 divorces per thousand inhabitants.

One of the most controversial parts of the divorce process is often the division of marital property. Divorcing couples have the option of dividing property on their own with the help from a mediator, but couples who can’t reach an agreement will require court intervention. Illinois courts divide marital assets and debts according to “equitable distribution.”

Unlike other states that divide the marital estate exactly in half, Illinois instead considers a variety of factors to determine an asset division arrangement that is fair and reasonable on both ends. Here’s a couple of factors to consider when determining property division in Illinois.

Dividing and Distributing Assets

The first step in dividing property during a divorce is deciding whether property is marital or separate. Marital property includes most assets and debts a couple acquired during marriage. Separate property is if a spouse owned it before getting married or acquired it during marriage as a gift or inheritance. 

There are many factors at hand when you try to split up assets such as, how much each side has contributed (income, debt, as a homemaker etc.), the value of property, property hidden or destroyed in the course of the marriage, the length of a marriage and more:

  • Economic circumstances of each spouse
  • Child upbringing costs
  • Existing court maintenance orders
  • Financial contributions from previous marriages
  • Prenuptial or postnuptial agreements
  • The status of each spouse (i.e. age, health, occupation, employability)
  • Consequences of tax reallocation from a property division

Similar to property, debt is divided in a divorce. “Marital debt” means debts that a couple gets while they are married. Spouses are responsible for each other’s expenses for the family during their marriage. Marital debt can be divided in a divorce case.

One thing to keep in mind is that the court is obligated to ignore marital misconduct when dividing property unless it had an immediate impact on the property or assets of the marriage. The main goal of the property division is to be fair. It won’t always be an even split, it could turn into a 60/40 split or 70/30 as long as the court deems it to be fair.

Once the court has determined what is and isn’t marital and separate property, they will assign a monetary value to each item. Determining an item’s value can help both the couples and the judge determine whether a specific property distribution is fair and equitable. A spouse with more assets and a high earning career can potentially take on most of the debts in a divorce, while the lower-earning spouse could receive a greater share of the assets. An example of this would be if one of the spouses has a high net worth or owns complex assets, the property division process can become especially complicated since they are liquid assets. 

Couples can divide their assets and debts on their own by reaching a divorce settlement agreement. A settlement agreement should resolve all issues in your divorce. A judge will review any proposed settlement agreement and must approve it before your divorce can become final.

Divorce Mediation

As previously mentioned, working together with a mediator to come to an agreement over the dividing of the property will help the divorce move more quickly. This where instead of going to court and leaving the division of your hard-earned property and assets to court, you can opt to settle matters amicably. You can discuss the property division in the presence of a third party – or mediator – who will host the negotiations and help you and your spouse in reaching a fair settlement.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, trying to determine the division of marital and separate assets can be a lengthy process. One way to speed this process up is to do an audit of all of your household items. Make a detailed list and then go through it line by line with your spouse. If and when couples have trouble communicating, going through a family law attorney may be your best option.

If you are considering filing for divorce, the first step you should take is to contact our Chicago-based law office. When you need the assistance of an experienced family court attorney in the greater Chicagoland Area, we can help. We are dedicated to providing our clients with exceptional service and support, guiding our clients through the entire divorce process.

If you are going through a divorce and want an experienced property division attorney to handle your case, do not hesitate to call. Contact us here today to schedule your complimentary consultation.

Failing to Respond to the Divorce Petition

Whatever “side” took the initiative to begin divorce proceedings, resisting spouses can make the divorce process very difficult by refusing to sign the necessary divorce papers. Or even completely failing to respond altogether. Read on to learn how the process works on both sides and what happens if a spouse does not respond to divorce papers. 

Making the decision to end a divorce can be difficult and can be hard to navigate since there are many steps taken in order to finalize a divorce. A divorce process begins with one spouse filing a petition with the court. In Illinois, you are required to complete a number of documents, such as the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, Summons, and a few others, that are served to the defendant.

In some cases, an Injunction order or an Application for Temporary Matters are also served. These documents can either be served by a spouse in person to their partner, or through a process server, who is generally the county Sheriff. Here are some steps to help you navigate responding to a divorce petition.

Divorce Summons

After receiving divorce papers, you must file for appearance at the local courthouse. You can do so by visiting the clerk’s office of your county, where your spouse has filed for the Petition of Dissolution of Marriage. You will have to pay a certain fee for Appearance, showing that you acknowledge the papers and will participate in the divorce proceedings.

When a divorce petition is filed with the court, the court will issue a summons to be served with the divorce petition on the opposing party. The summons is a legal document that informs the opposing party that a divorce action has been filed. 

The service of the summons and divorce petition on the opposing party is a key step in the divorce process because it also informs the responding party of the deadline for filing an answer to the divorce petition. This deadline is very important because if the opposing party fails to answer or otherwise respond to the divorce petition, he or she may be barred from participating in the divorce process.

Failing To Respond To The Divorce Petition

The opposing party has 30 days in which to file a response to the divorce petition. The party is not required by law to file an answer or otherwise respond to the allegations contained in the divorce petition unless he or she chooses to do so. However, if the opposing party does not file an answer or other response, the court may assume that the party does not want to participate in the divorce process.

When an opposing party does not file an answer, the petitioning party files a motion for default judgment asking the court to grant him or her the relief sought in the divorce petition. If the court finds the opposing party is in default, the divorce process may continue without any further notice being provided to the defaulted party. In most cases, the court will grant the relief requested by the petitioning spouse in the divorce petition provided the relief sought is not “unconscionable.”

Do Not Ignore A Divorce Summons And Petition

The court may continue the divorce process without further notice to a defaulted party. Never ignore a summons and divorce petition. Even if you consent to the divorce and the relief sought in the petition, you still should have competent, experienced legal counsel to ensure that your rights are protected throughout the court proceedings. Things can change in a divorce proceeding very quickly and you do not want to be caught unaware or without legal representation.

It’s important to take the deadline seriously and make sure you take appropriate actions well before it so that you do not face any problems in the later stages of your divorce. You should make a decision about your legal representation, whether you are going to hire an attorney or go for a do-it-yourself divorce, within the first week. This will give you enough time to prepare and submit the required paperwork at the clerk’s office.

Final Thoughts

Ask your Family Law attorney to provide guidance for revising your financial records and assets. You may have to close joint accounts, and transfer your finances to a personal account, as well as cancel any credit cards that are in your name and your spouse has access to. If you have children, make sure you do not include them in the discord with your spouse. Resist exhibiting any behaviors that can impact the allocation of parental responsibilities, as well as parenting time in the parenting plan.

If you are considering filing for divorce, the first step you should take is to contact our office to schedule a consultation. When you need the assistance of an experienced family court attorney in the greater Chicagoland Area, call Masters Law Group. We are dedicated to providing our clients with exceptional service and support throughout the divorce process. 

Contact our office today to schedule your complimentary consultation.

 

Can Social Media Affect My Family Law Case?

Social media is a popular way to keep in touch and communicate with your loved ones, but it has also become an increasingly useful tactic to collect information for family law hearings. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are now being submitted as evidence in family law cases.

When you are going through a divorce, child custody, or placement battle with your ex, what you post on social media networks could come back to haunt you.

While it is not unusual for character witnesses to be called in family law cases, social sites can sometimes be used in a similar manner. Negative comments, images, offensive posts, and hostile interactions can all be submitted as evidence in custody cases. Partners can much more easily keep tabs on one another – and collect evidence against one another – by using social media.

Social Media Evidence in Hearings

Social media is affecting relationships and being used as ammunition in hearings. Lawyers can effectively use or defend against social media evidence in cases. According to the National Law Review, 

  • 81% of attorneys discover social networking evidence worth presenting in court. 
  • 66% of cases involving divorce employ Facebook as one of their principal evidence sources. 
  • 1/3 of all legal action in divorces cases is precipitated by affairs conducted online.

Not all evidence can be used in a divorce case. For example, an opposing attorney cannot open a fake account to “friend” or “connect” with their client’s spouse to obtain evidence.

Generally, public posts that can be inspected by anyone are fair game and can be submitted as evidence in court. If a “friend” or “connection” on a spouse’s social media account shares a post or text and that secondary post is seen by the spouse’s ex, that too, can typically be legally used as evidence in a divorce case.

What’s Fair Game and What’s Not

It is important to note that you should not delete items from your social media for the purpose of “hiding” bad evidence if you have a reason to believe that litigation may be coming. This may be considered spoliation of evidence. 

In most cases, a spouse’s social media posts are admissible as evidence in the U.S. as long as you don’t obtain them illegally. An example of obtaining evidence illegally would be if your estranged husband or wife created a false account with the purpose of “following” you to collect damning evidence. It’s illegal for your ex to hack your accounts to try to gain evidence.

For many, using social media is second nature. However, it is worth discussing your situation with a family law attorney to determine the best way to deal with any social media evidence that may hurt your case.

Social Media Can Affect Parental Responsibilities and Parenting Time

Divorcing parents often have disagreements about child custody and visitation which is officially called the “allocation of parental responsibilities” and “parenting time“ in Illinois. There are several ways that social media posts can influence child custody matters. 

Imagine a scenario in which a husband and wife each want to have the majority of parenting time with the children. If the wife posts pictures of herself going out to bars several nights of the week when she is allegedly caring for the children, this could call into question her desire and ability to take on a large amount of parental responsibility. 

It is important to remember that even if you have your social media account set to private, there are still many ways that your social media activity could be used against you during divorce proceedings. The best way to avoid negative consequences from social media during divorce may be to simply take a break from social media websites until the divorce is finalized.

Final Thoughts

It is important to be very cautious when using social media during divorce or other family law hearings. Masters Law Group takes social media into account when dealing with family law cases. Each case is uniquely different and the attorneys at Masters Law Group have the experience to help you during difficult times. Learn more and set up a consultation with us here today.

5 Signs It’s Time to Consider Divorce

Divorce can be a draining, time consuming process when it comes to legally dissolving one’s marriage with their former spouse. It’s important to recognize warning signs that it may be time to consider the divorce process. In doing so, it will lessen the blow of preparing for this emotional journey.

Signs it’s time to get a divorce can be a confusing, especially when there are children involved. Therefore deciding whether you’re in a failing marriage that’s beyond repair is obviously not a choice that comes easily.

It’s not always as black and white as infidelity or financial problems, and while divorce is no one’s plan in life, these red flags could mean the end of your marriage.

1. Lack of Communication

Communication is a key ingredient to a healthy relationship.  Even when it leads to a disagreement — it is important for spouses to understand how the other is feeling. Some might think that avoidance of conversation to prevent arguments is preferable to fighting with a spouse.

When conversation breaks down completely – and neither of you are willing to put forth the effort to learn about what each other is feeling – is a clear indication that the relationship may no longer be worth the ongoing upset. 

2. Avoiding your Partner

You start to find ways to avoid any interactions with them, and would rather have no contact than negative confrontation. You find yourself wanting to spend more time with friends and family. This can be a sign that things have changed on your end in a big way.

3. Change in Values and Priorities

In good relationships couples value the same things. People can change over periods of time which is completely normal and healthy in a relationship, but what they once used to value no longer matters to them any more.

It could be as small or as big as a partner changing a couple things in their lifestyle which forces a new way of life upon their partner. For example, one partner wants to move somewhere for a job opportunity while the other would rather not. Unless both people can adapt to significant changes like this, it can be a tough one to surpass.

4. Indifference inside and outside the relationship 

If negative thoughts have begun to override the way you see your partner, things may be headed for divorce. Prolonged feelings of indifference toward your spouse is a major sign that something is off within your marriage. When you stop caring about what the other person thinks and feels, you’ve lost the ability to listen and connect—which is not as easy to fix.

5. Lack of Intimacy 

Feeling close to your partner goes far beyond the physicality of the relationship.  The deficiency of emotional intimacy is equally as big of a sign as the more apparent lack of physical intimacy. If you feel like you can’t connect with your spouse on a deeper level—or don’t want to—you’ve lost an important part of the marriage.

It’s always possible to seek out counseling to find out what’s not working. But if you’re past the point of feeling attracted to your partner, divorce may be the next step. 

Final Thoughts

Breaking up a marriage can be one of the hardest things to do — but thinking long term is the best way to go about these types of situations. Divorce can be frightening and overwhelming. But when you break it down into small, manageable steps, like those outlined above, it becomes somewhat “do-able” to leave a relationship that no longer benefits you and your family. 

It could mean setting time aside to sit down and openly talk to your partner about your feelings, going to counseling or maybe even starting the separation process. Living unhappily is not necessary and there is usually a light at the end of every tunnel —if you look hard enough. 

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Getting a Same-Sex Divorce in Illinois.

Divorce is the last thing you think about when you and your spouse are exchanging vows. However, for different reasons, divorce happens. When it comes to divorce and child custody cases involving same-sex couples, there are many factors that can complicate the court’s ruling.

Along with the right to marry in Illinois (and every state in America), marriage equality laws also gave couples the right to divorce, regardless of where they live. But, in some cases, the divorce process can become complex.

Because same-sex marriage hasn’t been legal for too long, courts have broad discretion when making decisions about relationships that were in place long before the Supreme Court’s landmark decision. One of the biggest issues same-sex couples run into when they get divorced is determining how to award spousal and child support if the couple was living together as domestic partners much longer than their legal marriage. Same-sex couples often see one spouse adopt children and then they live as a family, without the benefit of a joint- or cross- or co-adoption.  That could spell disaster for the non-adopting parent.

Parental Responsibilities

Parental responsibilities are different for someone married to a child’s birth mother. The law spells out how the birth mother’s spouse can be the legal parent of the child. For two married men, adoption is often the route to parentage, for married women, the female who did not give birth also usually adopts the child/children.

Since 2016, instead of dividing up “custody” and “visitation,” divorcing parents make an “allocation of parental responsibilities.” Under the revised Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, only non-parents get visitation.

You must be a parent to have any parental responsibilities. Who’s a parent is determined by the Illinois Parentage Act. The Parentage Act spells out 4 ways the spouse of the birth mother can be legally presumed to be the child’s parent. The law below applies to both marriages and civil unions. It also applies to a male or female spouse of the birth mother. The four paths to parenthood are:

  1. The child is born while the spouses are married to each other.
  2. The child is born after the marriage is over. It must be within 300 days after that termination.
  3. The first 2 situations, but where the couple tried to enter into a marriage or civil union “in apparent compliance with the law.” However, that marriage or union is later terminated or declared invalid for some reason.
  4. A person marries the birth mother after the child is born. Plus, that person consents to being added to the child’s birth certificate.

Parenthood for two married men results from one being the child’s biological father, and the other adopting the child,. Or, it results from both spouses adopting a child together.

Same-Sex Divorce Procedure

Generally – asides from the issue of Child Custody (Parenting Time) – the divorce process for same-sex couples is not different compared to a divorce involving a heterosexual couple.

  1. File the Petition for ‘Dissolution of Marriage’. To properly file in Illinois, one or both parties must establish residency within the state for at least 90 days before commencement of the case. The petition must state whether the divorce action is sought on fault or no-fault grounds. (Contested or Uncontested).
  2. Serve the complaint on the other spouse.
  3. The other spouse files an answer to the petition or risks a default judgment from the court.
  4. The investigation and negotiation stage occurs, where the couple’s attorneys gather relevant evidence and prepare for a court appearance. The couple may also work toward a mutually-agreeable settlement through divorce mediation.
  5. A trial commences if no settlement is reached. At this stage, the divorce is granted, and the court determines issues like custody, child support, spousal maintenance and the division of the couple’s property.

Hiring the Right Experienced Same-Sex Divorce Attorney

If you are going through a same-sex divorce, you probably have many questions about the process.

By hiring a knowledgeable and experienced divorce attorney – who understands the unique challenges same-sex couples face – will ensure that your interests are protected during the dissolution of your marriage. How? Since it is possible to encounter judges or other court personnel who may have had limited interactions with same-sex divorces or same-sex individuals in general, it is important to have an attorney who is not only sensitive to the dynamic, but one who is well known by the Court and knowledgeable of the various laws.

Masters Law Group understands that divorce is a stressful situation and that our clients want to move on with their lives. As such, we move through settlement negotiations, mediation or litigation with our clients assurance and well being in mind.

Whether you are facing a same-sex 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 substantial assets or complex estates require specialized knowledge.  Masters Law Group is skilled at identifying and valuing assets and wealth, including real estate, securities, business interests, retirement funds, pension plans, tax shelters (domestic and foreign), overseas accounts, stock options, trusts and other actual or potential sources of wealth.

Don’t go it alone. Contact us here today to schedule a consultation.

 

Illinois Child Custody Basics: Allocation of Parental Responsibilities

Legally speaking, the term “child custody” is now called “parental responsibilities“. This includes parenting time and decision-making power. If you live in Illinois and are engaged in a custody battle for your child, you should know the basic rules and be able identify specific factors that courts consider in making custody decisions.

In a divorce proceeding, determining who will have residential custody of a child can be the most emotionally difficult part of the entire process. If you are a parent who is considering ending your marriage, you probably have concerns about how you and your ex-spouse will share responsibility of your child/children. Some couples are able to come to a custody agreement between themselves, however for many, couples require legal and court intervention.

FACTS ABOUT ALLOCATION OF PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITIES AND GUARDIANSHIP

There are three basic types of child allocation of parental responsibilities in Illinois — joint allocation of parental responsibilities, sole allocation of parental responsibilities and shared allocation of parental responsibilities:

Joint allocation of parental responsibilities requires parents to cooperate in decision-making regarding education, health care and religious instruction. It does not mean that the children live with each parent for an equal amount of time. The parties will agree or the court will assign a residential parent. The non-residential parent will pay child support and exercise parenting time. The amount of time the children spends with the non-residential parent is addressed in a parenting time agreement or order.

Sole allocation of parental responsibilities is the term that describes the arrangement that gives one parent the responsibility for deciding everything related to the child’s welfare. It does not mean that the other parent is out of the picture. Parenting Time and parenting time can be the same in a sole allocation of parental responsibilities case as it is in a joint allocation of parental responsibilities case.

Shared allocation of parental responsibilities is a form of joint allocation of parental responsibilities. It is appropriate when the child spends equal time with each parent, the parents reside in the same school district and are able to joint parent.

ILLINOIS-SPECIFIC LAWS

Illinois law encourages the “maximum involvement and cooperation of both parents regarding the physical, mental, moral, and emotional wellbeing of their child.” However, if the parents appear unable to agree on decisions about the major aspects of a child’s upbringing, the court is must decide how to allocate each of these responsibilities.

Illinois allocation of parental responsibility laws stipulate that children 14 and older may choose which parent to live with, but the judge may overrule this decision if he or she determines the child’s decision is not in his or her best interests. A parenting plan generally recognizes the following:

  • The continuity of the parent-child relationship typically is in the child’s best interest.
  • The needs of children change and grow as they mature.
  • Custodial parents make daily decisions (including emergencies) while child is with that particular parent.
  • Both parents are to have access to a child’s official records

Parenting responsibility plans also identify how children spend birthdays and other holidays (plus iron out details such as transportation arrangements, when supervision is required and other considerations.)

The newest changes made to Illinois child custody law were made back in 2016.  Highlights of those changes include:

  • As mentioned above, “custody” and “visitation” have been replaced with “allocation of parenting time and responsibilities” to describe when each parent is responsible for the child and what those responsibilities entail during that time.
  • The terms “joint decision-making” and “sole decision-making” have been added to describe whether one or both parents must make decisions about education, religion, medical care and extra-curricular activities.
  • A court order is required for the custodial parent to move more than 25 miles from their current location if they live in the Chicago metropolitan area.  If the residence is outside of the metropolitan area, a court order is required for a move greater than 50 miles.

GETTING STARTED

Beginning the allocation of parental responsibilities process can vary from county to county, but in general, this the steps to follow include:

  1. Familiarize yourself with your county’s rules. Consider seeking legal representation.
  2. File a petition. The petition may be submitted independently or as part of a divorce, separation, order of protection or parentage case. You must file all forms electronically, unless you have been granted an exemption.
  3. Notify the other parent you are asking for a certain amount of parental responsibilities. To do this, you must serve them a “summons” along with the filed petition. The server may be a sheriff’s deputy, a private process server, a private investigator or — with permission from the court — an adult with no relation to the case.
  4. Wait to hear from the other parent. The other parent has 30 days to respond.  If the parent does not respond, ask the court for a default judgment.
  5. File a parenting plan. Each parent has 120 days from the initial filing to submit a proposed parenting plan. These plans help the judge make custody decisions.

Masters Law Group LLC focuses on helping clients assert their rights to further the best interests of their children. We help clients put aside their grief and educate them about their options in child allocation of parental responsibilities.

If you are in the midst of a dispute regarding the allocation of parental responsibilities, contact our experienced attorneys here today.