Tag Archive for: Parenting time

The Role of Mediation in Resolving Family Law Disputes

Family law disputes can be emotionally and financially taxing for all involved parties. Fortunately, mediation can help.

Divorce Mediation is a peace-making practice dedicated entirely to couples committed to approaching the end of a marriage with honesty, integrity, and reason.

The aim is for divorcing spouses to reach constructive divorce settlements by avoiding litigation’s emotional and financial toll and without court intervention.

In this blog, we will explore the role of mediation in resolving family law disputes. Here’s what you need to know.

What is Mediation?

Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) that involves a neutral third party who facilitates communication between the parties to help them reach a mutually beneficial solution. Unlike a judge, the mediator does not make decisions for the parties; instead, they help the parties reach their agreement.

Mediation typically begins with both parties meeting with their mediator to discuss the issues at hand. The mediator then facilitates communication between the parties, helping them to identify and address their concerns. Once an agreement is reached, the mediator will draft a written contract that both parties can sign.

In some cases, mediation may not be successful. However, even in these situations, the parties may better understand each other’s positions and concerns, making future negotiations more straightforward. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of mediation.

1. Cost Savings

The rising costs of divorce have made it increasingly difficult for couples to pursue traditional litigation. However, mediation offers a more cost-effective alternative to conventional litigation, allowing parties to save on legal fees and avoid the costs of lengthy court battles.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of legal services increased by 4.9% in March 2023 compared to the same period last year. With inflation rates remaining high, the cost of divorce will likely continue to rise, making mediation an attractive option for those seeking a more affordable way to resolve family law disputes.

2. Flexibility

When parties opt for traditional litigation in family law disputes, they are at the mercy of the court’s calendar. A judge has multiple cases on their docket and will determine the day and time of an appearance. Because of this, it could result in a delay of weeks or even months. Mediation, on the other hand, allows the parties and counsel to weigh in on scheduling and how the case is to be heard.

In some situations, the proceeding might be a hybrid, in that some individuals appear in person and others participate remotely. This flexibility allows parties to choose a date and time that works for them and participate in the mediation process most conveniently.

Additionally, parties can work with a mediator outside the court’s calendar since mediation is voluntary. This can result in a faster resolution and a more positive experience.

3. Time Savings and Continuity 

Family law cases that go to trial involve major disputes over finances and children and can take time to resolve, prolonging one of the most painful events in a person’s life. The impact of such a trial can be significant, affecting finances, job performance, mental health, and overall well-being.

In contrast, mediation offers a streamlined and efficient process for resolving family law disputes. Mediation minimizes time away from work, children, and other essential aspects of life. Parties can work together to schedule mediation sessions at times that suit their work and family obligations.

Once the mediator establishes rapport with the parties, it is essential to maintain a productive conversation. Agreement on more minor issues can lead to the resolution of larger ones. This incremental approach helps to build trust between the parties and encourages them to find common ground.

4. Privacy

Divorce is one of the most stressful life events, and finding ways to lessen the impact of this stress on the family is crucial. Divorce proceedings can bring additional scrutiny and enhance the anxiety associated with the experience. Courtrooms are open, as they should be, but this can add to the stress of the situation.

Mediation offers a more private, confidential, and intimate setting, which can help to alleviate some of the stress associated with divorce. Parties can work together to resolve their issues in a safe and comfortable environment without the added pressure of a public courtroom setting.

The confidentiality of the mediation process can also be beneficial for families. Mediation agreements are typically confidential, meaning the dispute and resolution details are kept private. It can help protect the parties’ privacy and avoid potential negative publicity from a public trial.

5. Long-Term Results

Mediation can provide long-term benefits for parties involved in family law disputes. One of the key advantages of mediation is that it allows parties to reach a resolution tailored to their unique needs and circumstances.

Choosing mediation can result in a more sustainable agreement that is less likely to result in future conflicts. In addition, mediation encourages parties to communicate openly and work together to find common ground, which can improve their relationship and pave the way for better co-parenting and co-existence in the future.

Finally, mediation is less adversarial than traditional litigation. It can help minimize the adverse emotional and psychological effects of divorce and other family law disputes, which can have long-term benefits for all involved.

Final Thoughts

Serving clients in Cook County and DuPage County Illinois, at Masters Law Group, our experienced attorneys understand that divorce is a stressful situation for everyone involved. As such, we prioritize our clients’ assurance and well-being throughout the mediation process.

Whether you are facing mediation, a contested, uncontested, or a civil union divorce, our attorneys are ready to skillfully advocate for your position and provide your voice when you need it most.

No one should go through a family law case alone. Contact us here today to schedule a consultation.

Co-Parenting and The Impact on Child Support

As family dynamics diversify, co-parenting is becoming increasingly popular. But this child-centered approach to parental separation has its own set of opportunities (such as consistency) and challenges (such as who is responsible for child support). Here’s what you should know. 

Co-parenting is a form of parenting relationship in which the two parents are not involved romantically with each other, but assume the joint responsibility of the child. It can be described as any two people jointly raising a minor, irrespective of whether or not they are biological parents. But, in the majority of cases, co-parenting comes after a divorce, separation or a breakup involving a child.

After divorcing (or legally separating), working with your child’s other parent may be uncomfortable to say the least. But making the effort to cooperate with your co-parent  makes things easier for everyone involved. Especially the child/children.

Navigating co-parenting is no easy feat and it can raise questions about the financial obligations of each parent. Let’s dive into the complex world of co-parenting and child support to learn more.

Co-Parenting in Illinois

In Illinois, co-parenting is commonly referred to as joint parenting. Joint parenting refers to an arrangement in which both parents share parental responsibilities and decision-making for the child. The purpose of joint parenting is to ensure that both parents remain involved in the child’s life and that the child’s best interests are always prioritized.

In order to establish joint parenting in Illinois, both parents must submit a parenting plan to the court. The parenting plan should include details about how parental responsibilities will be divided. It should also include decision-making authority, parenting time, and child support.

Child Support Orders

A child support order is determined by what is reasonable and necessary for the support of the child or children. It is presumed that the guideline support amounts represent the amount of support that is reasonable and necessary, unless it can be demonstrated to the court that circumstances exist that would make the guideline amount inappropriate.

Child support is utilized for the child or children’s expenses and looking at the best interests of the child or children to provide a stable home for the child or children. Some common expenses that are associated with child support are:

  • The child’s residence expenses such as mortgage or rent.
  • Utilities such as electricity, gas, and water.
  • The child’s educational expenses such as notebooks, pens, paper, books, sports fees, band fees, etc.
  • The child’s food expenses.
  • The child’s medical expenses. (Illinois Child Support Laws that went into effect on January 1st, 2022 requires that during child support proceedings parents must obtain or maintain health insurance coverage for their child or children.)

If you are concerned about how the court will calculate the child support amount and/or if you are concerned whether your child or children will receive the financial support they need, you should contact your trusted family law attorney.

Impact on Child Support

In Illinois, child support is calculated based on several factors. This includes each parent’s income, the number of children, and the amount of parenting time each parent has. When parents share custody in a co-parenting arrangement, child support is typically calculated differently than in cases where one parent has primary custody.

Under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, when parents share custody, child support is calculated based on the “income shares” model. The amount of child support is calculated by determining the total cost of raising the child, and then dividing that cost between the parents based on their incomes. The amended income shares child support guidelines model became effective on January 1, 2019, signed into law as Public Act 100-0923 on August 17, 2018.

It’s important to note that in Illinois, child support obligations are not just financial. Parents who share custody in a co-parenting arrangement are also responsible for making sure their children’s emotional and physical needs are met. This includes the following:

  • Providing a stable and supportive home environment
  • Making decisions about education and healthcare
  • Facilitating communication between the child and both parents.

Co-parenting can be a rewarding and fulfilling way to raise children after a separation or divorce. However, it’s important for parents to work together to ensure that their children’s needs are being met, both financially and emotionally. If you feel your current situation and contract is unjust or incorrect, contact your family law attorney to discuss whether you are eligible for a modification of the order.

Modification of Child Support

In some cases, a parent may experience substantial changes to their financial situation that makes it challenging (or impossible) for them to pay the court-ordered amount of child support. In such cases, the parent can request a modification of the child support order.

To modify a child support obligation in Illinois, you must file a petition with the court that has jurisdiction over your case. The petition should explain the basis for the requested modification and the change in child support obligation you are seeking from the court.

Since the petition is for modifying an existing order, there is no need to have it served by a sheriff. Instead, you can serve notice of the petition through mail at the responding party’s last known address. Note that if the petition seeks additional court action besides the modification of child support, such as a change in parental time and responsibility, it must be served through certified mail at least 30 days prior to the hearing date.

It’s essential to remember that you cannot modify child support through self-help in Illinois. Even if the other party fails to comply with visitation rights, you cannot suspend child support payments without obtaining a court order.

If you find yourself in a situation where you need to modify a child support order, it’s always best to consult with a family lawyer.

How We Can Help

The options that come with parenting children after divorce or separation have drastically changed in recent decades. While it can be a blessing to many families who have separated on civil terms, it can be hard to navigate when animosity is present.

At Masters Law Group, we understand the laws and the court process inside and out, giving us the necessary knowledge and experience to ensure that your child is properly provided for.

For experienced legal help with your child support orders, parenting time, and more, contact us today to set up a complimentary consultation.

Post-Divorce Modifications in Illinois

Divorce can be an emotionally charged process, but even after it is finalized, there may be situations that arise that require a modification.

If you are a resident of Illinois, you may have questions about the post-divorce modification process. Whether you are currently in the middle of a divorce, or have already finalized your divorce, this blog will provide you with valuable information and insights.

Marriage Doesn’t Always Run Smoothly

The United States has the sixth highest divorce rate in the world, with 40% to 50% of married couples filing for a divorce. Usually, second or third marriages in the United States have a higher divorce rate: 60% of second marriages and about 73% of third marriages end in divorce.

While Illinois has one of the lowest divorce rates in the nation, it still has an average of 6.2 divorces per thousand marriages.

U.S. states with the lowest divorce rate

With these large numbers of divorces occurring each year, there will be some cases where post-divorce disputes arise.

What is a post-divorce Dispute?

Also known as a post-decree dispute, post-divorce disputes often arise when one party does not fulfill obligations indicated in the divorce settlement. Often, one ex-spouse determines that the other has violated a court order relating to the divorce, for example, when one ex-spouse fails to pay court-ordered alimony.

Some of the most common issues involve:

  • the payment of college expenses,
  • recalculations of child support and emancipation of children,
  • as well as modifications of maintenance.

Illinois has specific legal standards that relate to each of these issues, and we can help inform you of the law that relates to your post-judgment issue.

Many individuals are eager to close this chapter of their lives and move on. However, there may be situations in the future where the court-ordered arrangements may need to be adjusted. This blog is an essential resource for anyone going through post-divorce modification in Illinois. Below, we will cover common questions about post-modification.

POST-DIVORCE MODIFICATIONS IN ILLINOIS

In order to change your divorce decree, parenting plan, or other court orders from your divorce, you must file a Petition for Modification. To initiate the process, you must file a petition with the circuit court in the county where the original order was entered. Your ex-spouse must be served the Petition, and they can then choose to file a Response. 

The court will then schedule a hearing where both parties can present evidence and argue their case. The judge will then consider the evidence and decide if modifications are necessary. If modifications are approved, a new court order outlining the changes will be issued. Both parties must agree on its terms moving forward.

How Do I Know If I Qualify for Post-Divorce Modification?

Typically, modifications to divorce orders will only be approved if substantial changes in circumstances have happened since the original decree was entered. This change could be changes in any of the following:

  • Income and financial resources.
  • Living arrangements.
  • Changes to health and well-being.
  • Changes in need of you or your children. 

The changes must be significant enough to require alterations to the previous orders. Sometimes, modifications are sought due to unforeseen events or issues that were not considered during the divorce, such as uncovered debts or the reappearance of a pre-existing health issue.

What is considered a Major Change in Circumstances?

To modify child custody or other orders established during a divorce, it’s necessary to demonstrate substantial changes that have impacted you and your family. These changes could include changes in financial resources, such as job loss or a health condition that affects one’s ability to work. 

Other events that have affected family members, like remarriage, health problems affecting a parent’s child care capabilities, plans to move, or criminal charges leading to jail time or restrictions, may also play a role in these cases.

How Long Do I Have to Wait to Modify Child Custody After My Divorce?

In Illinois, changes to the allocation of parental responsibilities cannot be made within 2 years of a child custody order being put in place, unless a child’s safety is at risk. A parent must provide evidence that the current custody arrangement poses a risk to the child’s physical, psychological, or emotional well-being.

In contrast, modifications to parenting time can be requested without a waiting period. These requests may be made if there has been a considerable change that impacts the child’s best interests or for minor adjustments. This must be agreed upon by both parents and it needs to reflect the current arrangement. Additionally, modifications can be made if the court was unaware of these circumstances that would have affected the original child custody decision.

Can Changes be Made on Property Division?

Typically, court orders for the division of marital property are final and cannot be altered after the divorce is completed. However, in certain situations, a couple may need to go back to court to handle issues that came up or were discovered post-divorce. 

For instance, if you find out that your spouse had undisclosed assets or didn’t provide required financial information during the divorce, you can file a petition to revisit the case. This would ensure an equitable distribution of all marital assets. There are many factors at hand when you try to split up assets. Here are just a few that are considered:

  • 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

Next Steps To Consider

If you are going through the post-divorce modification process in Illinois, it’s important to protect you and your family. Consider the following steps:

  • Review your divorce agreement to see what can and cannot be modified.
  • Determine if a substantial change in circumstances has occurred.
  • Consider consulting an attorney to help you navigate the process and provide you with guidance on your legal rights and options.
  • Gather relevant documentation such as financial records, medical records, or other evidence that may support your request for modification.
  • File the petition with the circuit court in the county where the original order was made.
  • Attend the court hearing and provide evidence to support your request for modification.
  • Be prepared for possible outcomes, such as modification granted, denied, or delayed.

It is important to keep in mind that the legal process of modifying a divorce decree can be complex and time-consuming, and seeking the help of a skilled family law attorney can be helpful in ensuring that your rights and interests are protected.

Last Thoughts

Navigating divorce can prove challenging for all involved parties. If you are considering filing for a post-divorce modification, it’s important to speak with an experienced Illinois divorce attorney. At Masters Law Group, our seasoned attorneys can review your case and provide guidance on how to move forward with applicable modifications.

Masters Law Group ALWAYS advocates on your behalf to make sure your rights are protected and family needs are legally met. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

What are my Legal Rights As a Birth Parent of an Adopted Child?

Adoption, like childbirth, is a life-changing event in your life. If you are seeking to adopt a child, or if you have already started the adoption process but you are encountering legal barriers, you will need to be advised by the right legal team. Learn about a biological parent’s rights after an adoption below. 

Deciding to give up a child for adoption is a very difficult decision and definitely should not be committed until you, as the biological parent, have fully understood what this means for your parental rights. Once the adoption process is finalized, you have relinquished your parental rights and responsibilities by law. However, during the pregnancy, you have undeniable parental adoption rights throughout the adoption process. 

If you are considering adoption, it is important to know the limits of your parental rights and how they may affect you long-term. 

First, let’s discuss the rights you do have prior to the adoption, during pregnancy.

The Right to Change Your Mind at Any Time

Prior to completing any adoption paperwork, the birth mother has a legal right to change her mind at any point in the process. This means you will always have the option to parent your child, whether you change your mind early in pregnancy, after you’ve met the adoptive parents, or even after you’ve given birth, as long as no paperwork has been completed. Your adoption specialist will respect these inherent legal rights you have as the biological parent. 

The Right to Create Your Own Adoption Plan and Choose the Adoptive Family

As the birth mother, you have the right to create your own adoption plan from start to finish. You will have an adoption specialist with you to support and help you through the process, but you should never be forced into making decisions you’re not comfortable with. Once of the decisions you also get to decide is if it’s going to be an open or closed adoption. With open adoption, you also have the right to choose the family that you wish to place your child with. Normally, your adoption specialist will thoroughly discuss with you what your desires for the adoptive family are, and show you profiles of families who meet those preferences. 

Additionally, you will be able to meet with and get to know the prospective families. You can take as long as you need to find the family you believe is the right fit for your child. 

The Right to Choose Your Post-Placement Relationship

Another factor in open adoptions is choosing the contact you want to have with the adoptive family before and after the adoption is complete. While you have no legal parental rights after you give up your child for adoption, open adoption allows you to remain a part of your child’s life. Your adoption specialist helps coordinate communication to make sure the adoptive family maintains their communication with you. 

The points discussed above dealt with rights parents have prior to the adoption being finalized, but following the finalization, your parental rights are completely terminated. Let’s discuss what this means and if there are other options. 

Voluntary vs Involuntary Termination

Generally, birth parents have the right to choose what’s in the best interest of their children, this includes the difficult decision of adoption. When parents choose to offer their child for adoption, they are voluntarily terminating their parental rights. Alternatively, when birth parents are forced to terminate their parental rights, it’s known as an involuntary termination. This can determine how the adoption moves forward and the long-term situation. 

Before voluntary termination can take place, one or both parents must legally consent to the adoption. Most states require this to be done in writing and before a judge or court-appointed person. 

There are other times when birth parents’ rights are terminated involuntarily. For this to take place, someone must be going on that endangers the well-being of the child. Common occurrences include:

  • Child abuse or neglect
  • Abandonment
  • Mental illness
  • Incapacity based on alcohol or drug use 
  • Conviction of a crime by the parent

Timing 

The exact moment the birth parents’ rights are terminated depends on the state, but can range from immediately after the child’s birth to 30 days after. Terminating birth parents’ rights is a serious matter and most states have very strict timing requirements that must be set and agreed to prior to the termination. 

Visitation Rights

Following the adoption, the adoptive parents have sole authority to decide on visitation rights. If they feel it’s in the best interest of the child, they may enable a healthy relationship with the birth family. 

Although, if a post-placement relationship was agreed upon and put into the paperwork, you have the authority to choose what kind of relationship you wish to have with your child. 

It’s important to note that, generally, adoptive parents are not required to communicate with birth parents after the adoption. The only exceptions being severe illness or death. 

Free Counseling for Birth Parents

Every birth parent has the right to counseling during both the pregnancy and following the adoption. This can help a lot of mothers and fathers cope with emotional and physical trauma. Birth mothers are at a much greater risk of experiencing depression due to the negative feelings of guilt and shame. Which makes pre-adoption counseling very beneficial for all parties involved. 

Revoking Consent

In most states, consent to adoption is irrevocable since consent is meant to be a lasting and building agreement to help ensure a stable environment for the child. Although, in extreme cases, some states allow for revoking consent to adoption, usually only before the adoption has been finalized. Some situations include; 

  • Fraud or coercion was involved
  • The state allows a set period of time for revoking consent
  • The state determines the revocation is in the best interest of the child
  • The birth parents and adoptive parents mutually agree

Can Adoptive Parents Cut Off Acces?  

The current trend for adoptions seems to be to allow open adoptions that encourage a relationship between birth and adoptive parents. Unfortunately, if the adoptive parents do not want them in the child’s life, there is not much you can do as a birth parent. Again, this is why it’s important to enter a visitation agreement into the paperwork. 

Final Thoughts

Adoption is a lifelong commitment and a permanent decision. Once you have given consent and signed the paperwork, it’s extremely difficult to go back. That’s why it’s so important to work with a legal team that understands these kinds of situations and knows just what to do. Our award-winning attorneys at Masters Law Group have seen it all and can help create solutions right for you. We’re here to help guide you through these difficult times. 

If you need help with any family law issues, reach out today.

Back to School: 5 Tips for Co-Parenting

Back to school comes with a lot of nerves and excitement for children and families. For parents who are separated, in the middle of a divorce, or already divorced, co-parenting with your ex can be a challenge.  At this time of year, however, your children need you to put aside your animosity in order to make their school year a success.

After a divorce, working with your child’s other parent may be uncomfortable, to say the least. But making the effort to cooperate with your co-parent and your child’s school set-up can make things easier for everyone. That’s especially true now, with emerging strains of COVID-19 and now Monkeypox concerns clouding parents’ vision of the 2022-2023 school year.

We know it can be hard to get on the same page with your ex. We also know that you want what’s best for your children—and that means being able to communicate effectively with each other in order to ensure they get the education they deserve.

Here’s what you should know about co-parenting this fall and a couple of tips to help you prepare for your child’s 2022-2023 school year.

Share Obligations for Back-to-School Shopping

As the school year approaches, it’s important to remember that back-to-school shopping is a shared responsibility. Shopping for materials and supplies can be costly, especially if you’re buying them for more than one child. Suppose you are co-parenting and are happy to help your children pick out new clothes and supplies. In that case, others may not be as excited about the process of buying “boring” mandatory necessities. Make a clear plan of who is buying what and when to ensure your child doesn’t miss out on those soccer boots or backpacks (plus, you’ll avoid duplication of expenses).

Keep a Predictable Parenting Time Schedule

Stay ahead of any anticipated disputes by designing, implementing, and complying with a detailed parenting plan. Creating a parenting schedule can be an emotional law topic and should have been set during your divorce proceedings. If this is not the case, it’s important for parent-child relationships to have consistency in their schedule, and therefore you need to set one immediately.

If you are co-parenting, it helps both parties to keep track of the child’s activities. For children, it helps give them a sense of routine, security, and certainty which is an important part of healthy child development.

Inform Your Child’s School of Your Co-Parenting Arrangements

When your kids start a new school year, it’s important to make sure that the school knows who they should talk to in case of emergencies. And even more importantly, who they should release their children to after school? At the start of each school year, provide the principal at your children’s school with a copy of your child custody and parenting order. This is especially crucial if your parental responsibilities order has been modified over the past year. This will put the school on notice about who they should talk to in case of emergencies and who to release their children to after school to avoid conflict.

Coordinate Events with Your Co-Parent 

It can be difficult to attend school functions when you’re divorced. Your co-parent may not want you to go, or they might want you to attend but won’t be there themselves. If this is the case, make sure your child knows who will be attending without making it seem like the non-attending parent didn’t want to go.

Sporting events, class plays, and class graduations are all important to your child and their development. They will ultimately suffer if you end up clashing at these important milestones. For their sake, try to cooperate with one another to attend school events together as a show of unity and support. If that isn’t a possibility, make sure your child knows who will be attending, so they’re not on the lookout for ultimate disappointment.

Set Expectations and Remember Your Priorities

The first few weeks of school can be a bit chaotic. It’s important to remember that it’s not just your child who is adjusting to new teachers, new classrooms, and new classmates—you are too!

When you are co-parenting and planning for your kids to go back to school, make sure you’re both on the same page. Back-to-school time opens a door for conflict, but conflict results in the child/children suffering.

You and your co-parent need to know what is expected of each other. Who is going to help with homework? Who will take your child to football practice? Maybe mom helps one child, and dad is responsible for helping the other. Maybe you take it in weekly or biweekly turns. There is no right answer, but whatever arrangement you and your co-parent decide upon should be detailed in your parenting plan to eliminate confusion in the future.

Allocation of Parental Responsibilities

If you STILL cannot come to a civil agreement on parenting time, the Allocation of Parental Responsibilities is an actionable step to set a new plan in place.

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 their child’s education and schooling matters (amongst other decisions such as 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 spend 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.
  • 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.

How Masters Law Group Can Help

Masters Law Group LLC focuses on helping clients assert their rights to further the best interests of their children. Attorney Erin E. Masters is a court-appointed Child Representative and has experience advocating for children in these high-conflict matters. Attorney Anthony G. Joseph is also on the list of approved Guardian Ad Litem/Child Representatives for the Domestic Relations Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County.

We offer a variety of services to help parents, children, and families through difficult times like Divorce, Parenting Time, and Allocation of Parental Responsibilities. If you are in need of legal assistance, contact a member of our team today. Our attorneys will work with you to develop an action plan that is fair and fits your unique needs and goals. 

We will work diligently on your behalf and provide regular updates throughout the process. You can count on us when it matters most—and we hope that means now! Contact us today to speak to a qualified Chicago family law attorney to set up a free consultation with us.

Child Visitation Rights for Same Sex Couples

Happy LGBTQ Month! To celebrate Pride month, Masters Law Group dives into everything you need to know about Child Visitation (Parenting Time) Rights for Same Sex Couples in our great state of Illinois.

It’s been eight years since Illinois legalized same-sex marriage in the state. If you are a spouse in a same-sex marriage, you may be unfamiliar with Illinois’ visitation rights laws. Though the same statutory provisions apply regardless of same or opposite sex parents, the laws can be complex.

Masters Law Group understands how difficult divorce is for parents who want nothing but the best for their children. Rest assured, our attorneys have in-depth knowledge of same-sex child custody and vistation laws in order to help you. Here’s a look at Parenting Time in Illinois for Same Sex Couples.

What are Child Visitation Rights?

Child Visitation Rights is the in-person time spent between a child and the child’s parent, or guardian which can fall under a grandparent, great-grandparent, sibling, step-parent, or any person designated under subsection (d) of Section 602.7.

The amount of time that a parent or guardian is allowed to visit their child depends on many things. A court won’t restrict visitation in either a joint custody arrangement or a sole custody situation except when it’s necessary to protect a child’s welfare. Under Illinois law, the restriction of parenting time refers to any limit or condition on parenting time, including supervision.

Courts in Illinois don’t typically place restrictions on parenting time, unless necessary to prevent serious endangerment to a child. In Illinois, courts can create restrictions if they feel it necessary in order to protect the child, here are a couple examples of the following:

  • Supervision at visits
  • Mandate locations for visits
  • Deny visits when the parent is under the influence of drugs/alcohol or has used them within a designated period preceding the visit; and
  • Deny overnight visits

It’s important to note that only parents have a legal right to parenting time. However, there are circumstances where guardians may ask for a visitation order from the court when they have been denied reasonable visitation.

Same-Sex Parents Have the Same Parenting Time Rights

In 2015, the Overgefell v. Hodges case went to the US Supreme Court which handed a decision that put same-sex couples on equal footing with all other spouses in domestic relations matters.  People of the same-sex can marry, divorce, and address all of the key issues that come up when dissolving their marriage. The basis of this ruling is the 14th Amendment which prohibits the government from denying a person of certain rights without due process.

States were violating this constitutional concept by forbidding same-sex marriage so the Justices made it legal across the board. As such, same-sex couples can – and must – address child custody, visitation, and child support in any divorce case involving minor children.

Illinois Law on Child Visitation/Parenting Time For Same-Sex Couples

Illinois divorce law uses the terms “Allocation of Parental Responsibilities and Parenting Time to refer to the various issues involved with raising a child. Here are the following provisions:

  • Parenting Time: This concept goes hand in hand with the idea of traditional visitation, where the parent enjoying the time with the child is responsible for the care of the child and making non-significant decisions about the child.
  • Parenting Plan: When a couple divorces, they must submit a Parenting Plan to the court outlining agreements on decision-making and parenting time. Parents who cannot agree may file a separate Parenting Plan and the court will make a decision based upon the child’s best interests.

Illinois Parenting Time Guidelines

Illinois prefers shared parenting time whenever it’s in the child’s best interests. In shared parenting time, the child spends periods with both parents.

A judge must approve all parenting time schedules, even when parents come to an agreement in a settlement. If parents can’t agree, each submits a proposal, and the court decides.

Keep in mind that schedules should align with your child’s needs and can affect your child support payments.

The schedule is a part of your parenting plan, meaning it becomes a legally-binding court order with a judge’s approval. It is important to follow the schedule as written, though parents can agree on small tweaks or ask the court to modify the order.

Hiring an Experienced Attorney

By hiring a knowledgeable family law attorney – who is highly experienced in same-sex family law issues  – you will only help put you and your family at ease. 

Masters Law Group represents individuals in both their initial quest to set a parenting time schedule, as well as parents looking to modify a previously determined schedule.

Throughout her career, attorney Erin E. Masters has focused her practice on all areas related to family law, including divorce, child custody and support, paternity issues, visitation and parenting time, pre- and postnuptial agreements, prosecuting and defending Orders of Protection, and many other areas involving domestic relations and dissolution of marriage.

Furthermore, attorney Anthony G. Joseph is also on the list of approved Guardian Ad Litem/Child Representatives for the Domestic Relations Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County. So you can rest assured you are in the best possible hands.

Don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions, contact us here today to schedule a consultation.

What is Parent Alienation?

Parental alienation is a set of strategies that a parent uses to foster a child’s rejection of the other parent. If your former partner is constantly, and severely, making false statements about you to your child, can this lead to alienation and an accompanying syndrome? Let’s take a closer look.

In divorce and child custody cases, a syndrome often develops called parental alienation. Parental alienation is a strategy where one parent intentionally displays to the child unjustified negativity aimed at the other parent. The purpose of this strategy is to damage the child’s relationship with the other parent and to turn the child’s emotions against that other parent. Parental alienators are adept manipulators and you should look out for signs of this behavior immediately.

Here is everything you need to know about emotional abuse and how you can take action to protect yourself and your children.

Traits of an Alienator

Parental alienation syndrome, was a term coined back in the 1980s by child psychiatrist Dr. Richard A. Gardner. As mentioned above, the sole purpose of parental alienation behavior is to keep the children with the alienating parent as much as possible, away from the targeted parent. A parent who is angry at the spouse accomplishes this goal by painting a negative narrative of the other parent by making deprecating comments, throwing blame, and making false accusations which are shared with the children.

Clinical psychologists have noted this type of behavior shown by the alienating parent has narcissistic or borderline tendencies. A narcissist is a person who has an excessive interest and admiration in themselves – essentially they think the world revolves around them. While those with borderline personality disorders have emotional hyper-reactivity often expressed as anger and a tendency to see themselves as victims. A parent with an antisocial personality is an accomplished liar who has the ability to harm others without any guilt. 

Alienation by one parent interferes with the rights of the child and the other parent involved to have a healthy relationship.  It also interferes with the other parent being able to exercise their right to care for the child.

Signs and Symptoms of Parental Alienation Syndrome

When Gardner talked about PAS, he identified eight “symptoms” (or criteria) for it:

  1. The child constantly and unfairly criticizes the alienated parent (sometimes called a “campaign of denigration”).
  2. The child doesn’t have any strong evidence, specific examples, or justifications for the criticisms — or only has false reasoning.
  3. The child’s feelings about the alienated parent aren’t mixed — they’re all negative, with no redeeming qualities to be found. This is sometimes called “lack of ambivalence.”
  4. The child claims the criticisms are all their own conclusions and based on their own independent thinking. (In reality, in PA, the alienating parent is said to “program” the child with these ideas.)
  5. The child has unwavering support for the alienator.
  6. The child doesn’t feel guilty about mistreating or hating the alienated parent.
  7. The child uses terms and phrases that seem borrowed from adult language when referring to situations that never happened or happened before the child’s memory.
  8. The child’s feelings of hatred toward the alienated parent expand to include other family members related to that parent (for example, grandparents or cousins on that side of the family).

Impact of Alienation on Parenting Time

Parental alienation and parenting time go hand in hand when trying to determine an appropriate parenting plan that lays out with which parent the child will mainly live. Parenting Time of your child can become a very emotional law topic. The division of parenting time and the allocation of parental responsibilites to make decisions for the child. 

To determine the child’s best interests, the court must look at anything relevant to the question, including specific factors listed in state statute. Of those, some are particularly relevant when parental alienation may be involved:

  • The child’s needs.
  • The mental health of all parties involved.
  • Restricted or modified parenting time.
  • Parental ability to put the child’s needs first.
  • Abuse against the child, including emotional or psychological abuse to try to alienate the child against the other parent.
  • The ability of each parent to facilitate a close relationship between the other parent and the child.
  • The interaction and interrelationship of the child with each parent.

Any parent who believes their spouse is trying to alienate their child against them should seek immediate assistance from an experienced Family law attorney. It’s important to have someone who can assist with reporting emotional abuse or protection for themselves or loved ones.

The safety of the child or children involved should always be your number one priority. If your child is being emotionally abused, there are several steps that can be taken to mitigate the risk of the situation at hand prior to legal help. Masters Law Group is here to help you with divorce consultation or litigation involving parental alienation.

Final Thoughts

While all forms of abuse can feel like a never-ending hopeless situation, Masters Law Group is here to help you see a light at the end of the tunnel. We provide an array of family law services including Orders of Protection and divorce services for our clients. Our highly experienced family law attorneys offer skillful legal representation that will guide you through to safety for your children and yourself.

Get in touch with us here today to discuss and execute the best plan of action for you and your family.

Top 5 Family Law Issues Over the Holidays

The holidays are often spent with family. For some people, this is an exciting time of the year. For others, it is a source of stress. For divorced couples, how do you share custody during the holidays? Can you change a custody agreement in Illinois? What about grandparent visitation rights? Read on to learn more about the most common family law issues during the holidays and some potential solutions.

The holidays can be a difficult time for a lot of people. Some grapple with the loss of a loved one over holidays. Some couples put off their divorces until after the holiday season. Some people struggle to spend a lot of time with their families.

While the holidays can be a wonderful time, they can also come with a lot of tension. If you are struggling during the holiday season, you are not alone. Here are the top 5 family law issues that occur during the holidays.

  1. Couples Putting off Divorce

Going through a divorce can be a stressful experience in someone’s life. Unfortunately, it’s common for couples who wish to get a divorce to hold off until after the holidays. They tend to do so for the sake of the kids and other family members, but it can be hard to keep a brave face with an impending divorce looming as soon as the holiday magic is gone. It is important to know that this is something many couples struggle with.

  1. Rushed Proposals

Proposals are a common occurrence during the holiday season. In fact, Christmas Day is the most popular day to propose. Because of the excitement of the holidays, many people rush into proposals without considering all the legal issues to take into account. For example, do you know if you want your partner to sign a prenuptial agreement?

Legally, an engagement ring is considered a “conditional gift” based on the marriage taking place and the ring goes back to the purchaser if the engagement is broken, regardless of who ends it. But rings given on Christmas, Valentine’s Day or birthdays are typically classified as more traditional gifts, and the majority of courts have allowed the receiver to keep them. 

  1. Making a Holiday Parenting Plan/Schedule

When it comes down to it, the most difficult aspect of child custody during the holidays is figuring out who will be where and when. The next hardest component is making that schedule happen. Be realistic with the holiday itinerary and consider input from the children, if possible. Be proactive and create a Holiday Parenting Plan. Here are some considerations:

  1. Identify the specific holidays that are important to you and your family.
  2. Be specific about the times that define the holiday.
  3. Consider whether or not the holiday may or will involve travel. It is important to build this into your holiday plan even if you do not plan to travel every year.
  4. Consider whether or not the holiday can be incorporated into the regular parenting time plan.
  5. Consider whether or not it is possible to have the holiday included. For example, some holidays are during the school day (Halloween) and if you decide you want to split the holiday, how will that happen once the children are in school? Dividing this time means that one parent is transporting the children during prime trick or treating time. Is this really what you want for your children?

4. Changes to custody agreements

Often, divorced couples with children wish to change their custody agreements as the holidays roll around. When seeking a modification, a motion to modify custody must be filed. The motion must be filed in the county where the original custody order was signed. If the child no longer lives in that county, it may be possible to have the case transferred. This can be difficult to do at the last minute, so you should contact our firm to discuss your options. If you are facing an issue where your child has been taken overseas by the other parent, you could be entitled to file legal action under the Hague Convention for international parental child abduction. 

  1. Questions about visitation

Many families have questions about custody and visitation rights. What rights do grandparents have to see their grandkids over the holidays? Unfortunately for the state of Illinois, it does not provide for any visitation to grandparents or other non-parents by default. Unless it’s proven to harm the child, parents are given the discretion to choose who their child has a relationship with or not. 

In the event a grandparent is trying to petition for visitation rights, they must show that a relationship existed with the children before a divorce. In other words, a court may help restore an existing relationship but will not help build a new one.

Final Thoughts

Holiday parenting time issues are extremely common.  They often create strong emotional responses from each parent because not only is it their parenting time, but also it frequently includes extended family members visiting or who have traveled to see the children. In the event of battling with an ex over visitation schedules, or any other family law issue such as divorce or even post-divorce disputes: Remember, if you’re facing any of these issues you aren’t alone. We’ve seen and heard it all and are here to serve and guide you through this season.

Get in touch with our award-winning Masters Law Group Attorneys today for help figuring out a solution to your problem. 

 

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.

What Should You Include in Your Illinois Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan is a document that says who will make decisions for a child and how those decisions will be made. This often happens in a parental responsibilities case. These plans outline how you and the other parent will continue to care and provide for your children after you separate. 

It’s a good idea for a parenting plan to have a system in place for how disputes should be handled if the situation arises, and a way in which parents can periodically review and make necessary changes to the plan. The plan may also include other provisions or information intended to help both parents understand and abide by the shared responsibilities in raising the child or children.

What to include in your plan:

  • Where the child lives
  • Time the child spends with each parent
  • How each parent gets information and records about the child
  • How the child is to be transported for parenting time

When filing one plan, both parents must sign the plan indicating they agree on all the terms of the document. If parents do not agree, they must file separate plans. The court will look at each detail of both plans to determine what’s in the best interest of the child or children. 

Important things to know about Parenting Plans:

  • Each parent must file a parenting plan within 120 days of asking the court for parental responsibilities;
  • If the parents agree on parental responsibilities, including parenting time, they can file one parenting plan (signed by both parents) within the 120 days. If the parents don’t agree, they must each file their own parenting plans;
  • If neither parent files a parenting plan, the court will hold a hearing to determine the child’s best interests; and
  • The court will look at the parenting plans when it decides who gets parental responsibilities.

Once both plans have been created and shared with the court to examine each parent’s responsibilities, the court can accept the plan and it becomes a Joint Parenting Order. After the Joint Parenting Order is in place, changes cannot be made to it for two years. 

If either parent does not follow the order, they are breaking the law and can be taken to court. The purpose of a court order for parental responsibilities is to protect both parents’ rights when it comes to the care and decision-making responsibilities of the child.

Allocation of Parental Responsibilities

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 join parents.

Parenting planning of your child can be a very emotional law topic. It can become complicated and require much interaction between the parents and the court. It’s in your best interests to hire an experienced attorney if you need assistance with parental planning issues.

Hiring Legal Help

Hiring an attorney highly experienced in family law will help you understand your legal options and create a plan for what comes next. 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.

We represent individuals in both their initial quest to set a parenting time schedule, as well as parents looking to modify a previously determined schedule. If you require a review of your current parenting time schedule or parenting plan, contact us here today to schedule a consultation.