August 22, 2009

DuPage and Kane County Cooperative Divorce

I have written in this blog on Collaborative and Cooperative Divorce and conducted a seminar last year for the Kane County ADR Committee on Collaborative and Cooperative Divorce. The Collaborative Divorce offers some distinct advantages to divorcing parties over the typical bitterly contested, litigated divorce. However, there have been some difficulties with the collaborative model, such that my office more typically suggests a Cooperative Model. I have developed my own approach to the collaborative process, and other cutting edge lawyers have done so, as well. In the right case, with the right parties, it's a terrific way to help divorcing families. What is this model? Linda Roberson wrote recently about this model, and I enclose it below:

Cooperative Divorce

The attorneys who are spearheading the “collaborative divorce” movement have adopted this idea with the best of intentions. They are looking in good faith for a more humane and less stressful way to deal with the sturm und drang of marital dissolution. They are legitimately frustrated with the waste of time and duplication of effort that goes into simultaneous settlement negotiations and trial preparation. They want to make a hard time easier for their clients and for themselves.

We can work toward these goals without running afoul of ethical rules, and refusing to use the available resources of the court system appropriately to facilitate negotiated settlements wherever possible. Let’s call it “cooperative divorce.”

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August 22, 2009

How to be an Effective Non-Custodial Parent

Being a successful parent is a hard job, under the best of circumstances. For a man or woman who is a non-custodial parent, the responsibility takes on additional enhancements, and often requires creative ways to give your child the security he or she deserves. Here are five simple things to remember in being an effective non-custodial parent. 1. Remember the power of three simple words: I love you. Say them often, and mean it. Every human being has a desire to know there is someone who values us, and will be there no matter how rough the road may become. Your opportunities to use these words will vary, depending on how often you get to spend time with your child. Don’t waste even one chance to say them. When you have a visitation weekend or a longer stretch in the summer, say them every day. Between visits, use them in your emails and your telephone conversations. Even as you child enters that phase of adolescence when those words become temporarily embarrassing, your attempts will mean a lot later in life.
2. After saying it, do it. Your expressions of parental love and commitment should always be underscored with putting those words into action. Listen to what your child has to say, respond to what he or she needs (not necessarily what your child wants ), support them in activities that build self esteem and encourage development of their talents. If at all possible, be at every piano recital, baseball game, or spelling bee you can. Read that school paper that your child is so proud of writing.
3. Maintain and enhance a positive working relationship with your child’s custodial parent. Ending a romantic relationship is often an emotionally devastating process, and bad feelings on the part of one or both parties may run deep and long. Regardless of how you may feel about the custodial parent as a person, keep in mind that person did help you bring this wonderful child into the world and into both your lives. Accept that the relationship between the two of you has changed from partners in life to the joint caretakers of another life. Respect and work with the custodial parent to ensure your child has love, support, and the necessities of life. Never criticize the custodial parent in front of your child, and keep any disagreements between the two of you. Your focus should always be on the two of you, in whatever ways possible, to work as a team for the benefit of your child.
4. Develop common interests that are unique to you and your child. The point here is to have some dynamic in your relationship that is just for you and your child, no one else. It can be something as simple as rooting for the same team, a favorite author, or an activity such as going bowling. While doing this may be simpler to accomplish if you and your child are the same gender, do not think that it is impossible to find some common ground with your opposite-gender child. Daughters need ways to positively interact with their fathers, as do sons with their mothers.
5. Cultivate a strong sense of security in your child. The fact that you are not living under the same roof does not mean your child cannot come to understand you are part of his or her support system, that you are there for confidences, laughs, hard times, and all the things that any parent under any circumstances would be. Your presence should be one that inspires confidence that whatever successes or failures the child will endure, you are there to help celebrate the good and to help work through the bad. All parent/child relationships have their ups and downs. At times, you will be elated at the richness of the connection you have with your child. At other times, you will question how well you are doing. In all situations, remember that there will be ebbs and flows in the communication line between yourself and your child. But never, ever give up. Maintaining and growing a strong, loving relationship with your child is an endeavor that will bring great joy to both your lives for many years to come

Credit: Malcolm Tatum

August 2, 2009

Illinois Divorce and Changes in our Antiquated Laws?

Illinois attorneys and the Illinois legislature are now studying changes to Illinois' Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. One of the goals of the review is to, perhaps, bring Illinois into the 21st Century by reforming the way we resolve custody issues, as well as revising the language of custody. What changes would you like to see in our Illinois dissolution and custody statutes?

I'd certainly like to see the concept of "custody" relegated to the dustbin of history. Mom and Dad are parents...why not enact legislation that defines parenting as a shared relationship? Isn't it almost always true that the non-custodial parent hates to have what is called "visitation?" When does a parent become a visitor? How many custody wars have been fought over who would be relegated to "visitor" status?

Minnesota attorney and mediator Molly Millet discusses below changes that Minnesota made in 2007: "The biggest change in Minnesota that has been helpful is the perception of "custody." Before, parents would fight over the custody label — who got custody and how that related to child support. Now, it's "parenting time." Now, parents are focusing on time with their kids, rather than a legal label.It also takes both spouses' incomes into account. If you earn twice as much, you will pay more. It didn't make any sense before. Let's say Mom worked and Dad lost his job. He was paying child support, and the calculation didn't in any way take into account Mom had always earned more than Dad. Also before, expenses were split 50-50 regardless of who made what income. Now, in most cases, it's split proportionally."

I've discussed some of the proposed changes with members of the Family Law Committee that are advising the legislature. Any changes that bring Illinois into the modern custody era will be welcome.