October 14, 2009

Kane County Divorce Issues

One of my valued clients, who happens to be an engineer by training and otherwise an interesting and dynamic person, made a comment at court today. She had been watching other cases taking place at the courthouse, and marveled at the amount of controversy over objectively small issues. She stated to me and a colleague that "I simply won't come to court unless the issue in dispute is over a substantial amount of money."

Now, my colleague and I have both worked hard to keep court costs for clients as low as possible; both of us practice this cost effective way. We both agreed that it pains us as legal professionals to see people exhaust precious family funds on wrongheaded legal disputes.

What my client was speaking to was this universal concern that litigants should be mindful of the costs of litigation, and that many disputes are amenable to resolution without the costs, uncertainties, and stresses of litigation. This same philosophy of cost saving and collaboration underlies the movement toward collaborative and cooperative divorce.

If you have a family law concern, be ready to embrace the cutting edge strategies that a few of us in the legal profession have embraced in the right cases. Collaboration. Mediation. Alternative dispute resolution. Sure, some cases need to be aggressively litigated, and some matters need a judge's active intervention. I am a trial lawyer by training, and know how to win a war. But many other cases and clients need only to find a more balanced, cost effective and practical means to solve their more minor or resolvable disputes.

What did Abraham Lincoln once say? "Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough."

October 2, 2009

Illinois Divorce and Joint Custody Defined

I was involved in a child custody matter recently that was becoming difficult to settle, for a number of reasons. I represented the Dad in the case. One of the reasons for the impasse was the wife's refusal to consider joint custody. I had prepared a detailed Joint Parenting Agreement that was a healthy and proper plan for the parents and the children of the marriage, It was rejected.

Here's what occurred. Shortly before trial, I took the wife's deposition. In the deposition, I began to inquire as to her reasons for refusing a joint parenting agreement, pointing out to her examples as to how she and my client had communicated and worked together on recent medical and school issues involving the children.

What developed in the deposition was an appreciation that she had never accurately understood what joint custody in Illinois meant. She told me that she refused to share the time 50/50 with the children with her then-husband, but she offered that she was completely OK with making him a part of every decision in the children's lives She affirmed that he is a good dad, and should be equally involved in the major decisions.

Definition: Joint custody of a child requires both parents to cooperate in deciding major issues affecting their children, including, but not limited to, major medical decisions, religious training, and education. Sometimes, social decisions such as sports, camps, can be included in this definition.

The moral of the story, it seems, is that it helps that the parties understand at the outset of the case what is meant by joint and sole custody in Illinois, before a dispute develops over the idea. Wife''s longtime misunderstanding lead to a lack of progress on settlement. Once she was assured of what the concept of joint custody was, she quickly agreed to the joint parenting plan. The parties had already agreed on a parenting schedule. The case settled, and the cost and stress of a trial over legal custody was avoided.