Family law in Illinois is vast and complex – and is subject to change at the state legislature’s whim. For instance, in 2016, Illinois family law statutes experienced a major overhaul of their provisions impacting child custody and parenting time. What is especially concerning about a family law proceeding is that the impact and effects of a decision rendered in a family law case can last for months or even years. These effects may impact a person’s ability to see and raise his or her child, to participate in important decisions in the child’s life, and to be financially independent and able move forward following a separation or divorce.
- Adoptions: Adding a new child to the family through the adoption process is a joy. The process itself, however, can be quite convoluted and frustrating. This is especially true when an adoption proceeding is accompanied by a contested petition to terminate the parental rights of one of the child’s natural or legal parents. Like many other states, Illinois has a strong presumption against terminating the rights of a child’s parent absent some compelling or substantial reason why the child’s best interests would be served by such termination. A step-parent or some other individual looking to adopt a child may need to be prepared for a long and arduous legal battle.
- Child Custody: In 2016, Illinois abandoned the archaic term of “custody” in favor of the more progressive-sounding term of “parenting time.” Despite the change in terms, the concept remains the same: the parent with whom the child does not primarily reside has a legal right to have the child in his or her physical presence and exercise his or her parental rights on a regular, consistent basis. The concept of “parenting time” also includes the right of the parent to participate in certain decisions concerning the child’s upbringing and welfare, including participating in deciding where the child will go to school, what medical treatment and procedures the child will receive, and the faith or spiritual tradition in which the child is to be raised.
- Child Support: The law recognizes the duty of every parent of a child to contribute financially to the costs associated with caring for and raising the child. This typically occurs through an order of child support directing the parent that does not have primary residential custody of the child to pay a sum of money to the parent with whom the child primarily resides. This sum is known as “child support,” and the specific amount that one parent will be ordered to pay the other is based upon a precise formula that takes into account the financial situation of both parents. A child support calculation may be incorrect if the information from the parents that is used to calculate the amount is not accurate.
- Post-High School and College Issues: While some may believe that a divorced couple with children in common have no further need of litigation and court proceedings once their child turns 18 years of age or graduates high school, the truth is that for a considerable number of divorced parents additional questions and issues arise as their children transition from childhood to early adulthood. How best to share college tuition, college expenses, determining who will provide health insurance for the child, and deciding who will claim the child on income tax returns are just a few issues that routinely surface in cases involving an adult child.
- Domestic Relations Law: Aside from divorce and divorce-related statutes, there are a number of other statutes that have an impact on the marital relationship. Most notably, domestic violence-related laws that prohibit spouses from striking one another, stalking one another, or deliberately preventing one parent from exercising parenting time with a child the parties have in common. Any violation of one or more of these laws can not only lead to a criminal conviction (along with fines and/or imprisonment), but a violation of a domestic relation law can negatively impact your chances of succeeding in a divorce or parenting time action.
- Divorce: Simply put, a divorce is the legal termination and dissolution of the marital relationship that exists between two spouses. Even where two spouses agree that their marriage is irretrievably broken, it is a judge’s pronouncement of divorce that legally separates the two spouses and allows them to remarry another (if they choose to do so). Depending on the amount of assets the spouses have that need to be divided and whether there are any agreements or stipulations between the parties, a divorce proceeding may take a matter of a few weeks up to several months to resolve. In a divorce proceeding, the presiding judge will also typically enter orders affecting the division of the couple’s property, parenting time, visitation, and spousal support at the time it also enters a decree of divorce.
- Family Law: The term “family law” encompasses a wide variety of legal areas and principles that impact various facets of a family and its dynamics. Oftentimes, these areas and principles can intersect: for example, the law concerning termination of a parent’s rights may be relevant in an adoption proceeding. Similarly, immigration law and the immigration consequences facing one parent or the other might impact a child custody proceeding. Those parties that experience the greatest success in their family law cases are typically those who have retained an attorney from Corri Fetman & Associates with the ability to see the “big picture” and how the various laws and legal principles relate to one another in any given case.
- Matrimonial Law: Matrimonial law describes how a marriage relationship is created as well as the situations in which no legal marriage relationship is established. This is a crucial area of the law because parties that are not legally married are not entitled to some of the “benefits” that can accompany the dissolution of a legal marriage (alimony and the division of marital property, for instance). The existence or nonexistence of a legal marriage between two individuals is also crucial if one party fears being charged with bigamy or polygamy for entering into a new marriage relationship without first securing a divorce from the person’s previous spouse.
- Paternity/Parentage: Only the “parents” of a child have a right to have that child in their physical custody (and only parents have the responsibility to financially support that child). A paternity suit is the method whereby a person claiming to be the parent of a child can obtain visitation rights – and it is the method whereby one parent can secure a child support obligation from another person who denies being the parent of the child. In the legal realm, it is possible for a person to be found to have the legal rights and responsibilities of a parent even if the person is not the biological parent of the child.
- Pre-Divorce Advice: Seeking divorce will not only dissolve the matrimonial relationship between two spouses but can also have a dramatic impact on the parties’ relationship with any children they may have in common as well as the parties’ individual financial futures. It is generally highly advisable to speak with an experienced and well-qualified Illinois divorce attorney before filing for divorce. This way you will be better informed as to the divorce process and how a divorce might affect you and your children and can make an informed decision as to whether filing for divorce is in your best interest and in the best interests of your child or children.
- Post-Decree Divorce: Even though an order of divorce entered by a judge contains the word “final,” some divorces require continued litigation long after the divorce decree was first entered. Divorced spouses who have children in common and divorced couples in which one party or the other is not following the divorce court’s orders concerning parenting time, alimony, property division, or some other issue are most likely to require continuing litigation before the court. Just as the initial court order granting a divorce can profoundly impact the futures of the parties, so too can orders entered in these post-divorce proceedings dramatically affect a party’s rights and future.
- Prenuptial Agreements: A prenuptial agreement is an agreement or contract entered into a couple that anticipate marrying one another. Prenuptial agreements can be a powerful way for one spouse to protect his or her separate assets and/or to protect him- or herself financially in the event the marriage does not work out. In order to be valid, a prenuptial agreement must be preceded by the exchange of financial disclosures and the opportunity for each spouse to seek independent legal counsel concerning the terms of the agreement. Moreover, there are limitations on the terms to which the parties may agree in a prenuptial agreement (for example, the parties cannot agree to waive a child support obligation).
- Postnuptial Agreements: A married couple may choose to enter into a postnuptial agreement so as to protect their individual assets and/or inform a court how certain divorce-related issues ought to be handled in the event the marriage becomes broken. For example, married individuals may inform a court how they wish their property to be divided in the event of a divorce and/or indicate that one spouse agrees to pay the other spouse a certain sum of spousal support if the couple ends their marriage. Similar to prenuptial agreements, a valid postnuptial agreement will generally involve each party disclosing certain financial information to the other and each party being afforded the opportunity to speak with an independent attorney.
- Same Sex Divorce/Same Sex Domestic Relations: Even though same-sex couples can now marry in all 50 states, this does not mean that same-sex couples are immune from many of the same problems that impact heterosexual couples. Moreover, because same-sex marriage has only recently gained legality, courts are still grappling with how to decide certain disputes (such as paternity disputes) in the context of same-sex relationships. A resourceful Illinois family law attorney is best suited to take age-old principles of family law and apply them in the context of a same-sex relationship so as to best protect his or her client’s rights.
- Visitation: One of the most fundamental rights parents enjoy is the right to spend time and develop a healthy parent-child relationship with their children. In order to develop this relationship, though, each parent must be afforded an opportunity to have the children in the parent’s physical custody. Litigation can erupt when one parent unreasonably (and/or unlawfully) denies the other parent the opportunity to visit with the child on a consistent basis. Developing a visitation schedule that is both workable for both parties and reasonable for the parties’ children is no small task, but with the assistance of knowledgeable and dedicated counsel a workable visitation schedule is not completely elusive.