Wheaton family law attorneyCourts generally prioritize child-related issues over financial matters, which is why the Illinois Supreme Court rules require mediation as the first step in a contested case involving minor children. If mediation fails, and there is no agreement on any child-related issues (parenting time, decision making, etc.), the Court may on its own motion, or at the request of the parties, appoint a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to represent the minor child(ren)’s best interests. A GAL is a third-party attorney that is trained in child-related matters and appointed by the Court as the Court’s witness to act as the “eyes and ears of the court” on behalf of a minor child or children.  Their role is to conduct an investigation and report to the court with recommendations. The Court typically appoints attorneys who they respect and trust their judgment, and therefore the GAL plays a crucial part in the outcome of the case, so it’s imperative you understand their role and your responsibilities related to it.

Part of the GAL process includes interviewing both parties and meeting with the child(ren) on at least one occasion. It can be intimidating to have someone interview you and your children, so you should prepare for your first meeting with your attorney. Here are some important things you should know if a GAL is appointed to your case.

  1. Fees – The Court assigns a retainer fee for the Guardian ad Litem and allocates the GAL’s fees. In many scenarios, the retainer and fees will be split 50/50. However, that is not the situation in every case. For example, if one party makes significantly more than the other, the Court may allocate the higher-earning party to be responsible for a large portion or all of the GAL fees. Some judges also require the party requesting the GAL to pay a larger portion of the fees. GAL fees are usually considered “without prejudice and subject to reallocation.”  This means that the Court’s order regarding fees is not final, and you can have your attorney file a motion to reallocate the fees at a later time for a number of reasons. For example, if your ex is being especially difficult, not cooperating with the GAL, and incurring many fees, the Court can consider their actions when reallocating fees. Most often however—absent egregious conduct—the courts allocate fees based upon income or each party’s respective financial position.  GAL’s typically invoice the parties similarly to private counsel and are required to submit their billing statements to the court every 90 days.
  2. The GAL Order – The GAL appointment order will set forth the GAL’s contact information, the contact information of both parties, the retainer and fees, the date for status on the GAL report, and what issues the GAL is appointed to explore. The Order will also say whether the GAL will make a written report or just an oral report to the Court. Most of the time, the Court will reserve the issue of a formal written report to save time and money. In the event of a trial, the Court may ask the GAL to prepare a written report and disseminate it to the parties and the Court ahead of the trial.
  3. Initial and subsequent meetings with the GAL – Each GAL has his or her own standard procedures, so your attorney cannot predict exactly what will happen at the first meeting. Some GALs require that you personally call their office to set up your initial appointment. Other GALs or their staff may reach out to you directly. Usually, the GAL will send out an initial letter explaining the process and enclosing an initial parental questionnaire for you to fill out.  Sometimes they can also include releases or criminal background checks. Prior to your meeting, you should complete and review any and all forms with your attorney. You should be dressed appropriately, on time, and prepared for your meeting. Either during your first meeting or a subsequent meeting, you will need to provide evidence and information to support your position and claims. This should always be reviewed with your attorney prior to submitting it to the GAL. For example, if DCFS has been involved in the past, you will want to have all of the paperwork you received from DCFS ready for the GAL to review. The more prepared and organized you are, the more likely the GAL will be able to retain the information you provide. One way to do that is to provide them with a tabbed binder with all supporting documentation and a summary for each section. 
  4. Meeting with the children – The GAL will meet and speak to your children (if they are of the appropriate age) at some point in their investigation. Sometimes this is done at your home, the GAL office, or a public place. It’s important that you do not coach your children prior to the meeting with the GAL or interrogate them afterward. You can, however, age-appropriately explain the GAL and tell your children to be open and honest with them. Most times, it is very obvious when a child has been told what to say by a parent, and it does not reflect positively upon you. If your children have a counselor or social worker, the GAL may also ask for a release to speak with that person.
  5. Home visits – GALs have different procedures regarding home visits. Some GALs will automatically do a home visit, and other GALs may not do a home visit unless the state of one party’s home is in dispute. You do not need to have a cleaning crew come to your house prior to the meeting, but your house should be tidy and child-friendly. The GAL will mostly want to know that the children have adequate and safe living conditions as well as observe their comfort level in the home. The GAL may also want to meet other third-parties who live in the home.
  6. Third-parties – In addition to interviewing you and your child(ren), the GAL will likely speak to at least some collateral witnesses. Depending on your case, this may include medical providers, teachers, extended family members, counselors, or neighbors. Typically, the GAL will request you provide the contact information for third-party witnesses, and you should discuss this with your attorney before providing those names.
  7. Recommendations and settlement conferences – After the GAL has finished his or her investigation, they will circulate their recommendations to the Court or sometimes to the parties through their attorneys ahead of time. The GAL role also includes helping to facilitate settlement, so if it is possible for them to assist you in reaching one, they may schedule additional meetings or prepare proposed orders or allocation judgments. The GAL will stay on your case until the court discharges them, likely when a final order has been entered.

The GAL plays a critical role in your case and the process can be invasive and costly for many families.  Accordingly, it’s important that you communicate regularly with your attorney regarding your contacts with the GAL and you work with your attorney to develop a strategy for the GAL process.

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Wheaton estate planning lawyerProbate refers to the legal process by which a court administers the estate of a person who has passed away. This process can be long, costly, emotional, and confusing, especially for those who are not familiar with the legal system. For this reason, it is important to establish an estate plan while you are still alive, to spare your family members the hassle of dealing with the probate court in the aftermath of your death.

Perhaps one of the most difficult scenarios is when a person dies without having a will (legally referred to as dying intestate). When this happens, the assets of the person who died are essentially tied up until the probate court goes through every detail of that person’s estate. When someone dies intestate, there is a complicated procedure that must be followed, including providing notice to heirs and creditors and publishing notice to the general public. Ultimately, the court will distribute assets according to the line of succession set forth under the Illinois Intestacy statute.

This situation is difficult for the family members of the deceased because someone is responsible for stepping up as the administrator of the estate, which is a great deal of work and responsibility. That person is then in charge of paying any outstanding debts or taxes and distributing the deceased person’s assets while being supervised by the court. Gathering assets and paying off debts is often expensive and time-consuming, which delays distributions of property to your loved ones and can deplete assets meant to go to beneficiaries on legal fees.  However, this situation is easily avoidable through proper estate planning tools.

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Wheaton adoption lawyerOn September 18, 2020, the nation was devastated with the announcement of one of the U.S. Supreme Court’s most prominent Justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s, death. Justice Ginsburg was a voice for many marginalized groups in America, especially the LGBTQ community. Among her most recognized endeavors, was her supporting vote in favor of granting same-sex couples the right to get married in all 50 states. Justice Ginsburg’s death has undoubtedly caused civil unrest and has potentially placed LGBTQ rights at risk as a seat on the Supreme Court is now vacant for the President to fill. With the legalization of same-sex marriage came the legalization of LGBTQ adoption in the United States. However, there are still many countries that do not recognize equality amongst the LGBTQ community, and given the controversial political climate, it is important for same-sex couples to understand their rights when adopting a child.

When most people think of adoption, they think of a typical scenario in which the biological parents give up their rights to their child and another couple is granted parental rights to that child through the adoption process. However, same-sex adoptions work much differently. While it may seem obvious, the biological parent automatically has rights to the child by virtue of giving birth to that child. But, in a same-sex relationship, the other non-biological parent’s parental rights are not absolute. Therefore, adoption is necessary to safeguard those rights in countries or within institutions that may not recognize same-sex rights or in the event that same-sex rights are ever nullified or modified to impact parental rights.

Same-sex adoption or “second parent adoption” are terms that refer to the same thing: the rights of a second parent (the non-biological parent) to adopt a child and formally obtain parental rights. A same-sex adoption, therefore, creates a legally binding relationship between the second parent and the child. The process begins with the filing of a Petition for Adoption with the Court. During the adoption proceedings, the Court will appoint a Guardian Ad Litem and require that the prospective adoptive parent undergo a criminal background check. Once all of the necessary requirements are met, the Court will then enter a final Judgment Order of Adoption formalizing the second parent’s rights to the child.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_shutterstock_622355582_20200909-201739_1.jpgDiscussing finances might be just about the least romantic part of any prospective marriage. It is certainly not ideal to start a marriage planning for what happens in the event of divorce. However, it is an unfortunate reality for many couples, with some statistics showing over fifty percent (50%) of marriages end in divorce. Many divorces are caused by disagreements over finances. However, being able to communication maturely about financial issues and your concerns is actually a very responsible way to start a new marriage.

There are many reasons couples seek prenuptial agreements, among them are the following:

  1. One party owns a business, real estate, or other asset they wish to protect as separate property;
  2. One or both parties have been divorced or have children from other relationships and want to make sure those children are taken care of financially;
  3. One party earns substantially more income than the other party;
  4. One party is the beneficiary of a trust or expecting a sizeable inheritance;
  5. A party’s family wants them to have a prenuptial agreement to protect family assets; or
  6. The parties have heard horror stories about the cost of divorce attorneys and want to keep things amicable “just in case.”

Prenuptial agreements can address a variety of financial issues, including maintenance (formerly known as alimony), attorneys’ fees, division of assets and liabilities, and the definition of marital or nonmarital property. Many are unaware that in the State of Illinois, the way assets are titled is not the deciding factor of their classification as marital or non-marital. For example, just because you have a retirement account or pension in your sole name, even if you had it before you were married, does not mean your spouse has no claim to the asset in the event of divorce. A prenuptial agreement, however, can specify that these assets are to remain your sole property and not subject to division by the court in the event of divorce if you and your spouse so choose. However, a prenuptial agreement cannot address any child related issues including parenting time or child support. 

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Kane County Child Support Trust AttorneySection 505 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act obligates both parents to provide support for their minor children.[1]  In some family law cases, enforcing child support payments can be difficult, particularly if the parent who owes support is not generating steady income but may have assets from which to pay child support.

Protecting the best interests of the children and ensuring that they receive enough support is one of the most important goals of the court system.  As such, many states, including Illinois, authorize a court to impose a child support trust, for the benefit of the children.  A child support trust is a way to make sure the children are always supported finically.

Section 503(g) of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act states:

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