Wheaton Expungement AttorneyWhen you are arrested or charged with an offense, a criminal record is created, even if the case is dismissed or you are found not guilty. Unless you take the steps necessary to petition the court, the record of the arrest and/or the charges remain on your permanent record. In fact, sometimes these criminal records can be accessed by the public, including your family, friends, employers, trade organizations, banks, and credit agencies. To have your record erased or hidden you must file a Request to Expunge and/or Seal Criminal Records with the court and have a judge approve your Request. There are 3 ways to clear your criminal record: (1) expungement, (2) sealing, or (3) clemency.

An expungement essentially “erases” arrests and court supervisions from your criminal record so it is as if they never happened. Once an expungement is granted, all records of your arrest and charges will be removed from public criminal records and are destroyed. No one, not even law enforcement, will be able to access the expunged records and use them against you. This can be extremely beneficial when you apply for a job, an apartment, a professional license, or any other application that requests information regarding whether or not you have ever been charged or arrested for a criminal offense. In fact, after your record has been expunged, you can answer “no” to any such questions on these types of applications.

However, it is important to know that not all offenses are eligible for expungement and certain things in your history could make you ineligible for expungement.  Specifically, if you have any pending criminal charges that will prevent you from being eligible for having a prior arrest or charge expunged. In addition, any sentences that you have not yet completed, including parole, probation, or court supervision will also make you ineligible for expungement. In addition, there is either a two or five-year waiting period from the date of satisfactory termination of eligible court supervisions and qualified probations.

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DuPage County remote court appearancesThe world as we knew it has been forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and that includes how domestic relations court proceedings are being handled. After initially halting court proceedings in March and April of 2020, courts in most counties in the state of Illinois have now mastered dealing with the pandemic restrictions and have implemented remote procedures, including those for statuses, pre-trials, settlement conferences, temporary hearings, prove-ups, and even multi-day evidentiary trials.

In some ways, the pandemic has made the domestic relations process easier for families. For example, litigants do not have to deal with the hassle of driving to court, parking, going through security, or finding the right courtroom. Instead, litigants can attend court from the comfort of their own home or office. For example, in DuPage County, the court currently allows individuals who have entered into a complete agreement with their spouse to get divorced without ever having to come to court at all.  Instead, they can simply submit affidavits to the court along with their proposed agreements.  

However, when a case is contested and parties are unable to resolve their differences amicably, there is still a need for regular and sometimes frequent court appearances.  Since courts have moved to largely a remotely operated system, it’s important to understand the rules and expectations of the process.  Almost every county in Illinois is operating using the Zoom video platform. To be prepared, you should have this downloaded onto your computer or phone well in advance of your scheduled court date. It is also important to become familiar with the Zoom platform beforehand.  In particular, become familiar with the video and audio settings, so that you are comfortable using it and the Judge and attorneys can see and hear you when your case is called. This will save a significant amount of time. To obtain the zoom login information for your case, visit the county clerk of court website.

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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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