Family law in general constitutes a large portion of our practice at SWB, and a large part of practicing family law involves divorce (known in Illinois as “dissolution of marriage”). From initiating dissolution proceedings to pursuing post-decree modification of dissolution Judgments, we handle every issue that arises during the course of dissolution proceedings, as well as those that arise years later. Our simpler cases involve parties who have already reached an agreement regarding the terms of their divorce, and simply need an attorney to formalize their agreement and ensure that their case is properly filed and finalized with the court. The majority of our cases, however, involve significant negotiation and/or litigation of the many pre- and post-decree issues that commonly arise between parties, such as:
Whether the issue of custody arises in the context of divorce, post-dissolution proceedings, paternity proceedings, or in some other context, SWB has extensive experience in dealing with all matters custody-related. Custody can sometimes be the most hotly-contested issue in a case, and at other times can be easily resolved between parties themselves or through mediation.
Although we at SWB believe that the client has the final say in whether to settle or litigate the issue of custody, it is our job to ensure that he or she is fully informed before making that decision. Our experience and knowledge of the law allows us to counsel our clients not only about the letter of the law, but how the law applies to their case specifically. Custody is rarely a clear-cut issue, but with experience and compassion, we help our clients through every step of this very difficult process.
“Paternity” is a bit of a misnomer – such cases are no longer only brought by mothers in order to force fathers to pay child support. Many fathers are now bringing suit under the Paternity Act to enforce their rights of visitation, and sometimes even custody. Much like divorce cases, paternity matters can address a myriad of issues, including custody, visitation, child support, removal of a child out of state, payment of child support, etc. SWB attorneys have extensive experience in representing parties in paternity actions and dealing with any and all of these issues.
Child support is dealt with in both divorce and paternity cases, and can be subject to constant modification, sometimes repeatedly after a Judgment is entered. Although Illinois law provides specific guidelines for calculating child support, there are always other issues that arise – how do we calculate a person’s income when he or she is self-employed? What if a paying parent earns a significant income, and guideline child support would so far exceed the children’s needs that it would be a windfall to them? What happens if the paying parent loses his job or experiences a change in his income? What happens if the children’s needs change, or the paying parent fails to pay the amount he’s supposed to pay? SWB encounters these and other support-related issues on an almost daily basis in our practice of family law, and has both the knowledge and experience to address any such issues as they arise.
As with child support, maintenance is not an issue that is its own practice area, but one that arises in connection with dissolution proceedings. Known in other states as “alimony,” maintenance is support paid by one spouse to another, sometimes on a periodic basis for a specified term, other times in one lump sum. In Illinois, in many cases, maintenance is intended to be rehabilitative – to get the receiving spouse to a point where he or she can support himself or herself without receiving further support. There are, however, circumstances in which that is an impossibility, and in such cases maintenance becomes permanent. We at SWB have substantial experience in maintenance cases, and are exceedingly capable of advising our clients regarding whether and how much maintenance might be appropriate, and whether it would be worth it to pursue a maintenance award in a certain case.
Adoptions are one of the rarer cases we handle here at SWB, but they are the type of case we are always happy to take. Because our normal family law practice so often seems to involve families breaking up, we consider it good karma to do something that involves bringing families together. Not only do we represent parents who wish to adopt children, but two of our attorneys are approved to serve as Guardians ad Litem to represent children in adoption proceedings (see “Representation of Children,” below). We also have experience in dealing with more complicated issues in adoption, such as tribal law, and non-related adoptions.
Marc Schwartz and Howard Bernstein are both approved in both Cook and Lake Counties to represent children. This means that they can be appointed in divorce, paternity, and other such cases, to represent children when issues such as custody, visitation, removal to another state, and other such issues are involved. They may be appointed as attorneys for the children, guardians ad litem, or child representatives, all of which involve a slightly different role. In Lake County, this also means that they can be appointed as guardians ad litem to represent children in adoptions. In all cases, however, the representation of children involves conducting investigations and making recommendations directly to the Court regarding what is in the children’s best interest.
In all cases involving non-financial issues that touch on the interests of minor children, including custody, visitation, removal, etc., Illinois law requires that the parties attend mediation to address those issues. Before a trial or hearing may be scheduled to deal with child-related matters, the parties must at least attempt to mediate, to see if they can resolve the issues short of court intervention. SWB’s Howard Bernstein is included in the list of approved mediators in Lake County, has served as the on-call mediator for pro se litigants as requested by the Lake County family law judges, and has extensive mediation experience.
We at SWB believe that far too many people are far too casual about prenuptial and postnuptial agreements. Too many people don’t believe they need such an agreement, because they never want to believe that their marriage will end in divorce. What many fail to understand, however, is that a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement doesn’t just deal with divorce – it can (and often does) also address how the parties’ assets will be divided in the event of a spouse’s death.
More importantly, when couples do decide to enter into a pre- or post-nuptial agreement, it is shocking how many of those couples will sign an agreement that was drafted by an attorney who does not practice family law. All too often, a party’s family member, or a family friend, or business or tax lawyer will draft an agreement, even though that lawyer has little or no knowledge of divorce law. If the parties to such an agreement ever get divorced, it is often difficult to enforce such an agreement. As such, anyone who is contemplating marriage and has assets to protect should always go to a family law practitioner to have such an agreement drafted. SWB not only drafts such agreements, but also reviews agreements drafted by others, to ensure that the party whose attorney didn’t actually draft the agreement fully understands its contents and consequences.