What is a Divorce Mediator?

divorce mediatorWhile we’ve all heard horror stories of couples fighting over every single little item in their house when going through a divorce, and while that does happen, it’s not always the case. Many couples mutually agree to end their marriage, in which case they’re both more likely to cooperate in the divorce process (dividing marital property, determining custody and parenting time, etc.) For couples with an amicable divorce who don’t want to pay the fees associated with going to divorce court, there is a more affordable option: divorce mediation.

A divorce mediator is a neutral third party who helps facilitate the divorce and create an agreement that is amenable to both parties. Both spouses meet with the divorce mediator to determine the terms of the divorce agreement and make sure everyone can abide by those terms.

Representation

You don’t need an attorney if you’re using a divorce mediator, but you might still want a qualified family law attorney to help represent your interests in the divorce process. In that case, your attorney would be able to prepare you ahead of time, before you go into your first session with the mediator. This preparation would include explaining the legality of what some or all of your options are, and what those implications would be, if you decided to agree upon that term in the mediation. This is important to be informed on your legal options before entering mediation, as a mediator cannot give you specific legal advice. Rather, the mediator, in addressing you and your spouse together, can only explain in general terms what the law provides.

A common misconception is that a divorce mediator is a judge. This is not the case, as unlike a judge, a divorce mediator won’t make decisions for you and your spouse about who gets what in the divorce. Nor will a mediator examine “evidence” for you and tell you or your spouse who is “right” under the law. Instead, they’ll act as a facilitator to help you both agree on the terms of the divorce. For example, if there’s a piece of marital property or financial asset that you and your spouse both want, a divorce mediator can point out the fact that there might be something else of a similar value that you both want and each partner can get one of those things. Compromise is the name of the game in divorce, as well as in marriage, and a neutral third party can be invaluable in helping both you and your spouse recognize where you can find the potential for compromise.

You Decide Together

Because you and your spouse work together with the mediator to reach a mutually agreeable solution to the dissolution of your marriage, you’re both more likely to abide by the terms of the divorce and avoid conflicts in the future. While going to divorce court might provide an option that settles the matter relatively quickly and efficiently, all decisions are ultimately made for you by the judge. You both have a chance to say your piece, but the final decision is up to the judge, which usually leaves both of you feeling unsatisfied with the result .When that happens, you’re both less likely to abide by the terms of the divorce settlement, and this could end both of you back in divorce court if one spouse sues the other for failing to comply with the terms of the agreement.

Privacy

The other bonus of mediation is that it is completely confidential. Anything that happens in court goes on the record, which is then made publicly available. That can lead to some awkward conversations if a future spouse or potential employer gets their hands on a record of you and your spouse sniping at each other in court. But what happens in mediation stays in mediation. You’re not prohibited from telling your attorney about what happens in mediation, but the attorneys cannot give the Judge any details about what was negotiated, agreed to, or not agreed to with the mediator. Further, the mediator cannot be called to testify in your case about what was discussed in mediation, so this helps to ensure that discussions in mediation are honest, forthright, and productive.

If you’re going through a divorce, and you have children, more likely than not, you will have to attend sessions with a mediator during the process if you and your spouse are not otherwise able to agreed to a Parenting Plan on your own. In Illinois, parents are required to attend mediation for up to four (4) hours in any divorce or contested litigation involving children.   If used properly, mediation can save the parties thousands of dollars in litigation fees, so it is a smart thing to discuss with your spouse if you know divorce is coming.

At Sherer Law Offices, all of our attorneys in the firm are certified mediators in Illinois. So, we have several options for qualified mediators if you’re looking to pursue a more amicable and cost-friendly way to resolve your divorce. Contact us today to set up a time to discuss it.

The attorneys at Sherer Law Offices have been providing legal representation for real estate cases, criminal cases, and all types of family law for more than 20 years. Our experienced divorce attorneys will take the time to really listen to your unique situation so that they can plan strategies that can best protect your best interests. 

Top 5 Things To Consider When Hiring A Divorce Attorney

o-LAWYER-CLIENT-MEETING-facebookIf you are looking for a divorce attorney to represent your case, you are already aware that this can be an overwhelming and daunting task. The attorney you select will be trusted with your personal and financial information that you may not have shared before. They will take on many different roles throughout your case – most importantly, they will assist you in making important and very difficult decisions, so this person must not only be experienced and knowledgeable, but also highly trustworthy.

The following are some of the top aspects you should look for when searching for a divorce attorney:

#1 – Attentive and Concerned

The attorney you choose should actively care about your situation; you should not feel that you or your situation is unimportant to your attorney. Additionally, your attorney should be willing to introduce you to the people who will actively work alongside you throughout your case, such as paralegals, associate attorneys and administrative staff. Your attorney’s team plays an important role in the process as well.

#2 – Recommended by Someone You Know and Trust and Who Has Been in Your Shoes

The attorney you choose should have experience in family law. Don’t be afraid to ask a potential attorney about the cases he or she has successfully handled and if they have a specific area of expertise with the most important issues in your case, such as child custody, maintenance, or property division. Become aware of the number of cases your potential attorney has tried to juries and judges and/or their experience with in-depth settlement negotiations. In the event your case goes to court or enters the negotiation stage, you will want an attorney who is comfortable and competent, delivering your case in any setting.

A good practice is to seek out former client testimonials. Ask family members and friends if they know of the attorney and/or have any feedback they can share. Talk with people who have been represented by or have worked with the prospective attorney to get an idea of the client-attorney relationship. If family and friends aren’t the best resource for you, then do your research of the firm online to see if they have any published reviews from clients. The best advertisement that an attorney can get is word of mouth.

#3 – Clear Lines of Communication

A good attorney will speak in terms that you can easily understand and also be willing to explain anything that may be confusing to you. Clear communications with a potential attorney is a must; look for an attorney who listens and responds readily to your questions. Be sure to bring any questions to your initial consultation.

#4 – Carries a Professional Demeanor

Remember, you are hiring someone to accurately and effectively represent you. You want an attorney who works with you to recommend and implement the best strategy for propelling you toward your goals. They absolutely must be an effective advocate for you, so make sure they represent you in an ethical manner and promote your interests. Although it may not be evident in the initial meeting, you will want to be wary of an attorney who promises something quickly or makes a guarantee. No attorney can ever “guarantee” a result, as there are often too many factors at play in any court case. Your best bet is an attorney who is honest with you, one who has the skills to accomplish your goals, and one who you believe has your best interests at heart.

#5 – Offers a Clear Outline of Financial Expectations

Lastly, your attorney should clearly outline her/his hourly rate, retainer amount and policy, billing and payment procedures. All of this should be presented to you in writing and explained thoroughly to you preceding representation. Note, however, that unless the attorney is charging on a flat fee basis, rarely will an attorney be able to tell you with certainty what the “final cost” will be for any case. Again, often there are too many factors at play in litigation.

Find The Right Attorney for You

If you are looking for a divorce attorney, you will need a legal team that you can trust. Contact the divorce lawyers at the Law Office of Barbara Sherer. We offer you access to expert legal advice while making sure that the outcome serves your best interests.

Same-Sex Divorce: Is The Process Different?

same-sex-marriage-divorce-rateSome aspects of same-sex divorces are similar to traditional divorces. However, sometimes same-sex divorces can have additional legal issues, including but not limited to: the validity of the marriage, when and where the marriage began, what rules exist with regard to the couples’ finances, if both spouses are legal parents, and/or why it’s important to legally end a partnership. Home states for many same-sex couples did not recognize their relationships, therefore couples decided to travel to another state to get married. By doing so, every couple with multiple registrations has to take extra steps as they separate.

Is It Time To Legally End Your Union?

If you were married, registered, or a partnership was created, you are legally and financially bound to your partner, unless you terminate those arrangements. Recent rulings at the federal level have changed legal aspects of same-sex marriage and divorce, so if your union didn’t seem legally significant when registered, time and recent changes may affect the scope of those decisions.

Tips On How To End Your Same-Sex Union/Marriage

Some of the easier registrations to terminate are those with employers, cities, and counties. Each will have its own termination form and for the most part all that is required is completing and submitting a form. In some instances, your partner’s signature may not even be required, however it is best that you notify your ex-partner of each action taken in writing so that should an issue arise later, you have documentation.

State registrations or marriages are generally much more complicated to terminate. In situations where your current home state does not recognize same-sex unions or marriages, your local court judge may refuse to grant a divorce, even with regard to the current federal ruling. A judge may be even more reluctant when faced with dealing with registrations from several states. And although it may seem easier to return to the state where you were married or partnered, most states have residency requirements in order to file for divorce.  In Illinois, for example, you cannot file for divorce unless you have resided in the State for at least ninety (90) days. By checking with the state in which you were married, you can determine the requirements for your specific circumstances.

Conflict and Divorce

No matter who is involved in a marriage, the basic premise remains the same when facing divorce: you want the best and most painless way for you and your family to get through this most difficult time. As such, there are several options to consider as you work toward choosing a method of resolution. Options are available to you to achieve resolution if you and your spouse wish to settle your dispute without going to court: mediation, negotiation or collaborative divorce proceedings.

Negotiation

Negotiation, simply defined, is discussions geared toward reaching an agreement. Negotiation often involves each spouse deciding together how to divide property, or it can mean that you each hire lawyers who negotiate on your behalf to carry out your wishes.

Emotions can complicate issues such as parental rights and division of property. However, if you are able to negotiate directly with each other, you will avoid court and lawyer fees. What you will need is a clear understanding of not only your position, but that of your partner, and the ability to keep a strict focus on the end result while showing that you are open to compromise.

If this option is not for you, a lawyer can be hired to negotiate for you on your behalf. Your lawyer will work with your partner’s lawyer toward resolution that involves the exchange of possible settlement options until an agreement is reached.

Mediation

Mediation plays out with a neutral negotiator, or mediator, who works with each of you to resolve disputes using effective communication regarding your needs and interests until an issue is resolved. A mediator is not a judge, and mediators do not make legal decisions or issue rulings.

Mediation may be an appropriate option in same-sex divorces. Often, same-sex spouses may have been accumulating property together for much longer than they have had the right to marry. As such, mediation may be an appropriate venue for itemizing assets or debts that, although were not acquired during their legal marriage, were in fact acquired after the couple decided to enter into a marriage-like arrangement but were prohibited from legally marrying. If this is the case, mediation may be best for you.

Further, something to note is that where a couple has children, Illinois court rules require parties to complete at least four (4) hours of mediation if a divorce action is filed. So, many attorneys will encourage parties to attend mediation even before a divorce is filed, as it may be required anyway if or when a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is filed with the Court. There are exceptions to the mediation requirement, but only the Court can make this determination to waive mediation once a case becomes contested.

Collaborative Divorce

A relatively new method is Collaborative Divorce, which contains elements of lawyer-assisted negotiations and mediation. Each party hires an attorney, who then advocates for each client. Both spouses and lawyers sign a written agreement that the case will not go to court and agree instead to settle it. If one party chooses litigation, each attorney withdraws and the couple must choose new representation. The new set of attorneys then begin a new representation.

Contested Divorce Proceedings

In the event an agreement cannot be reached, most spouses will hire representation, and all disputes will be submitted to a judge for resolution, except as stated above with regard to Court-ordered mediation. Although hiring an attorney is not a Court requirement, it is not advisable to represent yourself in any divorce proceeding. If you are considering this option, be prepared to spend a lot of time organizing documents and researching the law to create a solid legal argument that supports your position, as well as preparing yourself to present your case in front of a judge.

Further, this likely will not be a quick or cost-effective method as many jurisdictions, particularly in Illinois, only schedule pro se dockets for certain days/weeks of the month. Additionally, given how many Court dockets are scheduled, a frequent result is that cases involving attorneys are often heard first since the Court is acknowledging of the fact that attorneys are being paid for their time to appear that day. As such, pro se litigants often end up having to take a significant time off from work to appear at every court appearance and wait for their turns to speak with the Judge. If you are represented by an attorney, the attorney can usually appear on your behalf at procedural court appearances such as status hearings, meaning you will only be required to appear when it is necessary.

Hiring the right lawyer for you is essential to achieving a settlement or resolution that is best for all involved. The legal team at Sherer Law Offices can help you navigate the divorce process and provide support should disputes arise.

Who Gets the Diamond? How Assets are Divided During Divorce

ringfIllinois law requires that property in a divorce be divided equitably, but that does not necessarily mean that it will be equal. Some couples agree on how to divide what they own while other couples need the help of an attorney or a mediator to come to a settlement.

Couples who are unable to come to an agreement will end up in court and ask the judge to make the decision for them. Sometimes an arbitrator will make the decision. A judge in Illinois will consider all of the factors that are relevant when making a decision about the division of property. Some of those factors include the effects of any prenuptial agreements, the couple’s occupations and ability to be employed, the length of the marriage, and custody arrangements for any children.

Separate Property vs. Marital Property

When dividing property, the first thing that needs to happen is differentiating between separate property and marital property. Separate property includes the property that either spouse owned before they got married. It also includes property that was inherited or received as a gift. Income from separate property is also included.

Marital property includes most of the debts and assets acquired during the marriage. Sometimes, separate property can be converted into marital property. This can be specified in a written agreement. A spouse might also change separate property into marital property by changing the property title from an individual title to a joint title.

Marital and separate properties are occasionally mixed together; this is called “commingling.” Couples might combine their property on purpose, or they may do it without even knowing it. For example, a bank account that one spouse has before the marriage can become marital property if the other spouse deposits money into it. A house that is owned by one spouse can also become marital property if the other spouse makes a mortgage payment or pays for any other expenses regarding the house. This can make things very complicated and require the help of an experienced divorce attorney.

Determining Value

After figuring out whether the property is marital or separate, the spouses, or possibly the court, will assign monetary value to the items. If a couple needs help with determining value, they can hire a professional appraiser. Things such as retirement accounts are difficult to evaluate and may require the advice of a C.P.A. or other financial advisor.

Property Division

Assets can be divided by assigning particular items to each spouse. There may be a need for an equalizing payment if one spouse gets considerably more than the other. They may also choose to sell a particular piece of property and split the money equally. Sometimes, they agree to continue owning the property jointly. For example, a divorced couple may decide to keep the family house until their children are no longer in school or keep it as an investment property with the hope that the value will increase over time. This is NOT recommended for couples who don’t get along, but it may be an advantage for couples who get along well and can remain friends after they are divorced.

If you have questions about the division of your property during a divorce, you need the advice of an experienced divorce attorney.

CONTACT Sherer Law Offices for a consultation.

What Not to Do When Getting a Divorce

divorce_2147804bAnyone who has been through it can tell you: divorce is not easy. Tension is high and couples can make bad decisions in the heat of the moment. With the vast amount of financial, emotional, and practical details that have to be sorted out, it’s not a surprise that some couples make critical mistakes with their divorce.

That being said, there are many key things you should do, or not do to make sure you don’t regret you choices later. Here are some things to avoid when filing for a divorce.

Don’t Forget to Change your Will

A will does not automatically get revoked when you get a divorce. If you don’t want your soon-to-be ex to receive any of the benefits given to them in your will, you need to change it. This can be done at any time. Be aware, however, that if you happen to die before the divorce is granted and your spouse has nothing left to them, they can sue and recover part of your estate.

Don’t Dismiss Collaborative Divorce or Mediation

Collaborative divorce is when you get the help of professionals, such as attorneys, divorce coaches or therapists to help you through the divorce process in an effort to minimize conflict. They can help to divide property and manage your emotional stress. In most cases, a collaborative divorce will be much less adversarial than traditional divorce.

Mediation is different. Only one person (a divorce mediator) helps you and your spouse reach an agreement. Medication is usually an on-going process rather than a one-time intervention. Paid lawyers are usually not allowed in a mediation meeting, but you can consult your lawyer at any time during the process to make sure you are getting a fair result.

Do Not Take it Out on Your Children

Your children need to be in a supportive environment to deal with the stress of a divorce. Minimize discussions with them about the process. This will allow you to have more time with them and refocus your energy on attending school events, helping them with their homework, or taking them out to see a movie. If you are relaxed, they will be more relaxed. Even though you should be comfortable talking about divorce with your children, the idea of the divorce is to relieve the stress that you and your family have been experiencing.

Do Not Refuse to See a Therapist

It is highly recommended that you see a therapist to help you deal with the range of emotions that you will experience as you go through your divorce. Get help before you become extremely depressed or angry. A therapist is not only someone you can talk to, they can also show you how to relax, talk to your kids, and how to remain calm when you are in court.

Don’t “Settle” Too Soon

Just because you want to end your marriage as quickly as possible, doesn’t mean you should give up your financial security. Make several copies of your important financial documents like pension statements, tax forms and credit card statements. It will help you keep track of what you receive and what you owe. Make sure you and your children will have continued health coverage during and after the divorce.

The attorneys at Sherer Law Offices have been providing legal representation for divorce cases for more than 20 years. We will take the time to listen to your concerns and help to protect you best interests.

CONTACT us today for a legal consultation.