What’s the Difference Between Separation and Divorce?

Difference Between Separation and DivorceThe main difference between separation and divorce is that, when you’re separated, you are still legally married to your spouse. While separations often lead to divorce, divorce is not inevitable once a couple decides to separate. Some couples take some time off from each other to reassess the state of their marriage. Some people decide to take a new, more successful approach to their marriage after that, while others decide to make the separation permanent by filing for divorce.

First, there’s the distinction between a trial separation and a legal separation. A trial separation is when you and your spouse decide, on your own, to live apart for a time to take a break from your marriage. The separation can last as long as you want, since it has no official end date, and you and your spouse are free to divide up the bills and assets during the separation as you see fit. This works pretty well for most people, to the point where some states don’t even provide legal separation as an option.

Obtaining a legal separation requires a court order and often involves much of the same legal processes as a divorce.

Separation is a kind of middle ground between marriage and divorce. You and your spouse remain legally married and cannot remarry until you obtain a divorce. In a legal separation, the judge cannot divide marital property unless the parties agree to the division, but they can determine custody issues, child support, and alimony for the duration of the separation.

Like divorce, in order to obtain a legal separation, you have to file a petition for legal separation in the county in which you live, then serve your spouse with papers informing them of your intention to separate.

In Illinois, you are required to have lived in Illinois for at least 90 days before you can ask for a separation in Illinois. You can still request a legal separation in Illinois if your spouse lives in another state, as long as you have lived in Illinois for the minimum required time period.

If children are involved, then the children must have lived in Illinois for at least six months before an Illinois court can determine custody. If your children live with your spouse in another state, you will likely need to file for separation in the state in which they live. Be sure to look up that state’s requirements before you file or speak with a licensed attorney there.

Once you file for a legal separation, the court will begin the legal process, and that process will ultimately end with the Judge setting a hearing date, much like a divorce hearing. There you will have your opportunity to present your side of the case and the judge will make their decisions regarding custody (or parenting time, as it’s referred to in Illinois), child support, and alimony.

Don’t forget that mediation is always an option and can help the separation process. It can make the entire process go much more smoothly than if you and your spouse are forced to abide by terms laid out by a judge. Couples who mediate their separations and divorces are more likely to abide by the terms of the agreement and are less likely to end up back in court.

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. 

What if Your Ex Refuses to Help Pay for College?

ex refuses to help pay for collegeIdeally, if your ex refuses to help pay for college you two can work out a solution without resorting to court. If that fails, here’s what you need to know about taking your ex to court if they insist on refusing to help:

Don’t Wait

Everything has a time limit, including demands that your ex-spouse pay their share of child support and/or college. If you wait too long to take your ex to court over failure to contribute to your children’s education, the court may interpret the time you waited as having waived your right to your ex’s financial contributions. If your ex has violated the divorce agreement in any way, it is imperative that you file a complaint against them immediately so you always have a paper trail to show the court.

Doing so also helps prevent your ex from claiming ignorance. Without having those complaints as evidence, your ex may be able to claim they didn’t know about the expenses. In some cases, they may even claim they had no knowledge of your child’s intention of going to college, where they were going, or what they were studying. Some people will then claim they were denied a say in their child’s future, and then you have another problem on your hands.

This is also why it’s important to maintain a record of all correspondence between your ex. Keep track of emails, letters, and statements between you and your spouse so you can prove you made them aware of the expenses and show the court your ex’s responses.

It’s also important not to wait to pursue an Order for college expenses once you know where your child wants to attend school. Many divorce judgments don’t address college because the children are too young at the time of divorce. So, we typically recommend you start the discussions about college with your ex when your high schooler starts visiting campuses. This way, if he or she indicates a refusal to help with tuition, you have time to consult with an attorney and get a motion on file with the Court.

Get an Attorney

If you can’t afford to hire an attorney to go to family court, you can take your spouse to court without an attorney – although we highly recommend you hire a competent legal professional to help represent your interests in court. If you make a mistake or forget to bring up an important point, it can be much more expensive to hire an attorney to try undo your mistake, if that’s even possible.

An attorney can also advise you on the how’s, what’s and when’s in filing for post-minor support, such as what is needed when filing, how to get information about the school’s cost, when the Court will deny a request for contribution to college, etc.

It Won’t Take as Long as You Think

If you’re afraid you don’t have time to take your ex to court and get them to pay up before the bills are due, you don’t have to worry. First of all, that’s why it’s so important for you to file a complaint against your ex as soon as possible – don’t wait until the bills are overdue, and certainly don’t wait until you’ve already paid them before filing, because a judge might perceive that to mean you’ve waived your right to your ex’s help in paying those bills. Also, many times the Court will back-date any Order for post-minor support to the date that you originally filed your motion.

Second, concluding a post-judgment motion (meaning a motion filed after the initial divorce judgment) does not have to take as long as the divorce itself. Unlike many court motions, which can often take months, if not years, to be decided, a post-judgment motion can usually be decided in much less time depending on the case. If it’s a simple matter of your spouse refusing to help pay your child’s education expenses, and you can prove they were made aware of the bills and have refused to contribute, it shouldn’t take a court long to decide the matter. If you don’t have an Order yet for contribution, the process is usually just a matter of exchanging the financial information about each parent’s income and the costs of the school so that the Court can decide whether it is appropriate to make the parents pay for college.

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. 

What Not to Do on Social Media During Divorce

Social Media During DivorceMost family law attorneys recommend avoiding social media during divorce altogether because anything you say online can and will be used against you in divorce court – even if it seems harmless at the time you posted it.

That said, if you do decide against a social media hiatus until the divorce is over, here are some things you should absolutely avoid posting on social media:

Announcing Your Divorce

While changing your relationship status on social media is exciting when starting a new relationship, the opposite can just make the break up process worse. Talk to your spouse before announcing the change in your relationship status on social media because no one likes to be blindsided. You may, however, discuss potential ways to announce it together.

In fact, that’s a good rule of thumb to maintain for the entire divorce process. Don’t announce your decision to get divorced. Don’t announce when the divorce has been finalized. And don’t announce your hearing/court dates for your divorce. You may continue talking to and about your friends on social media while you’re getting divorced, but don’t talk about your spouse or your divorce. Which brings us to our next piece of advice:

Badmouthing Your Spouse

The divorce process can be frustrating, and for many of us, our first instinct is to get online to complain about things that annoy us – including our significant other, but that’s a really bad idea when you’re getting divorced.

First of all, no one wants to see that. Many of your friends are probably also friends of your spouse, and seeing you complain about their friend creates some very awkward situations. Keep everyone else out of your divorce by refraining from talking about it on social media.

Second of all, as stated above, anything you say online can and will be used against you in divorce court. Badmouthing the other party looks really bad and can influence the judge against you, not to mention aggravate your spouse and make it less likely they’ll cooperate with you in the divorce process.

Incriminating Yourself

If you’re using your joint bank account to go on a shopping spree, don’t post your haul on social media. Even if you don’t specify where the funds came from, any signs of excessive spending can affect the court’s decision when it comes to any alimony and/or child support to which you’re entitled. Division of marital property and financial assets can also be affected by anything you post online about significant purchases.

Not to mention that social media is often widely accessible, even if you use your privacy settings to prevent anyone other than friends and family from seeing your posts. There are ways a court, an attorney, or a prospective employer can access your social media profile. Any signs of irresponsible spending have the potential to affect, not just your current personal life, but any job prospects or potential romantic relationships you might have in the future.

Speaking of romantic relationships, if you’ve been having any extramarital affairs, don’t ever post anything about them on social media. Even if your spouse already knows about the relationship, posting about it on social media looks really bad in court and has the potential to influence the court against you, especially when it comes to things like alimony, child support, and custody.

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. 

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. 

When Your Spouse Refuses to Participate in the Divorce Process

Spouse Refuses to Participate in the Divorce ProcessThe best-case scenario for a divorce is an uncontested divorce, in which both parties agree to the dissolution of the marriage and cooperate in the dividing of marital property and determining things like alimony and custody (if necessary). But sometimes one spouse refuses to participate in the divorce process, making it difficult to complete the divorce process.

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need both parties to sign the papers in order to finalize a divorce. All you need is to file a petition for divorce and make sure you can prove your spouse is aware of the petition. Further, you have to be able to show you gave them a chance to respond, and each state has their own time requirements before the Court will find someone in “default.” In Illinois, all contested divorce cases start by serving your spouse with divorce papers. If he or she does not respond within 30 days of receiving your petition for divorce, or otherwise file any motions with the Court, you can ask the Court to find your spouse in default and to set the case for hearing on a default Judgement. If your spouse does not show up to court on the appointed date, the court may decide to grant you a default divorce. By failing to respond or show up to court, your spouse forfeits their right to have a say in the divorce process or judgment.

However, there are some instances in which the spouse cannot be located. So long as you can attest to the Court that you have made all reasonable attempts to locate your spouse, you can get what is known as a publication by divorce, in which you publish notice of you your petition for divorce in the local media outlets of the last known whereabouts of your spouse. Your notice has to run a certain number of times before the Court will accept service by publication, so it’s important to check your local Court Rules or consult with an experienced attorney for the required procedure. If your spouse still doesn’t do not respond within 30 days, most courts will grant a default judgment.

If your spouse did file a response to your petition for divorce, but refuses to participate further in the process, the judge may proceed as though it is an uncontested divorce, but you might have to wait to be assigned a court date. If you get a court date and your spouse fails to appear in court on the appointed day, the judge may enter orders based on the divorce petition and response.

As always, a competent family law attorney can help with this process, as even seeking a default divorce can be stressful since there are specific rules you must follow. If your spouse thinks they can avoid divorce by simply refusing to sign the papers, a letter from your attorney can set them straight. When they see that the divorce can proceed with or without their cooperation, most people will choose to cooperate in the divorce. There are many reasons one might refuse to sign divorce papers, but an experienced family law attorney can usually ensure that the divorce proceeds according to your wishes.

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. 

What Can Be Included in A Prenuptial Agreement?

prenuptial agreementNot only is the divorce rate going up these days, but the rate at which couples are signing a prenuptial agreement has also been on the rise.

Although it has long been perceived as a measure to protect the wealthy from gold diggers, spouses of a wider range of incomes are now signing prenuptial agreements as a way to determine how their property will be divided in the event of a divorce. It essentially provides a blueprint for how debts, assets, and other financial matters will be handled within the marital estate if the marriage ends.

Rather than a sign that trust is lacking in the relationship, one could think of a prenuptial agreement as a way to speed up the divorce process and even improve marital happiness by helping spouses avoid disputes over money and property.

Reasons for Getting A Prenuptial Agreement

Spouses generally want to consider signing a prenuptial agreement if they have any personal or otherwise pre-marital property they want to protect from the possibility of getting touched during divorce. This includes any property the person owns, including real estate, a retirement account, and/or their business(es) if they’re a business owner. These agreements can, and often do, involve property the spouses expect they will receive after the date of the marriage, but that both parties agree will remain, for all intents and purposes, that spouse’s sole property.

Children from a prior relationship are also a big motivator for many people to get a prenuptial agreement, as many parents will want to protect any assets or funds the children might inherit. A prenuptial agreement can define what property will belong solely to that spouse and his or her specified beneficiaries.

What Cannot Be Included In A Prenuptial Agreement

While a prenuptial agreement can avoid many of the “classic” disputes people think of during a divorce, a prenuptial agreement cannot determine a party’s obligation for child support. Child support belongs to the child, and the child alone, and as such, public policy in Illinois indicates that it cannot be contracted in advance or given away by a parent. Because children’s financial needs change depending on their age and circumstances, it is impossible to determine ahead of time how much (if any) child support they may need by the time the couple gets divorced, which could be any number of years in the future, if it happens at all. This is the same rationale behind the policy prohibiting spouses in a divorce from entering into an Agreement that no child support will ever be owed to the other parent and/or that a child support amount cannot be modified in the future.

The same goes for custody of children. If a couple does get divorced, a judge will determine what is best for the child at that point in time.

Dividing Marital Property

Any property a person owns prior to getting married is generally considered their personal property, and it will most often be returned to them by a divorce judge even without a prenuptial agreement. To the contrary, property and assets acquired during marriage are presumed to be marital property regardless of how they are titled, and that’s where divorces can get contentious. In order to avoid such a mess, a prenuptial agreement can decide ahead of time how marital property will be divided in the event of a divorce.

Things That Are Commonly Included In Prenuptial Agreements

In addition to protecting personal property, assets, and debts, prenuptial agreements can determine the following:

  • A spouse’s right to use, manage, transfer, sell, or dispose of property during marriage
  • Alimony that will be paid by a spouse after divorce, including the amount and duration of payments
  • A spouse’s right to ownership of death benefits from their partner’s life insurance policy
  • A spouse’s requirement to create a will that will carry out the terms of the agreement; and
  • Which state laws can be applied to the contract in the event of divorce.

Enforceability

A prenuptial agreement is there to give both parties peace of mind, but there are certain requirements the contracts must meet in order to be enforceable in each state. Whichever state’s marriage law you decide will apply to your prenuptial agreement, make sure the contract abides by all of that state’s requirements for prenuptial agreements. The timing and execution of a premarital agreement is also an important consideration, as an agreement made under coercion or duress will be held unenforceable by the Court.

The attorneys at Sherer Law Offices have been providing legal representation for divorce cases, as well as 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. 

Dividing Property That Is in A Trust During Divorce

Dividing PropertyAny property acquired during the marriage is generally considered marital property – meaning both parties have an equal claim on the property – but that’s not always the case with trusts. A trust is a piece of property that is managed by a trustee for a beneficiary. The piece of property funding the trust can be anything from cash to real estate.

There are a variety of reasons someone might want to create a trust. In some cases, they may just want to avoid paying taxes on the property, or they may want to pass it along as an inheritance while avoiding going through probate court. Protecting certain assets from spouses in case the marriage doesn’t last may be the reason behind creating a trust, or it may just be a benefit if that sad day comes.

Trusts received as a gift or part of an inheritance are generally considered separate (non-marital) property, rather than marital property, under Illinois law.

Trusts acquired before marriage are generally not considered marital property unless the funds have been distributed and commingled with marital property. For example, if any funds from a trust had been deposited into a joint bank account shared by both partners, then it would be considered to have commingled with marital property, in which case a judge may consider the trust marital property when dividing assets.

Any property or assets acquired during divorce is generally considered marital property, regardless of whose name is on the title or listed as the beneficiary. This can be true of trusts as well, but there are some exceptions, namely the revocable trust.

Trusts can be revocable, which is when the grantor (creator of the trust) reserves the right to cancel the trust at any time. Beneficiaries of revocable trusts cannot access funds from the trust, which is one way for the grantors of trusts to help provide for a loved one while keeping the funds safe from that loved one’s spouse or ex-spouse.

Sometimes a spouse will create a trust and name the other spouse as the beneficiary as a way to leave something to the beneficiary if something were to happen to the grantor first. Such a trust can be created out of either marital or non-marital property, but either way, once divorce proceedings have begun, the trust is usually revoked and the property reverts to its previous status as either marital or non-marital property.

But most revocable trusts are not automatically revoked in the event of a divorce under Illinois law. If the property used to fund the trust was marital property, then the trust can be revoked in order to finish dividing the marital assets, but any trust assets that were not already set to go to an ex-spouse will automatically be revoked.

If the grantor is the one getting divorced, then all provisions of that trust pertaining to the grantor’s spouse, and which are revocable by the grantor, do get revoked. This includes any gifts or interests in property.

Although the beneficiary of a divorce may succeed in keeping all their rights to that trust secure, if there are children involved, the value of that trust will be included when calculating child support and/or spousal maintenance (alimony).

The attorneys at Sherer Law Offices have been providing legal representation for divorce cases, as well as 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. 

Common Mistakes People Make During Divorce

Common Mistakes People Make During DivorceWe all make mistakes, especially when we’re stressed and feeling emotional. Few things are more stressful or more emotional than divorce, but that’s also when it’s most important to refrain from making any mistakes.

When litigating and/or settling divorce, it’s nothing less than our lives at stake. In addition to financial assets and alimony, any marriage with children will also have to deal with dividing decision-making duties and parenting time schedules. These are all things no one can afford to lose, so if you’re getting divorced, make sure you’re not making these common mistakes:

Not listening to the experts.

We’ve already talked about why it’s important to hire a divorce attorney rather than trying it DIY, but it’s equally important to listen to the attorney you’ve hired. They’re the expert and they’re able to look at the situation without all the emotional baggage you’re bringing to the divorce. You don’t have to take their advice if you don’t feel like it’s really what you want, but if your attorney is strongly advising you to do (or avoid) something, you need to take that under serious consideration.

Taking advice from people other than your attorney.

Just as important as taking advice from your attorney is not taking advice from people other than your attorney. When getting divorced, everyone will be full of advice, and it may be tempting to take advice from everyone from your best friend to your pharmacist. Even though they may have the best of intentions, they won’t necessarily know what’s best for you.  Even if you trust their opinion or believe they have all the facts because they went through a divorce or custody battle in the past, understand that they don’t have all the facts. Every divorce is different and more than likely, the Judge handling your case now did not hear your friends’ case. Outcomes in divorce vary greatly depending on the Judge you have, and it is your attorney’s job to advise you on how the Judge on your case may rule.   Also, as we posted previously, the laws changed significantly in Illinois in 2015, 2016 and 2017 via separate amendments to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. So, all of these changes mean your divorce will be handled much differently than those heard by the Court even just a year ago.

Fighting over the children.

In many divorces, each party just wants to hurt the other, and few things hurt worse than denying someone access to their children. But it’s important to set aside your hurt feelings and pride and consider what’s really best for the children. If the other party wants to spend time with their children and they’re not putting them in any danger by doing so, the Court will insist that you allow them to have time with their children. Denying time or the ability to participate in a co-parenting relationship usually backfires on the parent withholding the children. Finally, your relationship will benefit from it in the long run and your children will benefit from having both parents remain active and present in their lives.

Continuing to litigate a case when settling would make more sense.

There are many reasons people choose to continue to litigate a case rather than settle. Sometimes people think they can get more money out of their spouse if they have their “day in Court.” Other times they just want to get revenge on their spouse, and they decide to do that by dragging out the matter as long as possible.

But in many cases, you can get more money by settling the case as soon as possible and saving yourself the additional legal fees involved in continuing to litigate. And while you may want revenge for the pain your spouse inflicted on you, choosing to drag out the litigation, rather than settling and getting it over with, can do as much damage to you (both emotionally and financially) as to the other party. There’s no point in taking the time and energy to hurt someone else if you hurt yourself in the process. A knowledgeable and experienced attorney can advise you when it is worthwhile to litigate the case than to settle.

These and many other mistakes can be made when you allow yourself to be carried away by the harrowing emotions that can come along with divorce. Instead of focusing on the negative feelings you’re experiencing right now, try to consider the kind of relationship you want with your ex-spouse and your children later on down the road. Let that foresight (and your attorney) be your guide in how you handle your divorce.

The attorneys at Sherer Law Offices have been providing legal representation for divorce cases, as well as 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. 

Understanding Why A Do-It-Yourself Divorce Is Dangerous

do-it-yourself divorceThere are some projects where it might be practical to DIY – divorce is not one of those projects.

As wonderful as the internet is, it does not, in fact, contain all the answers. Conducting an internet search of the marriage laws in your state does not give you an idea of how those marriage laws actually play out in the courtroom. And TV courtroom dramas are nothing more than entertainment and are not meant to give the impression that being an attorney is easy and anyone can do it.

As appealing as it might sound to be able to pay a single, small fee for all the legal documents you’ll need for your divorce, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There’s no denying the fact that attorneys cost money and many people getting divorced are afraid they can’t afford it. But the fact is they can’t afford not to hire an attorney to help them with their divorce.

When two people have been married for any length of time, they have formed a life together. They have combined not just living space, but assets and possessions. If they had children together or were jointly raising children from a previous relationship, those children will be heavily affected by the divorce, and they deserve more than a packet of documents off the internet.

More often than not, trying to save money with a DIY divorce backfires, sometimes to the point of one partner having to file for bankruptcy after the divorce. If you weren’t trained to defend your case in a courtroom, you won’t be properly equipped to represent your best interests. Even if there’s no one more motivated to protect your rights than you, that doesn’t mean you know the best way to go about doing so in a courtroom.

By insisting on a DIY divorce, you could unintentionally get a bad deal for yourself when negotiating settlements and end up with a far smaller settlement than an experienced divorce attorney could have gotten for you. If children are involved you could end up with less parenting time and/or less child support than you are owed.

And are you aware of the developing laws regarding pets in divorce? Some state divorce laws are starting to treat pets more like children (since their owners certainly do), but Illinois still treats pets like property – meaning, if you both acquired the pet during the marriage, the pet will be divided along with the furniture, heirlooms, etc. If you and your spouse acquired a pet together, and you want to make sure the pet stays with you, you’re going to need a competent divorce attorney on your side.

Many couples who try a DIY divorce end up back in the courtroom a year or two later to sort out all the things their DIY divorce missed or failed to handle properly. That costs more time and more court fees. Further, they’ll probably end up having to pay the attorneys’ fees they were hoping the DIY divorce would avoid, only now the fees will be much higher because the attorney will require more time, effort, and resources to sort out the mess made by the DIY divorce. Obtaining your rightful property may also be impossible if you’ve already given it away, as property settlements are generally not disturbed 30 days after the Judgment. Bottom line: it is easier and less expensive to do it right the first time.

Finally, don’t ever assume that a Court will just accept the settlement that you and your spouse come up with in your DIY divorce. More and more judges are refusing to enter divorce agreements that are based on online forms, even the ones the parties paid for using an online document servicer/generator. This is not because Judges prefer to have attorneys, but rather because the Judge can usually identify the problems with the documents or potential pitfalls with the parties’ agreement. So, by rejecting the documents and advising the parties to go seek an attorney to review them, the Judge is actually helping the parties by avoiding a situation where one or both of them has to return to Court down the road to fix the problems.

The attorneys at Sherer Law Offices have been providing legal representation for divorce cases, as well as 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. 

Dividing Pension and Retirement Benefits During Divorce

Dividing Pension and Retirement Benefits During DivorceWhen considering what they’re entitled to in a divorce, most people think of dividing up the bank accounts and the property. Few of them think of the pension, 401k, or other retirement plan, but they should.

In most states (depending on the relevant marriage law) all pension money earned during the marriage is considered an asset that belongs to both parties and should be divided accordingly. Along with the rest of the estate, the pension benefits can be divided at the time of the divorce. The court can issue an order (known as a domestic relations order) for the pension plan to make payments to a former spouse, in which case they’ll be listed as an Alternate Payee.

Most pension plans will pay benefits directly to an ex-spouse if the domestic relations order meets certain criteria. If there are survivor benefits on a pension, payments can be made for the life of the employee and even after, regardless of whether they die before or after retiring. But everything is dependent on the prevailing local law, so check your state, county, city, and village requirements if you’re getting divorced and want to know your chances of getting your share of your spouse’s pension. Illinois allows both court orders and model court orders.

But the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) controls all corporate-defined retirement plans, as well as certain defined contribution plans, and it pre-empts any state court orders. If a domestic relations order meets the requirements laid out by the ERISA, it becomes known as a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). A plan administrator can determine whether a particular retirement plan fulfills all the criteria for a QDRO.

Government and military plans are exempt from ERISA, but they have their own regulations. Government pension plans involved in a domestic relations order that meet the necessary requirements are also referred to as QDROs.

The criteria for qualifying as a QDRO include things like the need to state the amount or percentage of the benefits to be paid to the Alternate Payee (or at least the manner in which that amount or percentage is to be determined). They also require a specific number of payments or the time period to which the order applies.

There are also limits on what QDROs can do. For example, they cannot require the plan to pay any benefits in any option that is not already offered by the plan. They also cannot require the plan to pay benefits that are worth more than the value of the Primary Participant’s interest (an actuary will be needed to determine that number); and they cannot require payment be made to an Alternate Payee that has already been set aside to be paid to an earlier Alternate Payee.

The first thing that needs to be done when claiming a right to part of a spouse’s retirement plan is to determine the value. That’s easy for a contribution plan, such as a 401k or IRA, because the current value gets reported to the account holder in statements that are provided either monthly, quarterly, or annually. But determining the value for a corporate-sponsored pension gets a little trickier.

In all cases involving the division of retirement accounts, it is important to consult with an attorney who is experienced in family law and the preparation of these Orders. Because the Orders entered with the family Court must often lay out the key information for the execution of a QDRO, the drafting of the Judgment for Dissolution and/or any settlement documents is just as important as the preparation of the QDRO itself. A certified copy of the divorce judgment must be sent to the Plan Administrator with the QDRO in order to finalize the division of the account, so the terms of both must match.

The attorneys at Sherer Law Offices have been providing legal representation for divorce cases, as well as 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.