Divorce: How to Break it to the Kids

break it to the kidsOne of the worst parts of getting divorced is when you have to break it to the kids. Depending on how old the kids are and how much the marriage has deteriorated, they may have already guessed what’s happening, but you should still broach the subject carefully. We’ve come up with some tips to help.

Do It Together

It’s always hard to do things with your soon-to-be ex, but it’s important to remember that you will both continue to be parents, so this is a good time to start practicing how to raise the kids as a divorced couple.

Plan Ahead

There’s no way to map out exactly how a conversation will go, and you can’t expect it to happen just the way you plan it, but you can foresee some questions (maybe even objections) and decide how you’ll address them. Because you and your partner should have the conversation with your kids together, you should also complete the planning stage together. It’s important that you both agree on how and when to broach the subject, as well as the kind of language you’ll use. The words you choose to use can make a big difference, so it’s important that you decide carefully, agree on it beforehand, and stick to the plan.

Talk to Everyone at Once

If you have more than one child, be sure to talk to all the children at the same time. This is not a situation to deploy the “divide and conquer” strategy. While it might be tempting to try to talk to just one child at a time, in reality that will just lead to confusion for them and emotional exhaustion for you, since you’ll have to have the same tough conversation multiple times. It will also give them a chance to talk about it amongst themselves before you have a chance to talk to each of them, which will lead to rumors and fear.

Answer Any Questions

They’re bound to have questions: where will they live? Who will they live with? Will they still see both parents? Will they still be a family? It’s important to address all these questions and any others they might have in order to reassure them that your decision to end the marriage has nothing to do will your love for them.

Be Prepared for Multiple Conversations

It will take a while before they’ll be able to fully digest what you tell them and what it might mean for them. Be prepared for them to come back later with more questions and be open to answering all those questions. Just keep in mind the first rule of talking about divorce with the kids: do it together. You might not both be in the same room when one of your kids asks you about the divorce, (they’ll likely feel more comfortable talking to one parent than the other), just remember the words and language you and your partner decided on and continue to abide by that plan. You should also keep your partner in the loop about any questions or concerns your children are having, just as they should keep you abreast of anything that one of the children might approach them with after the initial conversation.

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 25 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. 

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How Are the “Best Interests of the Children” Determined?

Best Interests of the ChildrenWhen a couple with children decides to get divorced, the first question is usually: how will it affect the children? In most cases, everyone wants what’s best for the children, including the court, but what, exactly, does that mean? And how does a court determine what’s in the best interests of the children?

Ideally, the couple can agree on what’s best for their children and work together to come up with a Parenting Plan that decides how much parenting time each parent gets, where the children will live, who pays child support and how much, etc. The Parenting Plan needs to be approved by a judge, but judges do often assume the parents know what’s best for their children. So long as the Parenting Plan does not run afoul of the law, go against public policy interests, and/or seem unconscionable (meaning no reasonable person would agree to it), the Parenting Plan will be approved by the Court.

Most couples can agree on how to raise the children after the divorce, but sometimes a divorce happens in which the couples can’t agree, and no amount of mediation can help them reach common ground. In that case, the court will have to step in and make up its own mind as to what’s best for the children of the divorcing couple.

In addition to determining how to split parenting time, most judges will also decide which parent gets to make the major parenting decisions (where the children will go to school, who their doctor will be, when they can get their driver’s license, etc.) In Illinois, the law requires that the Court allocate decision-making responsibilities to the parents, either by having them jointly decide one category or by having one parent be solely responsible.  With the 2016 amendments to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, the Court now specifically has to award decision-making responsibility for the 4 following categories:  Health/Medical, Education, Religion, and Extracurricular Activities.  For each category, the Court must indicate whether both or one parent can decide that issue, so it is possible for one parent to have sole decision making on something like medical decisions, but the other parent to be solely responsible for educational decisions.

When allocation of decision-making is contested, Judges must look at 15 factors and weigh them against the existing facts of that case. Those 15 factors are:

  • The children’s wishes;
  • How well the children have adjusted to their current home, school, and community in general;
  • The mental and physical health of everyone involved in the divorce;
  • The level of conflict between the parents and their ability to work together to make decisions;
  • The level of each parent’s past participation in making significant parenting decisions;
  • Any prior agreement or course of conduct between the parents regarding the making of parenting decisions;
  • The wishes of the parents;
  • The children’s needs;
  • The distance between the parents’ residences, the cost and difficulty of transporting the children, each parent’s daily schedules, that of the children, and the likelihood the parents will be able to cooperate in an arrangement;
  • Whether a restriction on decision-making is appropriate;
  • The willingness and ability of each parent to foster a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the children;
  • Any history of physical violence or threatened physical violence directed at the children by either parent;
  • Any history of abuse against the children or any member of the child(ren’s) household;
  • Whether one of the parents is a sex offender, the nature of their offense, whether they’ve sought treatment, and the nature of that treatment;
  • Any other factor the court might find relevant.

It should be noted that this is not a tally in which parents should aim to win the most points. Each judge will give more weight to some factors than others and it all depends on the situation. If you have any questions about what this might mean for your case, contact us today.

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 25 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. 

You’re Getting Married and Your Future Spouse Has an Adopted Child, What Does This Mean for You?

future spouse has an adopted childWhile getting married and having kids is great, and relatively straightforward from a legal perspective, life doesn’t always go that smoothly. Sometimes the kids come before marriage, whether from a prior relationship or through adoption. So what does that mean for you if you’re about to become the newest addition to an existing family?

Marrying someone who has already adopted a child can be especially tricky. How tricky depends on a variety of factors:

  • The child’s age now
  • The child’s age when they were adopted
  • Their history before they were adopted
  • Whether they had a closed adoption

The Child’s Age Now

As with any other adoption, if the child is of a certain age, they have a say in whether they want to be adopted by their new step-parent. If the child does not want to be adopted by you, for any reason, then the adoption can’t move forward. That can be painful, but it’s important to respect their wishes and try to work through any existing issues that may have contributed to that decision.

The Child’s History

The child’s age and their history at the time they were adopted can also be important factors in whether they want to add a legal parent. While some children are adopted very young, and thus have never known any other family, others have lost their biological parents and/or been through the foster system. That can make it hard for the child to learn to put down roots and to trust that people are going to stick around for the long haul. For that reason, offering to adopt them can be a beautiful way to show your commitment, not just to your future spouse, but to their children. At the same time, it could also mean the child is not comfortable being adopted by anyone else, in which case it’s important not to force anything on them, even if they’re not yet of age to have a say.

Whether They Had a Closed Adoption

A closed adoption is when the identities of the birth parents and the adopted parents are not known to each other, in which case adopting your step-child could be fairly straightforward, assuming all parties are on board with the idea. But when the birth parents are still in the picture, it can make things tricky.

There are a variety of reasons this might happen. Your future spouse may personally know and/or be related to their child’s birth parents, but decided to adopt for the good of the child. It could be the biological parents were not ready to have a child and your future spouse was; or the biological parents may have been neglectful or even abusive, and your future spouse stepped up by adopting the child for his or her own good.

In any case, although they do not have legal rights to the child, if the biological parents are still in the picture, they may place some emotional pressure on the situation by expressing their disapproval. They won’t have the ability to formally object in Court, since they are no longer their child’s legal parent, but you may want to take their opinion into consideration to help things go smoothly, especially if the child has any sort of relationship with their biological parents.

Your Future Spouse’s View

Ultimately, it is your future spouse has the final say in all this, and he/she may or may not want you to adopt their child. No matter how well things are going between you two, their first obligation is to look after the best interests of their child.  The tougher the child’s history, the more protective the adopted parent is likely to be of them. If your future spouse doesn’t want you to adopt, don’t take it personally. Just do your best to be an active member of the family, as a child can never have too much love.

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 25 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. 

Can I Start Dating During a Divorce?

dating during a divorceEven though you and your spouse have decided to call it quits, dating during a divorce can be very tricky and should be approached with caution because it can come with serious legal consequences.

First of all, be especially careful if there are children involved in your divorce. Not only do you want to avoid causing them any more pain and confusion than they’re already feeling, but a vengeful spouse can use evidence of another relationship to show you’re not mindful of the children’s best interest. The last thing you want is your spouse using your new relationship (or relationships) as evidence that your home will not be a good environment for your children. This is especially true if you decide to rub their face in it. Don’t flaunt your relationship by making a big deal about it on social media or talking about it with a lot of people. Instead, you’re better off keeping the relationship quiet until the divorce has been finalized. You can still see your new flame, but keep it off social media and make sure only a few trusted friends and family members are aware of the new relationship. At the same time, however, your soon-to-be ex should be one of the people you do inform about the relationship, particularly if you have children.

Second, if you are planning to seek alimony in the divorce, engaging in a new relationship may have consequences on your arguments for seeking spousal support. Many litigants make the mistake of rushing into a new serious relationship and/or moving in with the new significant other, which can result in the Court determining that the spouse has a new source of financial support and no longer is reliant on his or her current wife/husband to make ends meets. While the factors for determining cohabitation are complex, and should be discussed with an attorney, it is usually best to avoid moving in with a significant other altogether.

Third, while you may want to go out on dates or take vacations with your new significant other, expenditures on such things may be considered by the Court to be “dissipation of assets.” What this means is that if you spend $5,000.00 on a trip to Hawaii with your new beau, your spouse could then be entitled to seek an award of $5,000.00 from your other assets to compensate him/her for money you spent on a “non-marital purpose.” Dissipation claims can be very expensive to litigate, so most attorneys will suggest that you only maintain the status quo during your divorce process when it comes to expenses.

Finally, be very careful to make sure you are spending only your own money on this new relationship. Never, ever spend marital funds or money from marital assets on another relationship because the court may require you to pay that money back to your spouse. In fact, you’re better off not spending much money at all on the new relationship. If it looks like you have money to burn, the court may either lower the amount of alimony you’re eligible to receive or increase the amount you’re required to pay, depending on your circumstances.

Of course, every marriage (and by extension, every divorce) is unique. You and your spouse may have agreed to see other people before the divorce is finalized. Your spouse might even be seeing someone. Know your spouse and know yourself in order to determine what would be the best course of action for your unique situation. In some cases, it might be putting off a new relationship until you’ve both finished signing the divorce papers.

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. 

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. 

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. 

How Do I Get Temporary Support Until My Divorce Is Final?

temporary supportDivorce agreements commonly include orders for alimony and/or child support, but the divorce process can take months, or even years, to complete. So what do you do if you can’t wait that long to pay your bills?

Fortunately, you can file a petition for temporary relief. Once the court receives the proper form (which varies, depending on the court), a brief hearing will be scheduled in which you can make your case as to why you need financial assistance now. Under the new amendments passed to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA) in 2016, hearing on temporary child support or temporary maintenance (a.k.a. alimony) can be heard on a summary basis, unless one or both parties request a full evidentiary hearing with good cause. A summary hearing means that the Judge will review the parties’ Financial Statements, which must be filed in all divorce cases, and supporting financial documents that are attached to the Financial Statements to make a ruling on temporary support. No testimony is presented during these hearings, but the Judge rather reviews the documents alone. However, if a party wants to present evidence, perhaps to counter the other party’s arguments for support, then an evidentiary hearing may be scheduled in lieu of a summary proceeding.

In any hearing for temporary relief, the judge will first determine whether you should receive any alimony or child support, and if so, how much you will receive. The Judge can also divide the party’s use of and access to assets, such as real estate, cars, and access to bank accounts, all on a temporary basis until the divorce is finalized. The temporary order will likely include a provision that prohibits either party from selling significant financial assets before the divorce has been made final.

If you can’t afford an attorney, you do have the option of filing a petition for temporary relief on your own. Most of the court’s forms can be found online or at your local Family Court. You may file the paperwork yourself and receive a valid order for financial support from a Family Court Judge without having to pay for an attorney, but it is always suggested that you seek legal counsel, as these motions do require a lot of financial documentation as well as submission of various forms and affidavits.

If you and your spouse are still getting along fairly well and they make a verbal promise to continue supporting you, that’s great, but don’t rely on it. Attorneys always recommend you get a promise in writing, especially when your livelihood is at stake. Even the best intentions can go unfulfilled, so don’t rely on a verbal contract alone.

If you and your spouse have managed to reach your own agreement regarding spousal and/or child support, you can request that the Court enter an Agreed Order memorializing these terms. The judge will then review the terms to make sure the agreement is fair to both parties before approving any agreed order.

The process of getting divorced is stressful enough. You don’t need to make it more stressful by wondering how you’re going to pay the bills. Fortunately, the courts recognize this and have put in place systems to help give you one less thing to worry about.

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

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Can I Get Granted Visitation Rights to My Step-Children if Their Parent and I Divorce?

Visitation Rights to My Step-ChildrenParental Responsibility cases can be ugly between divorcing biological parents. But when a biological parent and a step-parent get divorced, does that step-parent have legal visitation rights? The answer depends on what state you live in. In general, step-parents seeking visitation rights are facing an uphill battle if the biological parent is still living and does not wish for the step-parent to have visitation with the child.  In Illinois, step-parents fall under the category of “nonparents,” and do have options for still seeing his or her stepchild after a divorce with the child’s parents. However, the statute gives a strong presumption that the child’s parent is acting within their rights to deny time, and this presumption can only be overcome in limited circumstances.

Can Step-parents Get Visitation Rights?

In many cases, step-parents have no formal “right” to visitation with the child if the biological parent refuses to allow them to see the child. In several states, the laws are written such that biological parents are the only persons best suited to make the decision on who spends time with the child and when. This is known as the “parental preference rule”, or the “doctrine of parental rights”. When one of these are used, non-parents, including grandparents and step-parents, face a battle to gain any sort of visitation privileges.

Exceptions to the Rule

There are several exceptions to the parental preference rule that could allow step-parents visitation rights. For instance, step-parents who have been involved in the child’s life since they were an infant and/or if they have been involved in raising the child for many years, are more likely to be successful if they decideto petition the court for visitation. Generally, step-parents who were married to the biological parent for an extended period have better success when seeking visitation rights.  However, there are still many more hurdles to jump through in Illinois before you can even demonstrate to the Court that the law allows you to bring a petition. As a step-parent, one of the rules to establish you have “standing” to file an action is that the child’s biological parents are either previously divorced and/or were unmarried but the biological father has been identified by the Court.

State Laws and Visitation Rights for Step-parents

In an important U.S. Supreme Court case, Troxel v. Granville, the child visitation rights of third parties, especially grandparents, were very closely examined. In this case, a Washington state statute allowing third parties to file for visitation was struck down partly because it was considered unduly broad in its scope. The result was that several states sought to better define their own standards in regards to child visitation rights and custody rights of non-parents, like step-parents.

Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act in Illinois

Illinois was no exception to the States who tailored their laws to restrict non-parents’ abilities to file for visitation privileges. In Illinois, you may only petition the Court for visitation rights if one of the following circumstances exist:

  1. The child’s other parent is deceased or has been missing for at least 90 days
  2. A parent of the child is incompetent as a matter of law
  3. A parent has been incarcerated in jail or prison for at least 90 days
  4. The child’s parents have been granted a divorce or legal separation, and at least one of the parents does not object to the step-parent having visitation
  5. The child is born to unwed parents who are not married currently or living together, and paternity has been established by a Court

However, even if a step-parent can prove one of the above conditions, a Court will only allow the step-parent to have visitation with the child if the person can show that the denial of time has been unreasonable, and that it causes “undue mental, physical, or emotional harm to the child.” So, absent this showing, the statute provides a rebuttable presumption that the parent’s choice to deny time to the step-parent are in the best interests of the child, and the Court will not interfere with that preference.

Because child custody laws vary from state to state, step-parents seeking visitation rights should consult with an experienced family law attorney. At Sherer Law Offices, our attorneys will explain your rights and help guide you through the process to get you the visitation you want.

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