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If you are living in Naperville or the surrounding communities and are contemplating divorce, it is important to take the appropriate action and prepare for the divorce process. This post recommends 7 steps to prepare for your impending divorce.

Gather information, learn about, and understand your rights.

The vast majority of people entering the divorce process for the first time do not truly understand how the divorce process works. It’s important to consult with an attorney before the divorce process starts and learn what your rights and responsibilities are. Additionally, an experienced attorney can help you gain insight into what type of divorce you may be facing (litigation, mediation, collaborative divorce, uncontested divorce).

Develop a balance sheet for your marital assets and liabilities.

Start by listing all your debts and financial obligations (home mortgage, auto loans, credit cards etc.) Then list all of your financial accounts including insurance policies, retirement accounts and other savings accounts and vehicles. Additionally, take an inventory of all your personal belongings including automobiles, boats, artwork and furnishings. Having a clear understanding of your financial situation is critical for making decisions about your divorce, and will save you time and money when you start working with an attorney.

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If you are living in Oswego, Kendall County or the Naperville area and are considering Divorce, then you may want to consider Mediation as an option. Divorce mediation is a process where a neutral mediator assists both you and your soon to be ex in coming to an agreement on a divorce settlement. It’s a process that allows divorcing spouses to stay involved with the decision-making process during their divorce rather than rely on a court. For the most part the process focuses on cooperative problem-solving and addressing the needs of both you and your soon to be ex. Here are 7 benefits of divorce mediation:

  • You have increased decision-making powers over the outcome of your divorce. You and your ex choose the primary topics that you want to negotiate and settle on. Then through cooperative negotiation the two of you create a divorce agreement that aligns with the unique needs of your family. You and your ex are no longer forced to work within the strict guidelines of the litigation system which gives the court the decision making power over your final divorce agreement. As a result the two of you can create a more detailed agreement that meets the specific needs of your situation.
  • Increased privacy. All the communications and documents created during divorce mediation are confidential. In contrast when you take your divorce to court everything is argued in a public setting in front of a judge, attorneys, court employees and numerous other people that may be in the court room. It is an awful feeling to have to share details about your marriage and your children to a court room full of strangers.
  • Mediation is user-friendly. Often times you’ll have the option to have meetings in the evenings or on weekends. And it’s not required that you appear in person at the meetings. For example, many mediations occur via video conference. In contrast, the court may not be as flexible and you are required to adapt to the schedule and rules of the court.
  • It’s easier on the children. If you go to court your children may be required to appear there. For child custody proceedings it’s not uncommon for the children to be interviewed and observed by several experts. All this is avoided if the divorce mediation process is used. And because the overall process involves less conflict the children are less exposed to the hostility between the parents.
  • There is less adversity. The focus of the mediator is on the needs of both you and your spouse, not on winning or determining who is to blame. A good Mediator will work with you and your spouse to help you both stay focused on your individual needs and in turn help you come to a mutually acceptable agreement. With divorce mediation there is far more communication and far less fighting.
  • It will save you money. Typically in divorce mediation one professional works with both you and your ex to help you come to agreement. And you’re only paying for the time that you’re in meetings rather than waiting around in court with two attorneys. In contrast, with divorce litigation you’re paying for a costly drafting of motion papers back and forth between attorneys and then the associated court appearances.
  • It improves your chances of moving on to a new and better life. After all, the goal of the divorce is to make a positive change and move on. Mediation, because it’s less adversarial, allows both you and your ex to move on with your new lives in a more positive way and opens the door for you to forgive each other, to work well together raising your children, and to both live a great life.

Author Ron Hendrix is a Divorce attorney and mediator serving clients in Oswego, Naperville and the surrounding areas including Kendall County, Will County, DuPage County and the Chicago metro area.

The divorce process can be emotionally and economically draining on families. Over the years as a divorce attorney in Naperville, Illinois, I have found that the periods before and after the divorce are the most challenging times in my clients’ lives. And, the process of divorce can be particularly difficult for children of divorcing parents.

Children Through the Divorce Process When children are involved, the ideal scenario is that the divorcing parents are amicable and that they cooperate, not only in the divorce process, but in supporting the children during this time. However, not all divorces are amicable, and in this case it is even more crucial for parents to consider the emotional health of their children before, during, and after the divorce. The following guiding principles should be considered by any parent confronting a divorce.

Principle 1 – Encourage your child to have a positive relationship with your spouse during and after the divorce. Do not allow your child to overhear conversations about your spouse and your divorce, or make negative comments directly to your child about the other parent. It is important that children feel safe and know that both parents love and support them. Treating your spouse with respect and presenting a united front to the children will allow the children to maintain positive feelings toward both parents. If possible, parents should meet with their children together to explain the divorce.

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On January 1, 2016, new laws regarding divorce and child custody went into effect in Illinois. At first glance, these new laws appear to have significantly changed child custody in the state. In fact, the very concept of “custody” has been replaced by the concept of “allocating parental responsibility” under the new legislature.

Child Custody and Parenting Plan In application, however, the law is still essentially the same. What the legislature has done is to update the statute to shift focus to what is in the best interests of the children. In the past, custody of parties’ children was considered something to be “won” or “lost”, therefore encouraging parties to argue over it. In the end, however, the vast majority of parents settle on a parenting agreement that provides for both parents having parenting time with their children, and both parents taking responsibility for certain day-to-day decisions and activities.

By removing the idea of “custody” from the statute, the legislature has aimed to change attitudes when negotiating a parenting agreement. Parenting agreements will now deal primarily with the allocation of parenting time and of responsibilities as a parent. Children involved in a divorce benefit if the parties can work together to determine how to care for the child, rather than taking the position that every issue is “winner takes all” in a fight for custody.

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When a couple decides to get a divorce, they begin to analyze the most common matters to be addressed such as division of property and accounts, spousal support, a schedule for sharing parenting time, and responsibility for debts as well as future expenses for children and college education. They will often begin to research divorce attorneys for representation, but may also consider handling the divorce on their own. “Pro Se” is a Latin phrase meaning “for oneself”, and therefore, if someone handles a divorce Pro Se, it means that they are representing themselves.

Divorce Attorney Representation The most common reason for a couple to explore handling a divorce on their own is financially motivated. Simply put, they want a divorce, and they want it to be as inexpensive as possible. Parties may feel that they have already worked out the terms of their agreements and do not want to hire an attorney when they feel they can do the paperwork themselves. Often it is just one of the divorcing parties who the proponent of going Pro Se, while the other may prefer to hire attorneys. In this case, it is important to consider if keeping the divorce cost low is your spouse’s only motivation for going Pro Se, or if it is an attempt to control the outcome of the settlement.

Time and time again, attorneys receive calls from parties who have filed for or completed a divorce on their own and have run into problems. The legal documents that are entered upon the completion of a divorce must be detailed, covering every aspect of the parties’ agreements on financial and parenting matters based on local statutes and specifics of a client’s individual situation. Though the intent is to save money, couples who go Pro Se often miss important details and make costly mistakes. Unfortunately, many find themselves back in court post-decree correcting areas that were not clearly defined in their original agreements.

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If you hadn’t heard of the adultery website called Ashley Madison (ashleymadison.com) before last Tuesday, chances are you’ve heard about it now. The recent news about the breach of the private data collected by this website, whose tagline is “Life is short. Have an affair.”, has caught the attention of the news media, many potentially guilty spouses, and divorce attorneys everywhere.

Reportedly, personal details of Ashley Madison members were hacked last month by a group known as The Impact Team, and the group threatened to make this information public. Though initially there was skepticism by investigators about the validity of the breach and threats, earlier this week the group made true on their threat to “dump” the stolen information early this week onto the Dark Web, an area of the Web only accessible by a covert browser.

While preliminary investigation shows that users of the site are located all over the world, Chicago came in 8th in the top ten U.S. “cities with the most cheaters” according to a recent posting on CBS News’ website. Locally, the Chicago suburbs of Plainfield and Naperville were ranked number two and number 18 in a July 21st article posted to the Plainfield Patch website.

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Introducing a new five-part series of revealing articles focusing on the collaborative approach to divorce. At the Law Office of Ronald L. Hendrix, we seek to educate and inform individuals who browse the internet in search of accurate information about the available divorce options. Our series on collaborative divorce is a must-read for anyone considering divorce.

The collaborative approach to divorce, when it proceeds as it is intended, is a respectable option for completing a divorce. There are, however, drawbacks to every approach, and collaborative law is not without its flaws. One such flaw is the tendency of collaborative law to attract inexperienced attorneys. As the name implies, the collaborative approach is designed for parties who are able to work together in a non-confrontational manner toward the common goal of ending their marriage. The parties agree up-front to proceed with honesty and in good-faith, and so approaches associated with traditional divorce such as courtroom appearances and extensive, detailed collection of financial information on a case, may be severely curtailed.

These characteristics of the approach are the very things that attract young, inexperienced attorneys to exclusively practice collaborative law. Traditional divorce, or litigation, involves appearing and defending a client in a courtroom in front of a judge. Through years of unique cases and familiarity with specific judges and how they rule on particular matters, a traditional attorney gains valuable knowledge and the ability to represent and defend a client if matters become confrontational. Many collaborative attorneys have limited or no courtroom experience, and are not comfortable or effective in a situation where conflict may exist. These inexperienced attorneys are noticeably at a disadvantage when up against an attorney with traditional courtroom experience, and they may even avoid working with attorneys who present a challenge.

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Introducing a new five-part series of revealing articles focusing on the collaborative approach to divorce. At the Law Office of Ronald L. Hendrix, we seek to educate and inform individuals who browse the internet in search of accurate information about the available divorce options. Our series on collaborative divorce is a must-read for anyone considering divorce.

Even when couples enter into a collaborative divorce with the best intentions, sometimes the process breaks down and parties must take a more litigious route to complete their divorce. The failure of the collaborative process may occur for various reasons, and when it does, starting over can be expensive.

When a couple enters into the collaborative process they should be confident that they will be able to proceed in an agreeable and cooperative fashion. However, once the divorce is underway, it is not uncommon for unforeseen issues to arise, and spouses may realize that they are not in agreement on as many areas as they had expected.

At the root of the concept of collaborative divorce is trust. Many failures of collaborative divorce are due to one or both parties’ perception that the other party is not being fully honest. Once it is suspected that there is an attempt by either party to be less than honest in a collaborative divorce, the process may begin to break down.

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Introducing a new five-part series of revealing articles focusing on the collaborative approach to divorce. At the Law Office of Ronald L. Hendrix, we seek to educate and inform individuals who browse the internet in search of accurate information about the available divorce options. Our series on collaborative divorce is a must-read for anyone considering divorce.

When a couple is going through a divorce, one of the most important initial components is to establish the assets that they have compiled together during the marriage. In a traditional divorce, when attorneys formally request this information from both parties, it is known as the “discovery process”.

The full discovery process may include subpoenas, interrogatories, depositions, and other motions regarding discovery and investigation and presentation of financial matters. It is not uncommon in a marriage for one spouse to handle all the finances, and for the other to have little knowledge of the couple’s expenses, account balances, investments, and debt. When entering into a divorce, it is important that both parties have a clear picture of their financial situation. To that end, the ultimate goal of the discovery effort is to accurately and completely identify the assets of the parties so that they may be divided in a fair and equitable manner.

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Introducing a new five-part series of revealing articles focusing on the collaborative approach to divorce. At the Law Office of Ronald L. Hendrix, we seek to educate and inform individuals who browse the internet in search of accurate information about the available divorce options. Our series on collaborative divorce is a must-read for anyone considering divorce.

In the years after a divorce is finalized, sometimes couples find it necessary to make changes to their divorce decree. Understandably, individuals often choose to return to the attorney who handled their divorce to make these post-decree changes. It may come as a surprise to them that, by initially participating in what is known as the “collaborative” divorce process, it may not be an option to return to their original collaborative divorce attorney for post decree issues.

There are many situations that may arise in which an update to a decree is warranted. Whether it is a matter of terminating maintenance due to the receiving party cohabitating, clarifying how the parties will pay for college tuition, or negotiations due to one party’s desire to relocate minor children, post-decree issues such as these are relatively common. Those who choose to return to the attorney who handled their divorce case do so for several reasons. First and foremost, a returning client often feels that their attorney represented them well in their divorce, and there is no substitute for a skilled and effective attorney. Additionally, a divorce attorney is required to maintain their client files for seven years after the conclusion of a case. This means that for that length of time all the documents, financial information and personal information related to the case are readily available through the original attorney. Eliminating the need to re-compile this information saves considerable time and expense. Finally, an individual is likely to return to the attorney who has personal knowledge and the details of their case, and with whom they have previously established a working relationship and a level of comfort.

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Introducing a new five-part series of revealing articles focusing on the collaborative approach to divorce. At the Law Office of Ronald L. Hendrix, we seek to educate and inform individuals who browse the internet in search of accurate information about the available divorce options. Our series on collaborative divorce is a must-read for anyone considering divorce.

When deciding to proceed with a divorce using one of the available approaches, the first step is to choose and retain an attorney. It sounds simple on the surface, but this first step may be the most important decision you will make, and your choice will certainly affect the process as well as the outcome. Prior to hiring an attorney, you may conduct research on the internet, read Google or other online reviews, or receive a recommendation from a friend, co-worker or relative. These are all excellent ways to assist you in finding a reputable attorney, and after meeting and finding an attorney you feel comfortable with, you normally retain that attorney. As you would expect, this decision is solely your own to make and should be without undue outside influence. Like you, your spouse also has the right to independently explore options and secure his or her own attorney.

Any attempt to influence your choice of an attorney is inappropriate and should be interpreted as a “red flag”. This is especially true, and an unfortunate reality, when entering into a collaborative divorce when only a handful of collaborative attorneys may be present in any geographic area. Should your spouse hire a collaborative attorney, do not be led to believe that your choices of attorneys to represent you are then limited to a select few. This is absolutely false. Beware if your spouse’s attorney claims not to do cases with a particular attorney or refuses to work with an attorney who you have already interviewed and hired, or worse yet, provides you with a list of “preferred” or “recommended” collaborative attorneys. Your spouse’s attorney only has your spouse’s best interest in mind, and is attempting to control the case, and more importantly, the outcome. There are numerous collaborative attorneys, and a list of three or four which may be provided to you is simply a “safe list” for your spouse and your spouse’s attorney. If you find yourself in this situation, you should immediately commit to choosing an experienced attorney with both knowledge of the collaborative process and extensive courtroom experience. Remember that the choice of who represents you is yours, and yours alone.

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Couples who have decided to divorce have a lot on their minds. While retaining an attorney to represent them will be their first step in the process, there are other important initial steps that should be considered in the early stages of divorce.

Make Copies of Everything

Once the decision is made to divorce, it is important to gather as much information as possible about your spouse. It is not uncommon for one spouse to know very little about what the other has in regard to income, expenses, investments and retirement assets. Sometimes when divorces are underway, the documents which provide this important information “disappear”. Considerable time and money can be saved by making copies of everything as early as possible, as formal discovery and subpoenaing bank records can be very costly.

Retirement assets can be partially or entirely marital assets, and will be divided accordingly between spouses. When collecting information, it is important to obtain documents detailing the value of these plans and the rules governing their liquidation or division.

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Addressing insurance coverage issues after divorce

In the immediate aftermath of a divorce, most people will need to spend some time focusing on getting their affairs back in order. A big part of this is adjusting to the financial realities of life in a one-income household. As such, most recent divorcees will need to reevaluate their insurance coverage in light of the fact that they are no longer married.

There are a number of changes most newly divorced people will have to make to their insurance portfolios. Some of the most common issues are discussed below.

Medical insurance

Individuals who were covered under their ex-spouse’s employer-sponsored health insurance will need to find new coverage once the divorce is finalized. Ex-spouses are allowed to continue COBRA coverage for up to 36 months after the divorce, but this coverage can be quite expensive. For new divorcees who do not have access to their own employer-sponsored coverage, it may make more sense to shop for health insurance on the private market.

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When a couple with children is considering divorce, it is important for both parties to understand the guidelines for child support. These guidelines vary depending on the state where the divorce takes place.

In Illinois, the guidelines for child support are straightforward and exceptions are rarely made. Parents are legally obligated to provide financial support for their children. Traditionally, the residential (custodial) parent will receive child support from the non-residential (non-custodial) parent. The “residential parent” is defined as the parent who maintains the primary residence for the children.

Child support is not only funds for food and clothing. It is also for housing, transportation, activities, medical care and more.

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After reaching the difficult decision to divorce, it is necessary to be open and honest with children. Discussions need to vary based on the age and maturity of the children. In the process, children need to be reassured that they are loved, will continue to see each of the parents and are not to blame.

Child-related issues in divorce will revolve around custody, visitation and child support. But children should not be brought into these issues. The one exception might be for an older child and the court or a guardian ad litem may ask about custody and visitation preferences.

What you need to share and when to bring up the topic

While children have the right to know what is going on, it is often best to wait until you have made some final decisions and can provide a plan and answers to questions. It is best if you and your spouse can talk to your children together.

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In Illinois, when a child is born to a married woman, the woman’s husband is automatically presumed to be the legal father of the child. However, when a child is born to an unmarried woman, the biological father does not have any automatic legal rights. This is true even if the child’s father is in a long-term relationship with the mother.

As such, it is extremely important for unmarried fathers to take steps to protect their rights when a child is born. Fathers should establish paternity as soon as possible. In addition, they should work with a family law attorney to create a parentage agreement that clarifies both parents’ rights and obligations with regard to custody, visitation, child support and other issues.

Establishing legal paternity

Illinois law recognizes three ways to establish legal paternity. The easiest way is for both parents to sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity. In most cases, this will be provided to the parents when the child was born. If the parents do not sign the form at the hospital, they can get another copy online or from a Human Services, Child Support or County Clerk’s office.

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During the course of a divorce, it sometimes becomes necessary for one party to file an Order of Protection (OOP) against the other. An OOP is a court order which will provide protection for victims of domestic abuse. In a divorce situation the victim is typically a spouse, and in some cases an OOP may also provide protection for the children. It is important to understand the basic requirements that must be met and to know where to find the resources in your area to obtain an OOP.

Regardless of the county in which you live, in order to file an OOP it is necessary to fit into certain criteria. These criteria may have minor variations depending on where you reside. For the purposes of this article, the focus will be on DuPage County in Illinois, one of the counties served by the Law Office of Ronald L. Hendrix.

Requirements to Obtain an Order of Protection

There are three basic requirements for an OOP case. First, the person who you are pursuing an OOP against (or the Respondent) must be related to you in one of the following ways: a spouse, former spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, currently sharing a residence with you or have in the past, your legal caretaker, you have a child together or they are a family member (i.e. parent, child, sibling, step-parent, step child). An OOP only covers these types of domestic relationships, however, there are other Orders you may be able to obtain if you do not meet this criterion.

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Recently, Illinois passed a new statute for the calculation and award of maintenance that is effective January 1, 2015. Until now, there has been no specific guideline for determining maintenance, as there is for child support in Illinois. Judges could use their own discretion in the final decision of the amount and duration of an award of maintenance.

Prior to this change, the court primarily considered twelve factors which are set forth in the statute before awarding maintenance. These factors include but are not limited to the length of the marriage, the ages of the husband and wife, the income of each party, and the standard of living established during the marriage.

Under the new statute, these twelve factors are still considered to determine if maintenance will be awarded. However, if maintenance is deemed appropriate, there are now guidelines for the judges to follow with regard to the amount and duration.

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When a divorce settlement is final, the legal document known as the Martial Settlement Agreement will detail how a divorced couple’s marital assets will be divided. This includes all substantial property, including retirement plans. In order for the division of a retirement account to take place there may be the need for a legal mechanism, referred to as a Qualified Domestic Relations Order or QDRO (pronounced “quad row”).

What is a QDRO?

Simply put, a QDRO is a court order which recognizes an alternate payee’s ownership of a portion of an employee benefit or pension plan subject to ERISA (Employment Retirement Income Security Act), a federal law dating back to 1974 that provides structure for the types of retirement accounts available to employees.

Preparation of a QDRO is a multi-step process, and it is important that it be prepared properly. When seeking a divorce attorney, include questions about experience completing QDROs, what the office’s process is, and the approximate cost.

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When parents are going through a divorce, they understandably place a lot of emphasis on their children and how they will be affected. Even when parents are amicable, decisions involving the children can be difficult and discussions emotionally charged. One of the most important decisions involving the children in a divorce is that of custody, and sometimes due to the sensitive nature of the case, it cannot be left solely to the discretion of the parents.

In a case where there is much contention over custody or parenting time, or other issues with regard to the children, and the custody decision falls on the court, a Guardian Ad Litem (or “GAL”) may be appointed to represent the interests of the children. The GAL is an attorney who will be neutral as far as the parties are concerned, not favoring one parent over the other.

When is a Guardian Ad Litem Necessary?

While some judges may appoint a GAL, the majority do not unless the parents fail to reach an agreement on their own. Often parents in an already tense situation and wanting to protect their role in the lives of their children will over-scrutinize small details. For example, they may too closely compare parenting time each will have with the children, or insist on having excessive input on day-to-day, minor aspects of the child’s life during the other party’s parenting time. This rigidity with regard to the parenting agreement is not in the best interest of the children, complicating recreational activities and school schedules, encouraging lack of structure, and creating an unintentional “ping-ponging” of the children between households. Attempting to over-define the terms of the agreement will delay the process, and a GAL may be assigned.

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