Moving guide for divorced parents

SFL_MOVING GUIDE.png

For divorced parents, moving locations has an extra layer of difficulty. Depending on your divorce agreement, your ex-spouse probably has some say in the matter. Before finding new housing and renting a U-Haul, find out if and where you may actually be allowed to move.

If you have full custody and your ex-spouse has no visiting rights, you’re in the clear and can move wherever you wish. But if your children’s other parent has visitation rights, your new location may become more complicated.

If you’re moving within the state, it’s not usually an issue, though you should still talk with your ex-spouse beforehand so they can figure out how they’ll be able to find time to see their kids if the commute, their schools and extracurricular activities’ schedules may make distances significantly more disruptive. Moving to another state is more complicated. You need consent from your ex-spouse and permission from the court. The process is called removal and in some cases it can be a lengthy battle. If your ex will not consent, you will have to convince the court moving to a new state is what’s best for your children. Reasons why a move out of state would be considered valid might be because you got a job offer that will improve their living condition, because of better schools, to be close to extended family, or any number of personal reasons.

Every removal case is different. If both parents agree on what’s best for the child, it can go smoothly. However, many removal cases are fraught with tension and can take months to settle. Here are a few things the judge will consider:

  • Why you’re moving. You should have a “legitimate” reason for moving to another state. Simply because you want to or you like the weather better is not enough. Job transfers, a new marriage to someone in another state, caring for an ill family member, and things of that nature are more commonly accepted.

  • How the move will improve your children’s lives. Will the neighborhood and schools be on par or better than those of your current home? Will the home environment stay the same? Will childcare be provided, if needed? The judge will compare your current situation to your proposed new situation and make an assessment.

  • Whether or not your children’s relationship with the other parent will be affected. The judge will want your children to maintain a relationship with both parents as much as possible. If weekly visitation is no longer possible, that could be an issue. However, if your ex-spouse can receive longer visitation rights during summer vacations, holidays or other school breaks that could help. Similarly, if your ex-spouse doesn’t currently exercise his or her visitation rights, it will be easier to gain removal.

Keep in mind that moving to another state could change your financial status in the divorce. If one parent can no longer exercise weekly visitation and has to undertake financial costs to visit or take on longer visitation periods, the judge may take that under consideration and you could be required to pay transportation costs as the parent who chose to move.

Moving to a new state is sometimes necessary, whether for work, family, or personal reasons. Mike Schiffman has often worked with clients and negotiated such matters during his career and wants what’s best for his clients and their children. Mike has both the experience and strives to get the best results for his clients to begin the next chapter in their lives.. Schiffman Family Law is committed to his clients well-being, working personally managing every case, so clients may get on with their lives. . Schedule a free one-hour consultation with Mike Schiffman today.  


Surviving a 'Grey Divorce' - Financial Tips for Women Over 40

SFL_BLOG POSTS_Preparing for Divorce.png

“Grey Divorce,” the term used for the divorce of couples who have been married for decades, is increasing, thanks to a few external factors. Life expectancy is increasing, meaning couples are forced to stay together longer than ever; women are becoming more independent; and cultural values have changed. Divorce is simply more socially acceptable than it was a decade or two ago, and Baby Boomers are taking note.

For women in this category, the financial considerations are unique. Many women of the “grey divorce” generation were not part of the push toward women in the workforce, or especially toward women earning higher wages, as younger people who might be getting divorced were. At the same time, they have often accumulated sizable assets over their many years of marriage.  

Age also plays a factor. Aging women could require more financial stability post-divorce than younger women, whether for health reasons or otherwise.

Here are a few areas where finances are especially important for older women going through a divorce, and tips for how to manage:

1.  Business

Divorce can derail a business, as in most states the value of the business will be included as part of your assets during a divorce. In many cases, your spouse will receive 50 percent of your business (or its value), which could be catastrophic to its future success. If your spouse was part owner of the business, they may also have a say in what happens to it going forward. One solution is to buy out your spouse’s portion of the business over a long-term payout, usually with interest.

2. Retirement

It’s likely you and your spouse have accrued savings in a variety of retirement accounts, from pension plans to IRAs. Your divorce settlement should clearly state how these assets will be split. Federal laws, state statutes and tax considerations all come into play. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your divorce settlement will automatically protect your interests or give you half of your spouse’s retirement account. Your attorney may work with a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) specialist, who can ensure you’re receiving your entitled portion.

3. Insurance

If you’re currently on your spouse’s insurance plan, that will change. Look into health care options through your work or through the Affordable Care Act or Medicare, as well as private insurers. Health insurance, property insurance, and disability insurance can be costly, but are all important. If there are any major procedures you need taken care of you might want to consider fitting those in before your divorce is final, especially if your insurance on your own will not be as comprehensive as that of your spouse’s. If you will be receiving alimony or child support, make sure the divorce settlement includes a provision for life insurance as security for your child support or maintenance award.

4. Finances

In general, you’ll need to be financially stable going forward. Think about your lifestyle and create a budget that will help you see how much money you’ll realistically need year to year. Don’t forget to include retirement savings in the budget. If the divorce settlement doesn’t provide enough assets to cover this budget, you may need to liquidate assets or take up a new job. A divorce financial planner can show you how long your assets will last, and help you make any tweaks necessary.

5. Beneficiaries

Once your divorce is finalized you should update the beneficiaries on all of your retirement accounts. Otherwise, your ex-spouse could be eligible for some of the funds. Children, grandchildren, or nieces and nephews are usually safe designations.

The financial realities of grey divorce can be complicated, but a good divorce team filled with knowledgeable attorneys who care about your well-being and a financial planner with experience in these types of divorce can make the process much easier. With their help, these next decades could be your best yet. At Schiffman Family Law, we want what’s best for you. We’re a small, family-owned law firm that works personally with each and every one of our clients. Schedule a free one-hour consultation with Mike Schiffman today.

Preparing for Divorce: 7 crucial first steps

SFL_BLOG POSTS_Divorce Over 40.png

Deciding to get divorced can be a long process. Maybe you’ve been thinking about it for months, or in some cases even years. Then, once you finally decide divorce is what’s best, you’re faced with a new set of challenges. Where do you begin? Divorce is a big decision that will affect your life in many ways, from finances to family.

You know there are steps you need to take, but you’re not exactly sure what they are, or how to order them. Hiring a lawyer, talking to your kids, deciding if one of you will move out of the house, separating bank accounts… It’s a lot to manage, and much of it is interconnected.

It can be hard to know how to start such a daunting process, but following these seven steps will put you on track to make divorce as smooth as possible. Taking things one step at a time preserves your mental energy, which is important during an emotional time. Every couple and every divorce is different, but a few crucial first steps remain the same no matter your situation.

1. Get your emotions in check

It’s normal for divorce to be emotional, but as much as possible you should try to come to terms with your emotions before doing anything else. Speak with a therapist or someone else who can help you work through and stabilize your emotions to a point where you can think clearly about the many decisions you will need to make in the coming months. You want to be able to make decisions with your head, not your heart, and that will often require some time. Some decisions–like when to remove your wedding ring, what will happen to your house, and where your kids will live–will take an emotional toll, so you want to be in the best mental state possible ahead of time.

2. Learn as much as you can about the divorce process

The more you know about anything, the more comfortable you’ll feel while it’s happening. That’s especially the case with divorce. Do as much research as you can about the process and your state’s laws, so you’re not surprised by things when they come up. Don’t believe that your lawyer will handle everything or count on others being fair to you. You need to take action into your own hands and learn everything you can to help you stand up for your rights. This will not only give you a better outcome, but will also make you feel less anxious and more informed throughout the process.

3. Determine what’s important to you

There are a lot of decisions during divorce, and often a lot of fights. Take some time to decide what really matters most to you, so you can know which things are worth fighting for, and which aren’t worth your energy. Often during divorce, people make decisions in the spur of the moment because they’re caught off guard and haven’t thought through what they really want or need. Determine what the most important things are for you, and make a divorce strategy before any proceedings take place. Not everything will always go as planned, but at least you’ll be prepared and won’t make last minute decisions that hurt you in the long run.

4. Plan for life during divorce

Most people think about what they’ll do after a divorce, but fail to think about life during the process, which can last for months or even years. You need to figure out the logistics of where you’ll live, where your kids will live, and how finances will be handled. Are you keeping joint bank accounts until the divorce is final, or splitting them? Who will pay what bills while you’re waiting for things to be settled? These are important considerations that could turn into big fights if you haven’t thought them through ahead of time. These are issues to discuss with an attorney, who should provide you with guidance.

5. Gather your paperwork

Financial information is extremely important in divorce. Start gathering any and all financial information and organizing it as soon as you can. It will help things go much more smoothly throughout the process.

6. Make a plan to tell your spouse

This seems like it should be one of the first on the list, but it’s lower down because being emotionally stable and thinking through plans will actually help you break the news to your spouse. You’ll be calmer, which will be helpful to both of you. Of course, that doesn’t mean it will be easy. Telling your spouse you want a divorce is an incredibly difficult conversation, and how you broach the subject can set the tone for the entire process. Serving divorce papers with no conversation is a good way to hurt someone and make them angry. A conversation that’s filled with anger or simply cold and callous might work for some, but isn’t always the best route. In general, try to be calm and compassionate, and explain why and how you came to this decision. There may also be strategic considerations in deciding when and in what manner to tell your spouse. These should be discussed with your attorney. 

7. Assemble your team

Finally, you’ll start working with others who will actually make your divorce a reality. You’ll need a lawyer, a financial coach, a therapist, potentially a real estate agent, and family and close friends. Choose people who are on your side no matter what (meaning no matter how close you are, your in-laws cannot be part of your team). Divorce is stressful and emotionally draining at times, so you want people who are there for you both on a personal and professional level to do some of the heavy lifting.

Once you know you want a divorce, it’s important to move forward. Knowing how is difficult, but if you take these seven steps one at a time you’ll be on the right track. Schiffman Family Law is a small, family-owned law firm invested in our clients’ well being. Our top lawyers work personally on every case, helping you to find solutions and move forward with your life. Schedule a free one-hour consultation with Mike Schiffman today.

Client survival guide: Tips from Mike Schiffman for navigating court proceedings

SFL_Blog Post_Client Survival Guid.png

As a family lawyer, I’ve dealt with many, many divorce cases, from the amicable to the downright nasty. We talk often about what makes a good divorce lawyer. That’s important, as you want someone representing you who will have your best interests in mind and ultimately get you the results you want and need in a divorce. But what makes a good divorce client? There are a few things I’ve noticed over the years that my most successful clients–those who get what they want in divorce but also maintain the best control over their mental and physical health throughout the process–have in common. It is my goal to have my clients emerge from the process in a healthy state.

1. Understand your emotions

Divorce is inherently emotional. It’s also not always fair, unfortunately. You won’t always be able to control outcomes, and in some cases, those outcomes might not be what you want. The clients who are able to understand that divorce, like life, isn’t fair, but move forward anyway and work with my team to make the process as balanced as it is possible to be, are usually better off. It can feel like your ex is getting everything they want, or like things are taking longer than they should. Taking a step back to look at the reality of the situation is often helpful (and often your ex probably feels the same way). Taking out your frustration on others going through the process with you — like your family, friends, and lawyer — is generally not helpful. Don’t be surprised if the process takes longer or seems to hit a pause, as cooling off or not responding to the opposition’s sense of urgency can work in your favor.  Trust your attorney’s ability to “read” the opposition’s timeline to the final resolution.

2. Understand court orders

Court orders are just that–orders. However, some clients think of them as suggestions. This only causes more headache later on. If you disobey a court order, you will have a hard time receiving something you want in the divorce down the line. You could also be punished. It’s my responsibility as an attorney to make sure the order is as clear as possible and my client understands me fully, so there are no slip-ups. As a client, it is your responsibility to listen to me and follow the order. At the same time, if something is not written in a court order, it doesn’t count. I see clients get intimidated by spouses or realtors or others and think they need to pay fees, or give into agreements, or any number of things. Until it’s ordered by a judge, you don’t have to do it. This is why I encourage my clients to come to me before making any payments or concessions to other parties.

3. Don’t be vindictive

I get it if you hate your soon to be ex-spouse, but that doesn’t mean you should make decisions based on how much you can hurt him or her. Deliberately hurting the other party can also hurt your kids, if you have them, and even yourself. Decisions made with a vindictive mindset aren’t always the actual best decisions for the divorce. As hard as it can be, make your decisions based on your personal welfare and the welfare of your children.

4. Keep good records

Record keeping is extremely important in divorce. If your financial and other records are organized, the entire process will run much more smoothly. Once I have the records I will also keep them organized as your attorney, but if you’re part of the process you will feel more in control and will often be happier with the outcomes.

5. Take care of yourself

Divorce can be emotional, stressful, and draining. Take care of yourself. Going to the gym, eating healthily, being social, being responsible with your finances–these are all things that can be done in the short term to help you be happier in the long-term, even throughout a stressful divorce process. I’ve noticed my clients who prioritize personal health and self-care are also able to handle the divorce better.

If you’re thinking about getting divorced and just want to talk it through, you can set up a free one-hour consultation with me anytime. I will spend our time answering your questions, explaining your options and reviewing your situation so that you may make the most informed decision about this life altering process.  At Schiffman Family Law we believe an informed decision is always your best option.

Divorce for Boomers: What Couples Over 50 Need to Know About Divorce

SFL_BLOG POSTS_DIVORCE FOR BOOMERS.png

The divorce rate in the United States is dropping–it’s now closer to 40 percent than the often cited 50 percent. But among one group, the divorce rate remains high. That group is baby boomers. For those born between 1945 and 1964, the divorce rate has actually increased by 50 percent over the past two decades, according to a Pew Research Center report.

On CNN, opinion writer Pepper Schwartz said boomers came of age during a stable economic period, which gave them a base where they could pursue other movements like women’s rights, and take part in “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.” She said the liberalization of people and move against conformity is also what led to the downslide of conventional marriages.

Lili Vasileff, president of Divorce and Money Matters, says it’s because people are living longer and want to live fully throughout their longer lives. “They may have decades ahead and they don’t want to be unhappy anymore,” she says.

Whatever the reason, so called “gray divorce” clearly affects many marriages. If you’re going through a divorce in your 50s or later, there are a few things you should know. You’ll definitely want to hire a lawyer and possibly a financial adviser, as your assets are probably greater than if you were divorced at a younger age. Your life is probably also very enmeshed with your partners. You might have kids together, retirement accounts, life insurance plans, own property, and more. Divorce at an older age can be especially tricky and emotional, but working with a small family practice can make it as comfortable and smooth as possible.

Here are a few of the most important things to speak to your lawyer about when getting divorced over age 50:

Property Division

How you divide your property not only determines who gets what in the divorce, but it can also have major tax implications. Under the Tax Reform Act you can transfer property without reporting a loss or gain, so if you’re going to transfer any property you should do it before the divorce. You will need a legal document for the process to be tax-free. A lawyer can not on help you obtain the document, but can also help you walk through property division options.

Retirement Accounts

There are numerous types of retirement accounts: IRAs, pensions, Social Security, and 401ks. In some cases, depending on the plan, ex-spouses can continue receiving benefits. This is often the case with Social Security. Make sure you know which benefits will continue after divorce, if any, as that could have a big impact on your financial situation. At the same time, even if money was saved through one spouse’s account, it is generally considered marital property and will be divided in some way during divorce. A lawyer can ensure you get your fair share.

Alimony

Alimony is not always automatically granted, but is part of the divorce settlement terms. The courts will decide how much to award, so having an experienced lawyer on your side who can help you obtain the appropriate amount of alimony is important.

Insurance Benefits

Like with retirement plans, you need to look into how your insurance benefits will be affected by divorce. As you age, health insurance becomes even more critical. Does only one spouse work, and the other receives benefits through his or her plan? If so, in some cases benefits last for a limited amount of time after divorce. Speak with a lawyer and financial planner to maintain your benefits for as long as possible, and get set up with new insurance as soon as possible.

Dealing with Adult Children

Your kids may be grown, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be upset about their parents splitting up. Be prepared for some hard conversations. Having a plan for your future and showing both you and your spouse will still be taken care of is important. While this is a personal issue not a legal one, an experienced family attorney has seen it happen numerous times before and can help you get things in order before talking with your kids.

If you’re a baby boomer getting divorced, Schiffman Family Law can guide you through the process and help get ensure the benefits and financial setup you need. Set up a free one-hour consultation with Mike Schiffman today, so that Mike can provide you with the necessary information as you consider your options for the  future.

How does a judge determine the "best interests of the child"?

SFL_BLOG POSTS_INTEREST OF CHILD.png

In disputed custody cases, all states use a “best interest of the child” standard to determine which parent will have custodial rights. But what does the “best interest of the child” standard entail? While it is partly subjective and in the end will be up to a judge, there are a few things all courts look at, such as living situation, schools, child/parent relationship, abuse or neglect, safety, and the child’s age.

In Illinois, courts assume it’s in the child’s best interest to have both parents involved. They also assume both parents will consider and cooperate to maintain the child’s mental and physical well-being throughout life. These assumptions can be challenged by lawyers from either party.

These are the most important factors judges look at when determining the best interest of the child:

Living situation

Can the parent provide a safe and comfortable home for the child? Will the parent be home or have the resources to hire childcare? Will the child be able to attend school, be engaged in activities, and generally be happy in the home? These questions are all considered.

Child preference

This is taken into consideration more for older children, but even with young children if there’s a clear preference for one parent that will be taken into account.

History of abuse

History of domestic violence by either parent, even if the violence was toward each other or an outsider and not at all directed toward the child, is a major consideration for the court. Violence or threat of violence against the child is of course another major factor.

Parent’s ability to foster a relationship with the other parent

In most cases, courts in Illinois want the child to have a relationship with both parents, so if one parent shows a willingness to foster the relationship between the child and the other parent, that will be looked on favorably.

The child’s involvement in school and community

Kids need to be social and involved in things like school sports or other programs, or community programs and events. They also need friendships. Parents hoping for custody should show they are actively promoting these things.

Child’s age

Younger children need more supervision and hands-on time with their parents. If one parent works long hours or has an inconsistent schedule, that could be a negative for the judge.

Location

If one parent is staying in the child’s hometown while another is moving across the country, the judge might look on the hometown parent more favorably because it means the child won’t have to change their routine.

If you want to have custody of your child, show the courts you understand these points and have your child’s best interests at heart. Mike Schiffman is also a certified Guardian ad Litem that has  dealt with hundreds of these cases and can help you best make your case. Mike has practiced family law for over 30 years and has a proven record in the courts that will guide the process to a resolution — one that will result in the best possible agreement that provides both quality time with your children, while also doing what’s best for their futures.

Set up a free one-hour consultation with Mike Schiffman today to learn more about how the best interests of the child are determined in Illinois courts and how an experienced attorney can achieve your best outcome.

Preparing for Divorce: 7 Crucial First Steps

SFL_BLOG POSTS_PREPARING FOR DIVORCE.png

Divorce isn’t something to be taken lightly, and because of that the process leading up to it often involves months of thinking, debating, and finally making the decision to move forward. Then, once you’ve made the difficult decision to get divorced, you have to take the actual steps toward doing it, which can be just as hard and often confusing.

Divorce impacts everything from your finances to your social life, and each change affects another area of your life in some way. If you’re not sure what you’re doing as far as the divorce process, it makes it that much harder. Once you’ve decided a divorce is the best thing for you, there are several steps you should take to move toward making it a reality. Having the knowledge of which steps to take and when will help make the whole process much easier.


1.  Focus on yourself

It’s going to be hard to keep your emotions in check throughout the divorce process, but try to spend some time getting yourself emotionally stable. Think about your life now and your life post-divorce, and make sure it’s what you really want. Make peace with the fact that your life will change. Have a basic plan for how you will move forward with work, finances, housing,  seeing your children, and other life elements that will change. Thinking all of this through makes you more prepared for emotional conversations with everyone from your kids to your lawyer.


2. Gain some knowledge

The more you know about divorce, the easier the process will be. You’ll also probably have an easier time getting things you want or need from your ex-spouse and/or the court. A good family lawyer will help you immensely, but you should also do research on your own, determine what you want, will need, and what you can let go of, and do not just trust that a judge or anyone else will have your best interest in mind.

3. Determine what really matters

Know ahead of time what matters to you most in the divorce and come up with a strategy. You don’t want to get pushed around during the process because you’re making decisions in the moment. Know what you need from the divorce, how you will conduct your life going forward, and make a plan to get it. Talk with your lawyer so you’re on the same page.


4. Have a “during” plan as well as a future plan

Most people think about what they will do post-divorce as far as where they will live, how insurance will work, how they’ll take care of children, and on and on. But people often forget to think about what to do during the divorce. Divorce can take months (in some cases years), so you need a plan for where you’re going to live and who is going to pay for what until it’s finalized. Having a plan for this period–even for small details like who will pay for groceries–gives more mental capacity for handling bigger issues throughout the process.

5. Gather your financial information

One of the most annoying parts about divorce is all the paperwork you need. Start collecting and organizing things like bank account information, tax records, and debt records early to make it go as quickly as possible.


6. Tell your spouse you want a divorce

We know this part seems obvious, and maybe even like the first step. However, once you tell your spouse you want a divorce, things can become emotional, and you won’t be the only one controlling how they turn out. Having as much as you can prepared ahead of time, especially in terms of copies of your shared financial records,  will help make the conversation easier, and put you in a better mindset going forward.


7. Build a divorce team

Your divorce team will determine how smooth the process goes, so you want a team that’s experienced and on your side. Retaining a family attorney at Schiffman Family Law, a small practice, will ensure that you will work directly with your attorney as he is the one that will be invested in the handling of your case and care about every detail, and also be available when you have questions or need to talk things through. You should also ask the advice of your attorney and possibly hire a financial coach, potentially a therapist, and definitely enlist the support of your most trusted close friends and family to help you through the process.

If you’re thinking about getting a divorce but aren’t sure where to begin, Schiffman Family Law can help. Set up a free one-hour consultation with Mike Schiffman today.

Mike will answer your questions, explain your options and provide you with the necessary information so you may make an informed decision about your options going forward.

The Tax Deduction That Could Save You Thousands If You Divorce In 2018

SFL_Wednesday_Blog Post_3.png

Early this year, Congress made a change to the alimony tax deduction, essentially eliminating
the deduction for divorce agreements signed after December 31, 2018. That means getting
divorced in 2019 will be more expensive, for some. For others, it can mean a tremendous
savings.

We never want to encourage anyone to get a divorce, but if it’s already on the horizon and you simply haven’t taken the steps to make it official, you should strongly consider the timing of taking action. should do so before the end of the year to avoid paying thousands more in income taxes.

The Alimony Tax Deduction–What Is It?

Alimony is support money that one spouse pays to the other after a divorce. It is typically paid by the spouse who earns more money. Until the recent change, the alimony tax deduction was a federal tax deduction that made alimony tax deductible for the person paying it. At the same time, the spouse on the receiving end declared alimony as taxable income. Usually, this resulted in the parties paying less income taxes overall, and left them with more available funds post-divorce.

How It Works Under the New Law

The law eliminating alimony tax deduction was passed in December 2017, but doesn’t go into effect until December 31, 2018. Under the new law, for divorce judgments and maintenance orders entered after December 31, 2018, the payor of maintenance can no longer deduct those payments, and the recipient will no longer have to pay taxes on maintenance payments received.

Starting January 1, 2019, there is nothing you can do to change this, so timing is important. If you may have an obligation to pay maintenance to your spouse, those payments will cost you much more after 1/1/2019 – since you will lose the tax deductibility of those payments. On the other hand, if you may be entitled to receive maintenance, you may want to wait until after the start of the new year, since your maintenance payments will then be tax-free.

While it might seem nice to not have to claim alimony as income and receive support tax-free, but without a tax deduction chances are the spouse paying alimony will fight much harder to not have to pay, or to pay less, starting in 2019. They will be paying income tax on money they give away to support their ex-spouse–it’s a situation most people will not get into if they can help it. It’s also possible that judges may adjust alimony payments downwards, taking into consideration that the paying spouse cannot deduct support from their taxable income.

Divorce in 2018

Some experts have predicted a large increase in divorces in 2018 due to the alimony change and for couples on the brink of divorce, finalizing it in 2018 may make a lot of financial sense. One party saves money, and the other probably receives more going forward. Plus, there are few surprises. Under the current law, lawyers know how most judges will rule on alimony issues, and also have state alimony laws to follow. Settling divorce cases is relatively easy when the law has been the same for years. Going forward, divorce could become more complicated, fights over finances could be drawn out, and so far no one knows how judges will react.

If you are divorced before the end of 2018, the new law cannot change the way you are taxed. The only way that can change is if both parties agree to review alimony awards. Divorce can take time, so if you are in the early stages try to move forward in order to finalize before the end of the year. A divorce attorney who has your best interests in mind can help you through the process so both parties can come out with a divorce settlement that makes financial sense, and was worked through as painlessly as possible. Schiffman Family Law has been working one-on- one with clients for years, bringing personalized expertise to each case. Come in for a free one- hour consultation to talk through what the new alimony changes could mean for you and your family.

Dividing Debt in Divorce: What You Owe (And What You Don't)

SFL_Wednesday_Blog Post_2.png

Divorce can be emotionally draining, and it can also hurt families financially. Financial implications of divorce can last for years, long after the divorce papers have been signed and the legal fights are over. While many families are focused on issues of custody, alimony, and other arrangements, there are financial issues to consider as well. Most people know they will have to divide assets, but what happens to debt?

During the divorce process, you will need to determine who will be responsible for any jointly incurred debt, as well as how to handle individual debt. First, depending upon your circumstances, your attorney may advise you to stop using joint credit cards or accounts as soon as possible. Incurring more joint debt during a divorce will make everything more complicated. Next, look at your current debts and decide what you owe, and what you don’t.

What You Owe: Credit Cards and Loans

Get a copy of your credit report and take a look at the list of financial liabilities. Make sure you recognize all of the accounts, then make a list of which accounts are in your name, and which are joint. This will give you an understanding of how much total debt you have so you can begin to make a plan.

If you have applied for credit–whether for a credit card or a loan–in your name only, you are the primary account holder and that debt will remain in your name. After a divorce, you will be responsible for accounts that are only in your name, even if your spouse has racked up debt on those accounts.

If you have joint accounts, you and your spouse are both responsible for the debt going forward. How you will pay off any debt should be determined in your divorce settlement. However, the divorce settlement doesn’t matter to creditors, so even if you have an agreement that your former spouse will handle one account, it doesn’t mean creditors from that account won’t reach out to you for payment or account issues. This can also be an issue with debt in your name. A court could order your spouse to pay a debt that is solely in your name, but until it is paid you will still be financially responsible to the creditor, and creditors will reach out to you if your spouse fails to make payments. In other words, your divorce judgment can determine who is responsible for each of your debts and obligation; however, your divorce judgment will not affect the creditors.

In the end, creditors care about who owns the debt, and about getting paid. Ideally, your spouse will stick to the terms of your the divorce settlement/judgment.  But, in the event that your spouse fails to meet his/her financial obligations, you may have some recourse through the court. Talking with a lawyer about your finances during the settlement process can help give you a better idea of how paying debt will work going forward, and what your rights are.

What You Owe: Real Estate Debt

In most cases, the party who takes the property in a divorce will be required to pay the mortgage or any other debt related to the house. That doesn’t mean the other party is off the hook financially. Divorce settlements cannot void contracts with financial institutions, so if you took out a mortgage jointly, it remains both parties’ responsibility. To remove joint responsibility, one party could refinance the mortgage in only their name.

If neither party chooses to keep the house, it can be sold to pay off any remaining debt. Keep in mind that you may have to pay a penalty to your lender for terminating your mortgage early, and there may be tax consequences involved n the sale of a home.

What You Owe: Auto and Student Loans

If you have co-signed a loan of any kind with your spouse, and they are keeping the item the loan was for, you should try to release yourself from the loan. Say they purchased a car, or decided to go back to school, and you co-signed the loans. Get out of them if you can, or you’ll end up on the hook down the line for debt you’re not benefiting from. If you have co-signed your children’s student loans, you will probably remain jointly responsible. Again, talking with a lawyer can help you determine the best course of action in these situations.

What You Don’t Owe

You may end up being responsible for debt incurred only in your spouse’s name. Whether it’s credit card debt, a personal loan, an auto-loan, a business loan, or anything else, if it’s solely in another person’s name you are not liable – to the creditor.  However, In some cases, courts can order one spouse to pay the other spouse’s debt to make financial situations more fair. If that happens, you are responsible, but until a court orders you to pay your spouse’s debt, you don’t owe a dime.


Financial issues are one of the most complicated parts of divorce, and especially hard to deal with while trying to move on with your life and do what’s best for your family. An experienced attorney can help you understand your options and ease the entire process. At a small law firm, you’ll have the best lawyers personally working with you on your case. Schiffman Family Law offers a free one-hour consultation to any potential client. Schedule a consultation today to come in and talk through your legal and financial divorce questions, free of charge.



The Pros and Cons of a Prenup

prenup.jpg

Prenuptial agreements–contracts entered into before marriage spelling out property and monetary division, among other things–are personal. Some couples enter into them easily, while for others the thought can cause emotional turmoil. Whether or not a prenup is right for your marriage is something you and your spouse need to determine on your own, but a few facts can help. Spend some time going over the pros and cons before you make a decision.

The Pros of a Prenup

Some benefits of signing a prenuptial agreement are:

  • It can protect individual property by designating it as separate.

  • It can protect one or both spouse’s business from being affected by events in the marriage.

  • It can protect your estate plan, so that courts cannot decide property distribution in the event of divorce.

  • It outlines what is marital property and what is separate property.

  • It can help reduce conflict during divorce, because much will have been resolved ahead of time.

  • It can address and resolve designation of debts to the individual, so both spouses are not liable for one spouse’s debt.

  • It can help speed up court proceedings in the event of divorce.

  • It can establish rules for financial issues that might arise in the future.

  • It can lay out special arrangements between you and your spouse, not only financial, but also personal.

 

While a prenup helps greatly in the case of divorce, it can be a hard subject to broach. No engaged couple wants to think that they might not be together forever. Even if you never get divorced though, a prenup can help mitigate financial fights throughout the marriage. Especially if you own a business, it might be a good idea to consider protecting it with a prenup. Some couples find that while their initial thoughts about a prenup are negative, once they go through the process of talking about finances, property, and more, it ends up being a positive experience. The process of putting together a prenup can encourage healthy conversation about hard topics, and make sure you and your future spouse are on the same page before you say “I do.”

The Cons of a Prenup

Some cons of signing a prenuptial agreement are:

  • It could cause tension or hurt feelings between you and your intended spouse.

  • You may not have any assets to include in a prenup, or know what the future will hold and what issues might arise. If this is the case, you can always create a similar document called a post-nuptial agreement once you’re married and issues come up that you think should be included in a contractual agreement.

  • It does not address child custody or support issues, so those will always be decided by courts.

  • In the case of divorce, a court can set aside prenup provisions it finds to be unfair or unjust.

  • It cannot practically micromanage personal provisions like designating housework, choosing which family to spend the holidays with, etc.

 

Once you’ve looked through the pros and cons of a prenup, think about your situation. If you own real estate, earn a high income, own a business, have a large amount of assets, have an estate plan that names an heir other than your future spouse (like children from another marriage), or a life plan that includes one of you working while the other goes to school or works on a personal project, a prenup might be a good idea. Of course, only you can now how it will affect your marriage, and bringing up the idea of a prenup is a personal decision.

 

If you have questions about how your situation could be protected or hurt by a prenuptial agreement, talk to a lawyer. Schiffman Family Law offers a free one-hour consultation to anyone with legal questions, so schedule a meeting today to talk through the pros and cons of a prenup with a family lawyer who has handled hundreds of them.

 

Key Documents You Need in a Pet Custody Case

16.png

Did you know that 85 million families in the United States own a pet? Dogs, cats, bunnies, and more become part of the family, making it hard to choose who will have custody in divorce cases. Like with children, both spouses usually want to still be a part of the pet’s life.

However, though pet owners often feel like their pet is part of the family, courts see it differently.

Historically, pets have been viewed as personal property, similar to a sofa or a car, and were awarded to one party or the other. However, recent changes to divorce law in Illinois now recognize the unique and special value of pets. As such, Illinois courts are now able to allocate sole or joint ownership and responsibilities for pets. There are a few things you should consider when determining custody for your pet, and if you’re set on having ownership there are a few documents you’ll need.

Who Should Have Custody?

You should always keep your pet’s best interest in mind, even if it’s hard. The pet should live with the spouse who will be able to provide the best care, whether because they make a higher income or are home more often. If one spouse travels often for work, it might be in the best interest of the pet to live with the other spouse. You should think about living arrangements, time free to spend with the pet, and who can afford to spend money on veterinarian costs if needed. It can be hard to admit, but sometimes pets do have a strong emotional connection to one party over the other, and that should be taken into consideration as well.

Shared Custody Options

A judge can now provide for “joint custody” or arrangements to visit. Courts view pets as personal property, so any custody agreements are between the two parties alone, and generally not enforceable. If you are able to compromise with your spouse, you could come up with a shared custody arrangement or times to visit and spend time with the pet.

Key Documents You Need to Get Pet Custody

Even if you are open to a joint custody arrangement, you might want to be the primary caretaker of the pet. You can have a judge decide the issue of custody for you by thinking of the pet as personal property. If you go this route, you’ll need to show that you have greater interest in the pet. Emotional pleas don’t matter here–it’s all about property interest. Documents that can help you prove your right to custody include:

 
  • Receipt for purchase of the pet, or adoption papers with your name on them.

  • Receipts for veterinarian bills–from basic shots to any issues that have come up over the years.

  • Receipts for pet food, medication, or other needs.

If you have these documents in your name, it may help show that you have been more financially invested in the pet, and that as property it belongs mostly to you.

Family lawyers deal with pet custody cases all the time. After all, pets are like family. Work with a small law firm where the top lawyers are invested in your case and can help you with the things that really matter to you–like keeping your pets safe and happy in your care. Schiffman Family Law offers a free one-hour consultation to any potential client, so schedule an appointment to learn more about how pet custody works, and what your odds are of keeping your pet with you after the divorce.

What Really Happens In Family Court: Busting Six Common Myths

Family Court_Six Common Myths.png

Divorce, especially when it involves children, is never easy. If you base your perception of family court on the way it’s portrayed in the media, you may be bracing yourself for screaming matches and endless fights over custody and property. Luckily, Judge Judy is entertainment that’s far from reality. In reality, many divorce cases can be resolved amicably with minimal drama. Here, we bust six common myths about divorce and family court that prove reality is very different from what you’ll see on reality TV.

Myth: Everything Will Be Divided 50-50

In some states this is true, but not in Illinois. Illinois is an “equitable distribution” state, not an “equal distribution” state. This means assets are divided fairly, which does not always mean equally. When assets are being divided in a divorce in Illinois, the process takes into consideration things like the length of the marriage, the financial positions of each party, what each spouse contributed over time, and many other factors. Couples and their attorneys can work out a fair distribution in negotiation, or they can take the case to court, where a judge will look at the same factors and make a decision.

When it comes to property, couples can divide their assets, or they can sell joint property and divide the profits, or they can continue to own property together. If the couple has kids in school, for example, they may choose to keep the family home until the children graduate, or they can decide to keep joint property as an investment, eventually splitting assets down the line. If you’re on good terms with your ex and believe your property could increase in value, this might be something to consider.

Myth: Assets Can be Excluded

Some people think that if only one spouse’s name is on property or other assets, those assets are excluded from distribution during divorce. This is rarely the case, and if the asset was purchased during the marriage it is almost always considered a joint asset. If property was purchased before the marriage or with non-marital funds, it can be excluded in some cases. People also sometimes forget that joint assets are joint until the divorce is finalized, even if the couple no longer lives together or shares a bank account. Because of this, it’s important to keep up on joint payments until the very end.

Myth: Fathers Don’t Have Parental Rights

In the past, mothers attained custody and rights in divorce cases much more often than fathers. That is no longer true. Illinois, like most states, has transitioned to recognize the role of fathers as caregivers, especially as more women have been able to take on full-time jobs and leadership positions in the workforce. The law is now gender-neutral, so that mothers no longer have an inherent advantage simply by virtue of their gender.  Fathers are on an equal footing with regard to custody, visitation and other child-related issues. Of course, all custody issues depend on the specifics of the case, including both parties’ jobs, time at home, living conditions, and more.

Myth: Divorce Can’t be Friendly

Divorce is often portrayed as this ugly, toxic affair that leads to dramatic court battles. In many real-life cases though, the reality is very different. Mediation is becoming more common in family divorce cases, and is often a less contentious, more amicable way to dissolve a marriage. Most divorces are resolved in the negotiation stage, with few or no details are left up to a judge to decide. Sometimes, couples divorce because they are no longer romantically in love, but they still care about each other and their family, so they stay friendly and approach the divorce process collaboratively. In cases where children are involved, staying civil is a requirement to keep in touch with the child’s school and other shared responsibilities. Good, experienced lawyers can help to keep things as professional as possible, so a divorce case doesn’t turn into a screaming match like the kinds you see on TV.

Myth: Children Can Choose Who to Live With

This one is tricky, because technically children cannot simply choose who to live with in Illinois. However, the judge will take their preference into consideration. While the child’s wishes are a factor, they are far from the most significant consideration.  Rather, the attorneys and the judge must consider all factors that impact upon a child. How much weight is given to the child’s preferences will also depend on the age of the child. Older and more mature children are more likely to have their desires taken into account, since they usually have more specific reasons for choosing one parent over another and are better able to articulate them.

Myth: A Judge Will Always Decide The Details

As mentioned above, negotiation and mediation are common pathways to resolution in family court, especially in divorce cases. According to CBS News, only about five percent of cases actually go to trial, while the vast majority are settled out of court.

No two family law experiences are the same, so it’s important to find a lawyer that will work with your unique circumstances. An experienced family law attorney who fully understands your situation and your priorities can help you have the most peaceful and positive divorce process possible. That’s why Mike Schiffman works directly on each and every case that comes through the doors of Schiffman Family Law. Here, you’re more than a number, and you won’t be handed off to paralegals or junior attorneys. Divorce is not often easy, but it doesn’t have to be as bad as it’s portrayed on TV. Contact Schiffman Family Law today for a free one-hour consultation with Mike Schiffman himself.
 

Do your children need a lawyer? What is a Guardian ad Litem?

Children Need Lawyers.png

Divorce is stressful not only for you and your partner, but for your children as well. Cases that involve disputes over child custody can be especially hard on children, which is why many judges don’t like to have them testify. In these cases, the judge can appoint a Guardian ad Litem who will advocate on behalf of your child.

What is the Guardian ad Litem’s Role in Illinois?

A Guardian ad Litem is an experienced attorney for the children of two parties involved in a divorce or other dispute over parenting issues. Their role is to interview the children and both parents, investigate the case, and then testify to the court, or submit written recommendations, outlining what outcome is in the best interests of the child or children. This is slightly different from a child representative, as representatives do not testify and are not cross-examined.

In Illinois, Guardians ad Litem are discussed under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. Section 506 (2) states: The Guardian ad Litem shall testify or submit a written report to the court regarding his or her recommendations in accordance with the best interest of the child. The report shall be made available to all parties. The Guardian ad Litem may be called as a witness for purposes of cross-examination regarding the Guardian ad Litem's report or recommendations. The Guardian ad Litem shall investigate the facts of the case and interview the child and the parties.

Why Is Having a Guardian ad Litem Important?

The Guardian ad Litem is not on either parent’s side — the child is their client, so their top priority is to look out for what’s best for the child. When investigating the case, the Guardian ad Litem will meet with both parents, meet with the child, take stock of both parents’ living situations, and review all evidence and facts in the case. 

Children can feel intimidated during divorce cases and sometimes feel bad telling parents how they really feel. Your child could open up to a Guardian ad Litem and discuss matters he or she might not feel comfortable discussing with you. Guardians ad Litem are typically appointed in cases where a parent is suspected of child abuse, of substance abuse, or is not thought to be fit for custody due to living conditions or other reasons.  They are also utilized when a child has started showing at-risk behavior, as this behavior could be attributed to living conditions or something else going on with either or both parents behind the scenes. However, it is common to have a Guardian ad Litem appointed in more common cases where custody or other parenting issues are in dispute.  Judges often refer to Guardians ad Litem as “the eyes and ears of the Court.”

A Guardian ad Litem can also be helpful as an outside observer in determining where exactly parents disagree, since they speak with each party individually and then provide an unbiased report. This report can show clearly where differences lie.

How Guardians ad Litem Protect Children In Divorce and Parentage Cases

A Guardian ad Litem is not the same as a child’s lawyer. The role of a Guardian ad Litem is to investigate and advocate for the best interests of a child.  The Guardian ad Litem does not simply follow the desires of the child. The Guardian ad Litem’s primary responsibility is to keep the best interests of the child in mind, protecting the child from ending up in an unsafe home or toxic environment. They also seek to insulate the child, to the greatest degree possible, from the adversarial nature of the litigation process.  

Is There a Reason to Hire a Guardian ad Litem Even When Not Mandated by the Court?

 A Guardian ad Litem is appointed by the Court.  Either party to a case can request such an appointment from the judge, or the judge can appoint a Guardian ad Litem without either parent making a request.  There are many reasons why you might want a guardian ad litem appointed in your case. If you suspect the other parent of abuse or don’t think they’re fit to have custody of your child, but you can’t prove this with evidence, the Guardian ad Litem’s report could end up helping you.  Similarly, you may want a Guardian ad Litem to investigate the facts of your case so as to advocate for what is believed to be in the child’s best interests. However, a Guardian ad Litem is independent. If you’re confident the facts are on your side, the Guardian ad Litem’s report could be helpful in your case.

Similarly, if you don’t know how your child feels about the case and want to ensure he or she ends up in the happiest possible situation, a Guardian ad Litem can help. Your child could open up to a Guardian ad Litem in a way they won’t to you, and that can help with creating a recommendation that puts the child’s needs and desires first.

Mike Schiffman is a certified Child Representative and Guardian ad Litem for the Circuit Court of Cook County, with more than three decades of experience representing children in complex divorce and family court cases. Frequently appointed by the Courts to serve as a Guardian ad litem in Illinois, Mike protects and advocates for the best interests of minor children. Care and protection of children is always his top priority in his practice. To learn more about how Mike’s experience representing kids could help protect the best interests of your family, contact Schiffman Family Law today to book a free one-hour consultation with Mike Schiffman.

Finding the Right Representation: What to Look For in a Divorce Attorney

SFL Blog_June 2018_Blog_Divorce Team (1).png

Divorce affects every area of your life, from how your family interacts to your finances, so finding the right divorce attorney is important to help navigate the process. The ideal divorce representative will be experienced, informative, and ensure you’re as comfortable as possible throughout the process.

Look for a lawyer the same way you would look for a surgeon — as if your life depended on it,” New York attorney Michael P. Mossberg told CNBC. “The divorce is not only going to cost you money: Your future depends on how it is resolved.”

In some cases, couples get along well enough to draft their own proposed terms for their divorce agreements. In these cases, an attorney is still needed to go over legal details to finalize and file with the Court. Often though, couples are not well-versed in the legal matters surrounding a divorce and need an experienced attorney to help walk them through the process.
Divorce can be costly and emotional, but having an experienced family law attorney on your side will help make it less painful, both financially and personally. Here are a few key things to look for:

Take Stock of Your Comfort Level

When choosing divorce attorney, you should take time to interview attorneys and see how comfortable you feel around them. The best option will be someone who listens to what you want, helps you understand complex legal issues, and has a calm temperament. Remember that you’ll be sharing extremely personal information about your marriage and your finances with this person. Similarly, divorce can be emotionally charged and draining, so having someone there who is calm and supportive throughout the process will be helpful. 

Do not mistakenly assume a courtroom advantage will result from a tough-talking attorney in consultation, as ultimately it is your attorney’s ability to logically present to the judge that your case has more merit — not just an attorney with the loudest arguments.

Find Someone With Experience Specifically In Family Law

There are plenty of attorneys out there who can work on divorce cases, but not all of them actually specialize in family law. Especially if you have children, working with an experienced family law attorney is crucial. To become board-certified in family law, attorneys in many states have to have trial experience and take additional tests. There are also continuing education requirements to maintain certification. Board-certified family lawyers are often more expensive than other attorneys, but the experience is worth it and will mean more efficient and effective processes. These attorneys are more familiar with child custody, property division, and other issues specific to divorce and family law. To this end, it’s also a good idea to hire someone who works in your jurisdiction, as there’s a higher chance they’ll have worked with the judge previously.

Look for An Attorney Who Keeps You In the Loop

There’s nothing worse than not knowing what’s going on in your own case. Look for a lawyer who communicates with you clearly — not in legal jargon. Similarly, find an attorney who will keep you in the loop with regular updates and answer your questions and calls in a timely manner. Because it can be hard to tell these things from an initial interview–many attorneys could easily say what you want to hear at first–ask around for recommendations, check their websites and online legal directories for details on their years of experience, or look for reviews of specific attorneys online.

Randall Kessler, chairman of the American Bar Association’s Family Law Section, says to “ask friends and friends of friends who have gone through a divorce.” He also says to stay away from promises that seem too good to be true. "If you want alimony or custody, and five lawyers tell you that you won’t get it, and one says you will, I’d go with the majority opinion,” he says.

Make Sure They Take the Time to Understand Your Needs

While some of your needs might not be possible to fulfill in a divorce, there are others that your attorney should make a priority: namely, anything involving your children. If you make it clear that your children’s needs come first, your attorney should respect that. An attorney who is also a guardian ad litem has been determined by a judge to be especially trustworthy in representing the interests of kids in legal proceedings. Looking for lawyers with this certification can help you find a better divorce attorney: one who can use their experience navigating complex custody agreements to arguing custody cases on behalf of their clients in divorce cases.

Consider a solo attorney instead of a larger firm

Lawyers are busy, and many rely on their support staff to help them with cases. Bigger firms often mean less involvement from experienced litigators in the day-to-day work on clients' cases. A solo attorney or a small law firm often means more hands-on representation and increases the likelihood that the most experienced lawyers will be working directly on your case. Look for small firms with established attorneys at the top of the masthead, and pay close attention to your earliest experiences with the firm. Are your first consultations with a junior attorney or support staff, or do you have a chance to speak with the top attorneys early on? It's rare for new or prospective clients to have a conversation directly with the principal attorney of a law firm: if you talk directly to a firm's top lawyer early on, that's a great sign that they'll be closely involved in your case.

Divorce, custody & college: how tuition expenses are split

SFL Blog_June 2018_Blog_Divorce, Custody & College.png

For many parents, part of raising a child includes saving for and covering their college tuition expenses. After a divorce, this responsibility doesn’t go away, but it does become more complicated. Which parent is responsible for covering college tuition, or if it’s divided, how is it split up?

Under Illinois Law, parents can be directed by the Illinois Courts to pay child support for educational expenses, even after the child turns 18. There are four factors the courts take into consideration when determining how to order educational expenses. They are:

  • each parent’s financial situation
  • the standard of living the child would have had if the parents did not get divorced
  • the child’s financial resources, and
  • the child's academic performance.

Things get complicated if one parent isn’t willing to pay for education, or has different views on the educational plan the child should follow. Let’s assume both you and your former spouse are invested in your child’s well-being and long-term education. If that’s the case, here’s how to go about determining how tuition expenses are split.

Find the right attorney

First, find an attorney who understands and is looking out for your child’s best interests. This will help ensure your child’s education isn’t put at risk because of a disagreement between you and your ex. A good attorney will listen to your concerns about your child’s education and make the topic a priority during the divorce. They’ll also help you go through some of these steps.

Outline Your Long-Term Educational Plans for Your Child In Writing

Laying out your plans for your child’s education can help reveal areas where you and your spouse disagree, making them easier to talk through. If you want your child to go to a four-year college, state that explicitly. If you’re open to paying for out-of-state tuition, or if you only want to fund an in-state education, write that down too. From here, you can talk through a solution that works for both parties. Of course, depending on the age of your child, their college wishes will play a factor.

Organize and Document Your Financial Situation Clearly

Having your finances clearly documented will help determine realistically how much each parent can afford. It's essential to organize your own finances in great detail before beginning divorce proceedings to make sure your individual situation is characterized appropriately in negotiations. Our Guide to Organizing Your Finances Before Divorce can help make the process easy.

 

Don’t Forget Life Insurance

Finally, make sure your divorce decree covers life insurance and disability insurance that covers the total for all of your share of college expenses. If something happens to you or your ex, you don’t want your child’s education to suffer.

In many cases, parents can come to an agreement about their child’s education expenses without going to court. If this is not the case, a judge will review each parent’s income, work history, assets, and debts. The judge will also look at your child’s education and extracurricular history and the current housing situation of both parents. Finally, he or she will make a decision on how to split education costs in a way that will be best suited for both parents and the child.

Your divorce decree should lay out who will pay for everything related to college preparation and college. This includes things like standardized course prep, test fees, admission fees, college visit costs, housing, tuition, meal expenses, and any other costs. Maybe one parent will pay tuition, while the other pays for room and board. Or one will cover books, while the other covers a meal plan. The more explicitly costs are laid out, the less likely you are to fight about it when the time comes for your child to go off to school.

So you've been served: Understanding the basics of a lawsuit

lawsuit-llinois

We’ve all seen movies or TV dramas where someone opens their door to find an officer standing there ready to serve them paperwork. But what would you do if you found yourself on the other side of that door knock? Civil lawsuits usually occur after a dispute between people or businesses, and are typically used in family law cases. If you’re being sued, that means you’re the defendant. Don’t panic. Many cases settle before reaching a trial. Here are the basics of a lawsuit and what to do next if you’ve been served.

First Steps

If you’re being sued and the grounds of the suit are false, it’s up to you to prove that. You should immediately hire a lawyer to represent you and advise you on any next steps you may take. If there is some truth to the suit, it’s equally important to get legal representation to make sure your side of the story is accurately represented and help negotiate a fair resolution. Don’t make any decisions alone about whether you want to fight the lawsuit, default, or seek a settlement — there are many factors to consider, and your lawyer should help make sure you understand all of them.

Your Options

If the allegations outlined in the lawsuit are truthful, and you’re willing to meet all of the plaintiff’s terms, your attorney can contact the other party to quickly resolve the issue. If you’re being sued, you must submit a response, called an “answer,” within a defined limited period of time, according to Saving Thousands. This is a document responding to each claim made against you.

Negotiation is another possible response to a civil lawsuit. Your attorney can contact the plaintiff to negotiate a resolution. In eviction cases, for example, landlords are often willing to drop the lawsuit and court fees if you pay any outstanding rent immediately. Each type of lawsuit has a specific legal deadline, according to Civil Law Self Help Center, so if you are going to negotiate, start the process as soon as possible after being served.

Next Steps

After you submit your answer, assuming your case was not dismissed, there will be many steps to undertake as your case progresses through the legal process. Ultimately, the lawsuit will be dismissed, settled by agreement, or proceed to a trial. At your trial your attorney will state your case, and the judge will make the final call. No matter what path to resolution you pursue, it is essential that your attorney fully understands your side of the story and everything that happened in detail, so he/she can help you determine which path is right for you, and then make sure the truth of the matter is accurately portrayed in court.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore the claims. That will result in the plaintiff asking the judge for a default judgment — and if you’re not there to defend yourself and haven’t responded to the lawsuit, it’s unlikely the judge will rule in your favor. The best thing to do is speak with an experienced attorney who can talk you through your negotiation options or help you build a case for your defense.

How do you know if you’ve found an attorney who truly understands your case and will protect your interests in court? Look for a lawyer who listens. That’s why Schiffman Family Law offers a free one-hour consultation to all potential new clients to discuss the specifics of your case. Contact us to book a no-strings-attached consultation with Mike Schiffman today.

How to organize your finances before a marriage or divorce

5.9.18.png

Divorce comes with many emotional stresses, but the financial changes can have a big impact on your life, too. Suddenly, your income changes, your division of bills changes, and your financial responsibilities change. Marriage, while in every other way the opposite of divorce, also comes with big financial changes. Suddenly you must learn to share your financial responsibilities with another person. Getting your finances organized before your marriage or divorce will help you know where you stand individually, which can help you navigate new financial waters in the future.

Step one: Get Organized

Mike Schiffman of Schiffman Family Law says that before beginning the divorce process, it’s essential to have an accurate understanding of your financial situation — your own, and your family’s. “No one knows your financial circumstances better than you,” he says. “Your divorce attorney’s job is to help you understand how your divorce will affect your financials, and figure out what path to separation is right for you.”

He recommends all of his clients organize their financial documents before a divorce by using separate files for each account. Printing out documents that track all money in both joint and separate accounts makes it easy to see what money is yours, and what is shared. Not only does this give you a clear picture of your financial situation, he says it helps make things easier during the divorce process.

“When you begin the divorce process, you and your spouse will need to exchange numerous financial details related to your bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement and credit card accounts,” Schiffman said. “If you are organized, the process of providing such documentation will be less overwhelming.”

Before a marriage, Financial Advisor Kristin O’Keeffe Merrick writes in Forbes that frank conversations are important. “If you get divorced and either one of you has debt, it could become your responsibility. So before you take the plunge, it is crucial to have an open conversation and get your financial ducks in a row.”

Merrick recommends discussing how you will organize finances together after your wedding, including budgeting and financial goals. If your own finances are organized ahead of time, it will make it easier to have realistic conversations about what you can afford and what you hope to achieve with your money. It will also make it easier to tell your partner about any debt you’re bringing to the marriage.

Step Two: Check Your Credit

Whether you’re getting married or divorced, check your credit score. Knowing your score before marriage will help you avoid any surprises when you and your spouse try to buy a home or make another investment together. If there are issues on your credit report, try to resolve them or talk to your spouse about them to keep them in the loop about the types of homes, cars, etc. you will be able to jointly afford.

If you’re getting divorced, check your credit to see if your spouse’s financial history has impacted you in any way. Now that you’re on your own, it will be important to have a strong independent line of credit for future loans or rental agreements. Look over any joint credit card statements and see where your money is being spent, making note of who’s responsible for each major expenditure, and identifying patterns in your own spending and your partner’s. If your spouse spends excessively, take your name off the account to start building your own credit before the divorce goes through.

Step Three: Set Up New Accounts

After divorce, you’ll have to set up individual bank accounts and credit cards, so why not start early? Establishing your own accounts in advance lets you move your money so that you can track your spending and begin building credit.

For those getting married, it’s not a bad idea to keep your accounts separate. In fact, more and more millennials are doing it, according to The Atlantic.

Step Four: Taxes

This one only applies to those going through divorce: Your tax status will change from joint to individual, and your income will change, too. These are big shifts that could result in paying or receiving spousal support or capital gains taxes and other investment taxes. Forbes recommends working with a certified divorce financial planner who can help you understand how taxes will impact your divorce settlement, and how to best negotiate to save you money.

Organizing your finances can seem like a daunting task, but it will save you time, energy, and maybe even money in the long run. It’s great to start taking inventory of your assets on your own, but the earlier you partner with an experienced divorce attorney, the more help you’ll have navigating these complex waters. At Schiffman Family Law, we have more than 30 years’ experience helping people understand and take control of their finances during divorce. Contact our office today for a free one-hour consultation.

 

Understanding Illinois Custody Law: Parental Responsibilities and Parenting Time

illinois-custody-law

A 2016 update to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act has changed the way courts and judges divide parenting rights and responsibilities. Know the facts before you begin your divorce process.

For married couples with children planning a divorce, and for unmarried parents, the determination of when and how you will divide parenting rights and responsibilities is typically the most important and emotionally-charged part of the legal process. The custody laws in your state will set the parameters for your custody arrangement, but many factors unique to your circumstances and your relationship will ultimately determine the outcome in your case. A thorough understanding of how the custody decision process works will help you navigate the process as smoothly as possible. Read on to learn how judges and the court system in Illinois determines the division of parenting rights.

Illinois Custody Law

In some states, the law distinguishes between custody in terms of “sole” or “joint” custody — whether one or both parents will be assigned total or shared parenting duties, including decision-making power — and between “physical” and “legal” custody — where physical custody determines which parent the children will primarily live with, and legal custody defines which parent is empowered to make legal decisions for the child.

Illinois custody law does not consider these distinctions independently. If a judge determines that two parents will share custody of their child or children, then those specifics regarding divisions of legal decision-making power and the distribution of shared and separate parenting time are ironed out on a case-by-case basis considering a variety of factors – all founded upon the best interests of the child.

Key Terms: Allocation of Parenting Time

It’s important that parents understand key terms in family law that relate to divorce and marriage dissolution, including some that are unique to Illinois. First, know that two terms commonly referenced in divorce proceedings — “custody” and “visitation” — are no longer the correct legal terms applied in Illinois family law. Since the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act took effect in January 2016, these terms have been replaced by “assignment of parental responsibilities” in lieu of custody, and “parenting time” in lieu of visitation.

Assignment of Parental Responsibilities

“Assignment of parental responsibilities” refers to how decision-making authority over a child’s life, including major decisions like schooling, religion and medical care. Similar to the concept of legal custody, the assignment of parental responsibilities in Illinois evaluates how parents will share these decision-making powers by considering each subject individually, and assigning authority over each based on the family’s unique circumstances. This can result in a wide variety of possible combinations: For example, a judge may decide that the mother will be empowered to make decisions regarding the healthcare of the child or children, but that the father has authority over the child or children’s education and extracurricular activities. A judge can also decide that, in some areas, both parents are responsible for making these decisions together.

Factors considered by Illinois courts to determine the division of parenting time according to the best interests of the child can include, but are not limited to:

  • The wishes of the child, taking into consideration the child’s maturity and ability to express reasoned and independent preferences as to decision making;

  • The child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community;

  • The mental and physical health of all individuals involved, including the child and both parents;

  • The ability of the parents to cooperate with decision-making for the child, or whether the level of conflict between the parents might affect their ability to share decision-making responsibilities;

  • How much each parent participated in past decision-making responsibilities for the child;

  • Any prior agreement or course of conduct between the parents relating to the decision making for the child;

  • The wishes of the parents;

  • The child’s needs;

  • The distance between the parents’ homes, the cost and difficulty of transporting the child, the daily schedules of each parent and child, and the ability of both parents to cooperate in the parenting time arrangement;

  • Whether a restriction on decision-making is appropriate under Section 603.10 (whether one parent acted in a way that seriously endangered the child’s physical, moral, mental health or emotional development);

  • The willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child;

  • Any other factor that the court finds relevant.

750 ILCS 5/602.5(c)

Parenting Time

Since Illinois family law considers the division of parenting rights and responsibilities in a more holistic way, the state has also migrated away from referring to the division of parenting time in terms of “residential custody” and “visitation.” Instead, the court approaches how parents will share child care as the division of “parenting time.”

Unlike custody determinations which can be as black-and- white as “sole” or “joint,” parenting time allows for diverse combinations of parenting time schedules that take each parent’s circumstances into consideration to find a combination that serves the best interests of the child. Current Illinois law states that if one parent has not been granted significant decision-making power under the assignment of “parental responsibilities,” that parent will be entitled to a reasonable parenting time schedule with the child.

Determining how parents will restructure their roles and responsibilities in the lives of their children is the most complex and important negotiation in any separation. An experienced attorney is essential to ensure your circumstances and your fitness as a parent are accurately represented and secure a fair outcome in the division of parenting duties. Mike Schiffman and the team at Schiffman Family Law has more than 35 years of experience representing parents in divorce and custody cases. Read what his clients and other attorneys have said about his expertise in family law, and contact his office today for a free, confidential consultation.

Pre-nups v. Post-nups

Prenuptial and Postnuptial agreements serve similar functions, but have some key differences. We help you understand each and determine which is right for your situation.

You’ve heard of prenups and postnups, and probably know that one comes before the wedding, and the other comes after. What’s tricker is knowing how else they differ, and which is right for you. According to Investopedia, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that both types of agreements have increased in recent years. Between 2009 and 2011, 63% of responding attorneys reported an increase in prenups, and 51% saw an increase in postnups. You should never rush into a legal agreement, especially not one that involves your finances and your marriage. Here’s what you need to know about both prenuptial and postnupial agreements.

Prenuptial Agreement Basics

A prenuptial agreement is an agreement made between future spouses before their wedding day. It outlines how they will handle finances, debts, assets and other money-related issues during the marriage, as well as what will happen to those finances should they get divorced. In some cases, it also includes personal clauses in addition to financial details: some couples lay out what will happen if one spouse cheats, set ground rules for gaining weight, specify who will take care of pets, and so on. The terms of the prenuptial agreement go into effect once the couple is married.

While prenups are often set up to provide protection in the event of divorce, they can also be useful after one spouse’s death. If one spouse has a large estate or children from a previous marriage, a prenuptial agreement can detail how much of their estate goes to their spouse, and how much goes to their children.

Though they’re set up ahead of time, prenups can protect income earned during the marriage, and can also help eliminate alimony payments. Neither prenups nor postnups cover what happens to children; that is always left to courts in the case of divorce.

Postnuptial Agreement Basics

A postnuptial agreement is very similar to a prenuptial agreement. The main difference is that it is drawn up after a couple is married. Couples skip arranging prenuptial agreements for many reasons: sometimes, in the run-up to a wedding, couples get so busy they don’t have time to arrange an agreement, or they may feel the conversation will ruin the romance of their wedding day, so they handle it after they say “I do.”

As with a prenup, spouses specify in a postnuptial agreement what will happen to property and finances in the case of a divorce. They help determine what is joint property, and what is separate. An arranged postnup is useful in divorce cases because it saves money and the emotional stress of going through divorce litigation.

Postnuptial agreements are usually used if both spouses wanted a prenup, but didn’t have time to execute one before the marriage; if they are thinking about divorce and want to determine how property would be divided, saving time and sanity later on in the divorce process; if, after the wedding, a couple realizes they have different ideas of how to handle money; or if one spouse acquires a new asset or debt and wants it to be kept as separate property. The last case is common if one spouse receives a large inheritance, decides to go back to school, or opens a business.

Who Needs A Prenup or Postnup?

It used to be that young couples with few assets had little need for these types of agreements; then in January 2016, changes to Illinois law made them more important for everyone.

Previously, when couples received marriage gifts or bought items for their new home, even if they weren’t married yet, those gifts and items were considered “purchased in contemplation of marriage,” and were joint property. Whether it was a house or a doormat, the assets were divided fairly during divorce. Under the new law, gifts, assets, and debts acquired before marriage are non-marital property. The law reads:

For purposes of this Act, "marital property means all property, including debts and other obligations, acquired by either spouse subsequent to the marriage . . . .
. . .
Property acquired prior to a marriage that would otherwise be non-marital property shall not be deemed to be marital property solely because the property was acquired in contemplation of the marriage.

Prenups are important now to determine whether property acquired before the marriage is marital or independent property.

Both types of agreements are also useful when it comes to debt. Young couples today often have large student loans, and when they marry, that debt is joint—even though it’s technically non-marital. However, if they have a pre- or postnup, the estate can be paid back for money paid against non-marital debt. The agreement can specify the exact amount that must be paid back.

They are also useful in the case of second marriages to set aside wealth for existing children, or to simply give spouses peace of mind. Divorce can be costly and unpleasant. After going through it once, many people don’t want to enter into a second marriage without a guarantee that, should things change in the relationship, their financial interests will still be protected.

“Prenuptial agreements, on the other hand, provide such people with the opportunity to ensure predictability, plan their future with more security, and, most importantly, decide their own destiny,” reads Supreme Court of Alaska case Brooks v. Brooks, discussing the issue.

Which is Right for You?

If you know ahead of your marriage that you would like to protect your assets and guarantee certain outcomes in the event of divorce, a prenuptial agreement is right for you. If you’re married, and you and your spouse handle money differently; if one of you wants to take a financial risk like investing or starting a business, or one of you inherits a large amount of wealth, then a postnuptial agreement is a better option.

Either way, remember that these are legal agreements that cannot be simply reworked if one partner changes their mind. It is important to think about what you want the document to detail and understand it fully before signing. Each spouse should have an independent lawyer examine the agreement to make sure both parties’ rights are represented. Remember that discussing finances in the case of divorce is a touchy issue, and these types of legal agreements should be approached with caution and consideration.

An experienced and compassionate attorney is a vital resource in navigating these agreements amicably. Mike Schiffman has decades of experience navigating all aspects of marital asset litigation. Contact Schiffman Family Law today to learn more about how our firm can help you.

Pet Custody Law in Illinois

4.11.18.png

Starting in 2018, pets in Illinois are treated more like family, and less like property in divorce cases.

A new Illinois law that treats pets more like family took effect in January 2018, giving judges more leeway in determining pet custody on a case-by-case basis. Judges can now consider the well-being of pets during divorce proceedings, and allocate sole or joint ownership depending on the case.

As more couples have children later, or not at all, pets become a bigger part of the family. When both spouses are attached to a pet, it can be heart-wrenching to lose ownership during divorce. The new Illinois law gives more leeway in deciding the pet’s future, rather than choosing one owner over the other. Like with children, pet owners can now have joint custody, or ownership, over the pet. This can be healthier for both the people and the animal.  

As more couples have children later, or not at all, pets become a bigger part of the family.

“Most pet owners know that their animals are more than a piece of property — they’re a member of their family,” said Mike Schiffman, a family attorney at Schiffman Family Law. “The new law in Illinois will better reflect that reality.”

How the Law Works

The law was sponsored by state Sen. Linda Holmes (D-Aurora) who said she wanted pets to be treated more like family. She told the Chicago Tribune that pets have feelings and emotions. “If you’re going before a judge, they’re allowed to take the best interest of the animal into consideration,” she said.

Under the new law, each spouse will need to detail why they would be the best suited party to keep the pet.

“Who does the day-to-day stuff? Who buys the pet food? Who stays on top of vaccinations?” Erika Wyatt, a divorce attorney and animal rights advocate said to WQAD. “Anything that happens in the normal care for the pet is going to become relevant now.”

After hearing both sides, the judge chooses one party for sole ownership or can grant joint custody. The law does not apply to service animals.

What’s Changed?

Before 2018, pets were treated like property and divided between divorcing couples as part of the value of the estate. In most cases, pet custody is determined outside of court. A study from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that one-third of their lawyers said couples were more likely to settle pet ownership disputes outside of court. 

One-third of their lawyers said couples were more likely to settle pet ownership disputes outside of court.

Though pet custody court cases have gone down in recent years, the new law makes existing and future cases simpler. Alaska was the first state to change its pet custody divorce laws, and Illinois followed its example to give judges more say.

If you’re going through a divorce and wondering how to best represent yourself to gain sole or joint custody of your pet, work with an experienced Illinois attorney to ensure the judge has all information available and can make the best decision for both you and Fido. The team at Schiffman Family Law is well-versed in Illinois pet custody law, and understands the importance of these decisions. Contact the Chicago area’s number one pet-friendly law firm today for a free 1-hour consultation.