Preparing for Divorce: 7 Crucial First Steps

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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

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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)

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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

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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

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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

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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?

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.







 

5 Signs You're Ready for Divorce

Filing for divorce is a life-changing decision, especially if you have children, so it’s essential to consider all relevant factors and make sure you’re confident in your choice. Divorce affects your lifestyle, your children’s lives, and your finances, and the decision involves both practical and emotional considerations. Couples who have decided divorce was right for them say these five signs helped them make up their minds. If these signs are present in your relationship, divorce may be the right decision.