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.