Let Us Guide You Through The Divorce Process
1. New To Divorce
Throughout the steps of a divorce, your attorneys should be constantly assessing when and if a settlement proposal is appropriate. After all, a settlement is often your better, faster, less expensive, more certain, and less stressful way to resolve a divorce. Your attorneys will help you determine if any settlement is fair and in accordance with your rights. In addition, your attorneys will always pass onto you any settlement proposals that they receive from the other side and always help you access how to respond.
2. Making a decision to divorce. – Pre-Divorce Planning Session
a. No lawyer should be telling you whether or not it is time for you to get a divorce. That is a decision you should make yourself, with your friends, family, confidants, therapists, priests, rabbis or imams, but not with your lawyer. However, once you have made a decision to divorce, you should immediately begin consulting with an attorney. Often, there are a number of things that can be done before you actually file for a divorce, and you should begin the process of finding an attorney with the knowledge and experience that you can trust to walk you through this process.
b. Sometimes you aren’t sure if you are ready for a divorce because you want to know what the ramifications of a divorce would be. After all, how are you supposed to make a decision about something when you aren’t sure about the consequences of that decision? For that reason, we developed a Pre-Divorce Planning Consult. Unlike an ordinary “Free Attorney consult,” which is primarily designed for the attorney to learn about your case and understand the issues that you may face, a Pre-Divorce Planning Session is a premium consult designed to give you as much information as possible before starting a divorce. A Pre-divorce Planning Session differs from a regular consult because it is a paid consult, and we establish an attorney-client relationship, allowing us to not only discuss the likely outcomes in your case but also advise you on things you can do to to increase your chances of reaching your goals (whatever those may be).
i. To learn more about our pre-divorce planning sessions or to schedule a meeting with one our award winning attorneys, please contact us.
3. Finding an attorney
a. This is probably the most important decision you can make, which will impact how your divorce goes. You have many things to consider, there are large and small law firms, expensive firms and less expensive firms, and there are one-lawyer firms. Ultimately, once you’ve done your research, it is important to find an attorney that you feel comfortable working with because you could be working together for a long time. Make sure you understand how the lawyer will communicate with you (i.e. answers your questions), make sure the lawyer is being honest with you.
b. Other than being the first Chicago based law firm to focus on the rights of women and mothers, what else makes us unique!?
i. Rule #1: We will not sugar coat anything. When there is good news, we will be glad to share it with you, but when we have bad news, we will share that as well because you need to know! Ultimately, you are the decider (with your lawyers guidance) of what will happen at each stage of your divorce so it is important you have all the facts (good and bad).
ii. We are proud to be a mid-sized law firm ensuring the attention of a small boutique firm with the resources of a large firm. Having Our Partner/associate case model ensures that you always have two lawyers assigned to your case. That means there are two experienced lawyers with knowledge about your case.
iii. Our lawyers do not have minimum billable hours! But what does that mean to you? Minimum billable hours is a requirement in most law firms that each lawyer bill a certain “minimum” number of hours to clients each year. We believe that this practice encourages lawyers to over bill by doing things that aren’t necessary. Our lawyers are not required to bill a minimum number of hours so you know each lawyer is recommending things that they really believe is good for your case (and not because it creates billable hours).
iv. Contact our award winning attorney by clicking here or calling for a consultation at (248) 809-6394.
4. Beginning the divorce – Filing Pleadings
a. Divorces really begin once you have found and retainer (i.e. hired) an attorney to work with. At this early age, your attorney will gather information about your case and work with you on how to prepare the initial filings. The divorce is officially began in court once your attorney files a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. The next step is serving your spouse with the papers. Your attorney ill explain and walk you through the details of each of these steps.
5. Financial Disclosures
a. In the very early stages of the divorce, your attorney will work with you on completing a comprehensive financial disclosure affidavit that is to be exchanged with your spouse. This typically has to be done before the court will begin ruling on any financial issues such as maintenance and child support. Since stabilizing our client’s financial situation is one of our first priorities, this form is often one of the first points of focus in your case. In addition, once we receive your spouses financial disclosure form, we will collectively be able to make an early assessment of the financial components of your divorce.
6. Custody/Parental Allocation Issues
a. One of the earliest issues addressed in the case is whether or not the parties are going to be able to agree on a parenting schedule and a division of parental responsibilities (formerly known as “custody”). Normally, the court will retain the status quo for parenting time (e.g. the parent that typically drives a child to school will continue to drive a child to school), however, in many divorces the parties cannot agree on what the status quo was. Your attorney will work with you to help address all these early issues, and if the parties cannot reach an early agreement on parenting issues, the court will have both parties attend mediation.
i. Mediation is an important step in the divorce process and something your lawyer will prepare you for. It is important to remember that you are not required to reach an agreement in mediation. It is great if you can, but you should not feel pressured to agree to something you will be uncomfortable living with going forwards. Remember, especially when it comes to parental responsibilities (i.e. “custody”), the decisions you make during a divorce will have long term ramifications not just for your child(ren) but also for you and how you live your life. It is important to have an experienced attorney who can guide you on how different parenting responsibility decisions will impact how you and your child live from day-to-day.
a. The “discovery” phase in a divorce (or any litigation) is exactly what it sounds like. This is the part of the process when you “discover” things about the other side. During discovery you can ask formal questions from your spouse in writing (interrogatories) and request the production of documents in their possession or control (requests for production). This helps both you and your attorney either confirm what your spouse says or gather information to prove your spouse is wrong. For example, it can be used to verify the information claimed in your spouse’s financial affidavit or to gather complex information about your spouse’s business records.
b. This is a very important part of some divorces but the parties may chose to shorten the amount of discovery in simple cases, or in some very simple cases, conduct no discovery at all. How much discovery to conduct (e.g. how deep you want to dig into your spouse’s finances) is a decision that you will have to make with your lawyer after considering the costs and benefits of each approach.
8. Trial Preparation
As cases near a conclusion, without a settlement occurring or being close on the horizon, your lawyer will begin having to prepare the case for trial. This is something, most people prefer to avoid, but sometimes you have to fight for what you believe is best for your child(ren) or what you are entitled to under the law (especially if your spouse is being unreasonable)
a. Pre-Trial – In an attempt to bridge any settlement gaps between the parties or to help encourage the parties to settle, the court will often conduct a pre-trial conference. A pre-trial conference is where the judge meets with the lawyers in the case and hears from the lawyers what they anticipate the trial evidence will show. Based on the information provide to the judge, that judge can make settlement recommendations consistent with how the judge would ultimately rule at a trial. This is often the final attempt by the court to encourage the parties to settle and not go through the time and expense of a trial. But, it is important to note, the court cannot make either side settle nor can it force either side to accept the courts recommendation at the pre-trial. All settlements, by their very nature, have to be voluntary.
b. Depositions – Depositions tend to be expensive and because of that are not utilized as often in family law (vs. corporations fighting each other who are less likely to be concerned with litigation costs). Nevertheless, in complex and high-conflict divorces and/or divorces with many assets (often high-net worth divorces), they are an important tool for your lawyer. This allows your lawyer to find out how your spouse or another witness at trial will respond to certain questions. Depositions are basically utilized to lock-in testimony or still to discovery information that wasn’t discovered through the written discovery (Interrogatories and Requests for Production). The decisions over who to depose prior to a trial is one that you will have to make with your lawyer.
c. Finalizing Discovery – Right before a trial, both parties will have to provide supplemental information to the other side. Basically, you have an obligation to update the other side with current information on income, assets, debts, etc. Expert Witnesses – Both complex custody cases and complex financial cases often utilize expert witnesses. It is important to have an experienced lawyer that is familiar with the usage of expert witnesses because they can make or break your case at trial.
9. Settlement or Trial
a. Settlement: Divorces end in only one of two ways: (1) you and your ex reach a settlement agreement; or (2) you have a trial and the court imposes a solution. There is an old adage that “a bad settlement is better than a good trial,” and most of the time that is true. A settlement of the financial issues in your case will be drafted using a Marital Settlement Agreement (“MSA”); and the settlement of the parenting issues (if you have minor children) will be drafted as a Parental Allocation Judgment (f/k/a a “Custody Judgment” or “Joint Parenting Agreement” (“JPA”)). Settling usually requires reasonableness on both sides and for both parties to compromise; though, settling should not mean giving the other party everything they want just because they refuse to compromise. Nonetheless, a decision whether or not to settle is something you should discuss in detail with your attorneys. You should understand the pros and cons of settling and going forwards to trial.
b. Trial: Trial is and should be your last resort. However, if your spouse is being unreasonable when it comes to settlement, you must be prepared to fight for what you are legally entitled to. Also, make sure you find an attorney that has the skills and experience to take your case to trial.
a. Post decree means the period of time after (i.e. “post”) your divorce decree by the court. For couples divorcing without children (or with adult children), post-decree is generally a short period post-divorce where you divide bank accounts, file court orders to redirect pensions or 401(k)s, and sell and divide jointly owned or other assets. Overall, it is a period of time used for tying up loose ends. However, if you have minor children, and you have a parenting plan with your ex-spouse, this period of time may last until your youngest has emancipated (turned 18 or graduated high-school). Generally, people with minor children have the same wrapping up issues as those without, except you aren’t done dealing with your ex until all the children are no longer minors. Often, it is advantageous, if you have minor children, to keep an attorney on retainer (i.e. on call) for parenting issues that may arise during this period. Having an experienced lawyer can help guide you through the, often not-so-simple, post divorce period.