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Strategic Divorce: Beginning To End
We first engage with potential clients by asking them to complete a new client form which includes demographic information about them, their soon-to-be ex-spouse, and any children. We review this information prior to the free initial consult so that we have specific, strategic legal advice to offer them. We try to create a customized plan for potential clients that is detailed and understandable so that they have the ability to visualize and understand what the divorce process looks like going forward. The plan is both simplistic and specific so that the potential client can confirm.
During the initial consult, we usually have two attorneys present. This is because we want to provide the best possible customer service to every new client, and in order to do that we need two people to hear their story. This means that if one attorney is in court and unable to return a phone call in a timely fashion, another attorney at the firm will have the same knowledge and ability to help that client.
During the initial consult, we begin by discussing the divorce process and setting realistic expectations about timing. We have resolved a divorce case in just three weeks, but that’s not normal; most divorces—even simple ones—take approximately six months to complete. Divorces that include children and contested issues can take years; one case took five years to complete. Most divorce cases, even those that don’t involve contested issues, take about a year and a half to complete.
We discuss pre-decision planning, meaning how clients should handle things before deciding whether to get a divorce. We often recommend counseling, either for a client individually, or for the couple together to decide whether a divorce is what they need. We think of divorces as the last resort, so if a client is still unsure whether divorce is what they want, then we will absolutely advise that they go to counseling first.
We want clients to know that we are there for them if they do decide to divorce, but we also want them to have taken every possible step to save their marriage, especially when there are children involved. We also tell clients that co-parenting is easier when both parents live in the same house.
As part of the pre-decision planning, we explain that it is best not to transfer paychecks to a different bank account or do anything to change the current status quo. This is because if one person starts moving money, or does something defensively to keep the other person in the dark, it will start a chain reaction of behavior and the other spouse will do the same. This leads to a money grab and only creates drama and ultimately, the judge will make the parties put the money back where it was. In addition, it will likely result in higher attorney fees, because the attorneys will have to go into court and be reprimanded for the change of status quo.
Once spouses have come to an agreement about proceeding with divorce in an amicable way, we will discuss the children’s visitation schedule and anything else that the spouses can agree on ahead of time. The more agreement there is, the easier the process will be.
We will also talk about mediation as a possible first step. At this point, many clients are ready to file a petition for dissolution of marriage and will want to start the divorce process. We discuss which party should buy the petition for dissolution of marriage first, when to do it, and how to do it. In Illinois, the petition for dissolution of marriage is the first pleading that is filed with the court for spouses to declare that they would like a divorce.
A Petition For Dissolution Of Marriage is fairly general; it lists information about the parties, the date of marriage, whether they are of age, whether they’ve lived in the state of Illinois for the 90 days immediately preceding the date of filing, and whether they had children during the marriage. It also indicates whether both parties are working and able to support themselves on their own income, or whether one spouse needs maintenance or support from the other spouse. It states that they should both be required to support the children and their expenses proportionate to their income. It also states that the parties seek an equitable (not equal) distribution of the marital assets and debts. In some cases with minor children, it will include a request that the court determine that joint or sole decision-making be ordered. It may also ask that the court set a reasonable visitation schedule for the children.
There is an advantage to filing the petition first. This is because that person’s attorney will draft the documents, and do it in a way that is favorable to their client. If the attorney slants the documents in their client’s favor, the other attorney likely won’t catch all the details of that, meaning the person who was first to file will benefit.
It is very hard to slant the second draft of documents in the other client’s favor, because everyone will be looking closely as the changes made, and probably won’t agree to changes that are not fair to both parties.
Filing first also allows our client to decide when to file, and to be prepared for the filing. If the situation involves verbal or physical abuse, or if the client is worried about the reaction to that petition for dissolution of marriage, then we will have the ability to control how the petition is served on the other side and what messaging we send when the petition is served. The petition for dissolution of marriage should be served upon the other party in order to effectuate the appropriate beginning of the case.
In many situations, we do not have the other side personally served. We choose to take a more amicable approach by emailing the petition for dissolution of marriage to the other side once it’s been filed with the court, along with a letter that says, “Our client requested that we not serve the petition personally, but send it via email because our client want things to be done amicably, and does not want to create embarrassment for you or extra cost for service. In order to do this amicably, I need you to contact me within seven days, or have your attorney contact me to confirm that you will accept service.”
Ninety-five percent of our cases start with an email rather than having the other side personally served, because we believe that being amicable is a better choice. We usually start a divorce process in an amicable fashion; when there is less fighting, it is less expensive to our client and our client’s family. Additionally, it will encourage good co-parenting in the future, allow the parties to make joint decisions, and help them resolve the issues as reasonably as possible. Do all of our clients agree with the other side on all issues? Of course not, but by starting the case with an amicable tone, we have less animosity at the end and less acrimony during the divorce, which saves both money and emotions.
Many attorneys at this office are trial attorneys, which means we are very good at litigation. However, if we start in a litigious manner, we miss the opportunity to identify the issues that we have agreements on, and we don’t want to do that. It’s better for our clients to agree on as many things as possible, so as to minimize the number of issues we take to the judge.
Some parties choose to represent themselves during a divorce, which is called pro se. This means that instead of getting an attorney, the party files an appearance on their own behalf and acts as their own attorney. When that happens, we still treat the other side as we would an attorney. We sit down with them, negotiate a settlement with them, discuss the different issues that need to be resolved, and write an agreement based on the negotiations with that other party (rather than with another attorney).
Just because someone doesn’t have an attorney doesn’t necessarily mean that the process will be easier, because we will be dealing with someone who doesn’t have the legal background to understand the common outcome. This is something that sometimes needs to be explained, but regardless of whether the opposing party has an attorney or is representing themselves, our goal is to communicate with them and resolve as many issues as we can—directly and by agreement—before having to go to the court to make those decisions.
For more information on Strategic Divorce; Beginning To End, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling Strategic Divorce at (847) 234-4445 today.
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