Family law (sometimes referred to as “domestic relations”) is the area of law that deals with relationships between family members.
Divorce is the process of dissolving a marriage. There are many issues that can arise in a divorce, including but not limited to property division, custody, child support, maintenance, domestic violence, bankruptcy, foreclosure, and asset valuation. Divorces can be contested or uncontested and can be complete in a few of months or a few years, depending on the issues in the case.
Divorce doesn’t have to be ugly. The parties to every divorce had once loved and respected one another. In counseling my clients, I attempt to preserve that relationship as much as possible, as I believe it helps with the ongoing parental relationship that must still exist in many cases. I am skilled in working with clients going through one of the most difficult and stressful periods in their lives and I always remain sensitive to their individual needs throughout the representation. I have extensive experience not only in negotiation and settlement, but in litigation of contested matters as well.
Legal separation dissolves the marriage without the stigma of the word “divorce.” For religious reasons, this option can be preferable to certain clients. The legal process is slightly different than a divorce and I can advise my clients on the differences so they can decide whether it is a better option than divorce.
One of the most emotionally charged aspects of a divorce or parentage action is the determination of custody of the children of the parties. There are many factors that are considered by a court when determining the issue of custody. It is always best if the parents can work out an agreement, rather than have a judge make this monumental decision. However, that is not always possible and I help my clients navigate through the legal process, always with the realization that children are the most precious product of a partnership.
Child support is the payment made by one parent to the other parent (usually the parent with sole custody or “residential” custody) for the child of the parties, until that child reaches the age of 18. Support can also include college expenses, if agreed to or ordered by the court. While there are statutory guidelines that assist in determining support, these are minimums and can be increased based on the needs of the child or the income and assets of the parties, as well as a variety of other factors. Support can be a complex issue, as it involves tax computations and income analysis. I am able to recognize these complications and I know how to address and use them in finding the best amount for my clients, whether they are the payor or the payee.
Maintenance (formerly known as “alimony”) is the payment made from one spouse to another for that spouse’s support. The time period and amount for payments is based upon a variety of factors, including the income of the parties and the length of the marriage. Illinois provides no guideline or statutory minimums, as it does for child support. Maintenance can be a complex issue, as it involves tax computations and income analysis. I recognize these complications and know how to address them in finding the best amount for my clients, whether they are the payor or payee.
Parentage cases involve paternity testing, custody, visitation and child support for children that were born to parties who never married.
Adoption is the process of becoming the legal parent for a non-biological child. These cases can involve intra-family adoptions or non-family adoptions.
Prenuptial agreements allow parties to work out the asset and debt division details if a divorce occurs, prior to the marriage. These agreements are an especially good idea if one or both parties comes into the marriage with substantial pre-marital assets or an ownership interest in a family business. Typically, both parties are represented by their own counsel and where possible, the agreement should be drafted with enough time prior to the wedding to allow all parties to review and understand its impact. I have extensive experience in obtaining results that my clients are satisfied with so the marriage can begin happily, without financial concern.
Through the estate planning services I provide, my clients are given a customized plan that allows them to:
- Take control of their property while they are alive
- Put a plan into place that will take care of them and their loved ones if either the client or their spouse becomes disabled
- Give what they have to who they want, the way they want, when they want
- Save every last tax dollar, professional fee, and court cost possible.
A will is a tool that allows an individual to distribute property at death to those individuals or charities designated. A will is the most basic form of asset distribution. It is less flexible than a trust and does not avoid the probate process, which can be costly to a decedent’s estate. Another key component of a will is that it can also be used to name a guardian for minor children.
A pourover will is a special type of will that is used in conjunction with a living trust. A pourover will instructs a decedent’s executor to “pour” all the decedent’s probate assets (those that haven’t been funded into the trust during the settlor’s life) into his or her trust at death. While the assets that are subject to the pourover will are still probated, this type of will allows the grantor of a trust to distribute any additional assets that don’t get funded into the trust to the beneficiaries named in the trust and pursuant to the instructions therein.
A living trust is an asset distribution vehicle that has many additional advantages over a will. A living trust allows the grantor’s assets to pass to beneficiaries without the need for probate. This means almost immediate distribution, as opposed to waiting months or even years for the probate process to conclude. Another benefit is privacy. While a will is filed with the probate court, a trust remains private. Additionally, and most important to parents of minor children, distribution under a trust can be delayed, such as to allow minor children or spendthrift adult children to reach a certain age or milestone, i.e. college graduation or marriage. Another distinct advantage of using a trust over a will is the ability for disability planning that is unavailable with a will (because a will only becomes effective upon death). A trust can provide for a successor trustee to take over in the event the grantor becomes unable to manage his or her affairs due to illness or incompetency, allowing a seamless transition without the need for court intervention. Lastly, trusts can provide many opportunities for tax savings and asset protection for the grantor and his or her beneficiaries.
Trusts come in many different varieties and flavors. Just as individuals are unique, so are their asset distribution and protection goals. I work with each client to design the trust that works best for them.
Powers of Attorney.
A power of attorney allows the principal to appoint an agent for healthcare and financial decision-making. The power of attorney assures the principal that in the event he or she becomes disabled, even for a short period, everything will still be taken care of by an attorney-in-fact, i.e. an agent of his or her choosing. The Illinois Power of Attorney Act contains a statutory power of attorney form that can be used in some circumstances. However, it is not appropriate for everyone and an attorney should be consulted to determine whether a non-statutory form is a better option.
Advance Healthcare Directives.
Living wills are a living declaration of a person’s end-of-life decision-making. A living will can specify your wishes regarding resuscitation, life support, a feeding tube, or other medical care. This tool has two very important advantages. It allows your wishes to be known and complied with and it alleviates the burden on your family to make these very difficult decisions for you.
Succession Planning for Sole Practitioners.
Sole practitioners face unique challenges when it comes to business succession planning. Illinois Supreme Court Rule 1.3, Comment 5 states in part that, “To prevent neglect of client matters in the event of a sole practitioner’s death or disability, the duty of diligence may require that each sole practitioner prepare a plan, in conformity with applicable rules, that designates another competent lawyer to review client files, notify each client of the lawyer’s death or disability, and determine whether there is a need for immediate protective action…” As a sole practitioner herself, Jennifer has invaluable insight into what a solo attorney must put into place to ensure that client’s matters aren’t neglected in the event of the attorney’s disability and/or death. Jennifer ensures that an attorney’s succession plan allows another attorney to take over and/or sell the practice with as little court involvement and delay as possible.
There are two types of probate. One is death-related and involves paying the creditors and distributing the assets of a decedent (deceased person) who has either died with a will (testate) or without a will (intestate). The second type of probate deals with guardianships of adults or minor children.
Citations to Discover and Recover Assets.
Will and Trust Contests.
Estate administration refers to death-related probate. It is the process of collecting and distributing a decedent’s assets and paying a decedent’s creditors. A probate estate is not always necessary, even when the decedent died without a will (i.e. intestacy). I can assist clients with navigating through the probate process and can also counsel clients on whether a simpler process can be utilized to accomplish the same objectives.
The area of real estate law I practice encompasses representation of buyers and sellers in transfers of real estate as well as landlord-tenant law.
Real Estate Transactions.
I represent buyers and sellers in residential real estate transactions, counseling my clients through the entire process from contract formation to the closing. In today’s economic climate, homes are increasingly being bought and sold in unique circumstances, i.e. through short sales and foreclosures. Unique financing has also increased, giving buyers more options for obtaining loans. With all of the changes, I make sure to explain all the steps involved and counsel my clients through the entire process, from contract formation to the closing.
I am a licensed Illinois title agent and am able to offer this service to my clients who are selling homes and need to furnish a title policy to the buyer as part of the transaction.
Many issues can arise within the landlord-tenant relationship, including everything from lease formation to eviction, unlawful withholding of security deposits, and noncompliance with local landlord-tenant ordinances. Landlords and tenants must adhere to local ordinance when dealing with disputes and I can guide clients through their compliance so the best results are achieved.