Consult with an attorney at least one week prior to needing to initiate any action.
Prospective clients contemplating any matrimonial or family law service, whether that be a premarital agreement, divorce, paternity, custody, or post-decree, initial consultation with an experienced attorney in the field can provide you with necessary and insightful information about Illinois law, the process, the timing, the cost and information relative to the facts of each unique case. The initial consultation also helps you determine whether or not the law firm is a good fit for what you are seeking, both legally and personally. You want to feel comfortable working with the lawyer and law firm that you select, as you will be working with them throughout the entire process, which could last months or years.
Signing off on an engagement letter, information intake sheet and payment of a retainer formalize the attorney-client relationship to commence a case or initiate any action with the court.
To officially begin the process of commencing a case, your engagement of the law firm happens once you provide the necessary information, documentation and signatures on select documents provided to you after the initial consultation. Once your file is opened with our offices, typically on the same day that the paperwork is received, an attorney-client relationship is formed. We will oftentimes then discuss specific strategy for your case to ensure the most cost-effective, swift and amicable process can hopefully occur. If that is not possible, then we will also discuss the steps for litigation and our recommendations throughout that process. Furthermore, for example, a divorce case is then commenced when the initiating pleading is e-filed with the court, which is a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, which states facts and pleads what you want under the statutory requirements such as residency, non-martial allocation, marital allocation of assets and debts, maintenance, child support, parenting time, decision-making and the like.
Completion and exchange of financial affidavits, preparations of balance sheets, calculations of support, and issuance of formal discovery.
Completion and exchange of financial affidavits, preparations of balance sheets, calculations of support, and issuance of formal discovery
One of the key components of any case is full financial disclosure by both sides. In fact, Illinois now has one form that is utilized in all Counties for each party to individually complete, which is called a Financial Affidavit. This Financial Affidavit details monthly income, expenses, overall assets, debts, insurance and the like. It is utilized for all aspects of the case, including in conjunction with the required supporting financial documents, such as income tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements, and the like in calculating support. Many law firms will agree to an informal exchange of this financial information to avoid costly formal discovery issuance. The formal discovery that may have to be issued contains interrogatories and notice to produce. Other types of disclosure can include valuations, appraisals, forensic accounting and the like.
These two components are key aspects to an allocation judgment.
Illinois no longer recognizes “custody” in divorce and paternity cases, however, the final Allocation Judgment that must be entered includes specific parenting time for each parent and specific decision-making capabilities for each parent on key issues pertaining to the minor children, such as health, education, religion and extra-curricular activities. Discussing what you believe to be in the best interest of the minor children is a key component of this process.
Reviewing settlement options with the client to discuss global settlement of terms taking Illinois law into consideration.
Once Financial Affidavits and supporting financial document is exchanged, formally or informally, then support calculations can be completed, balance sheets finalized and settlement discussions can be fruitful and fully informed. The only way for a settlement to occur is for both parties to reach a comprehensive agreement on the terms so that the attorneys can prepare the marital settlement agreement outlining the mutual understanding for future presentation to the court. Settlement discussions take finesse, patience and expertise about the laws, the history and facts of the case, and the financial picture. With decades of experience in this field, our team knows how to negotiate, mediate and litigate any case to conclusion.
If there remain items of concern then sometimes mediation will allow the parties to reach an agreement outside of the courtroom.
If there remains any contested family law matter that cannot be resolved in a case, the court will order mediation of the parties before proceeding to litigation. The mediation options include court-appointed free mediation or the parties can enroll in private mediation with a family law expert (such as a retired Judge) at their own cost. Oftentimes, our clients select private mediation hoping for more timely meetings held more often with a higher likelihood of success. Our legal team can guide you through the mediation process by ensuring that you are fully informed of your rights and the laws as they apply to the terms you are discussing in mediation.
Court intervention can occur at any stage wherein the parties are unable to reach an agreement.
Every case is eventually set for a status, wherein the Judge has the attorneys appear in court to provide a “status” on what is going on in the case to ensure that it is moving forward. In some cases, certain matters such as support, attorneys’ fees, or parenting time must be addressed during the divorce process. A temporary relief hearing can occur at any stage of the process, requesting that the Judge rule and enter an order on a specific issue on a temporary basis. Another court proceeding that can be expected, if needed, is a pre-trial conference wherein the parties each present their case or outstanding issues to the Judge in chambers to obtain the Judge’s input and recommendations on how to proceed in an effort to avoid the costly and time-consuming trial.
Formalization of settlement terms for entry by the Judge.
Once settlement terms are reached, the attorneys prepare many documents to prepare for the finalization of the case, including the Marital Settlement Agreement, which specifically outlines the mutual understanding of the parties in regards to all terms. This Agreement includes things such as support, non-martial and marital property allocation, maintenance, attorneys’ fees and taxes.
Formalization of parenting time and decision-making for entry by the Judge.
Once the parties have reached a mutual agreement in regards to parenting time and decision-making then the attorneys prepare an all-encompassing Allocation Judgment outlining those terms for entry by the Judge.
The parties either proceed to prove-up or the next stage is preparations in setting the case for trial, including formal discovery completion, depositions, subpoenas, witness lists, expert reports and the like.
At this juncture, the case is either settled, comprehensively, and the parties are scheduled for a prove-up before the Judge (day of the divorce) to present the documents that were prepared by their respective attorneys, which typically includes the Marital Settlement Agreement, Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage, Allocation Judgment, Uniform Order for Support and the like. The Judge will review the documents provided and the attorneys will present the requisite information to the Judge, via testimony, and then the Judge will rule. If the case does not settle, then the case will be set for trial. This process will be long, costly and arduous. The trial preparation and process typically includes formal discovery, pre-trial conferences, case management conferences and orders, depositions, subpoenas, expert witnesses and reports, valuations, and appraisals all for presentment to the Judge at trial where he will hear both sides, extensively, and then make a Judgment based upon his ruling.
I knew we were going to have a custody battle from day one. It was going to be mean and messy and expensive and long. I did not know if I could handle it but I had to do it for my kids. Jennifer litigated my case to the end - we had an attorney for the kids, we had psych evaluations, we had reports for the Judge, we had court date after court date. She was strategic, smart, planned well ahead, and kept on top of everything. Thanks to her and her legal eagles my kids are in a…
We were not married but had two kids and we were both listed as the parents on the birth certificates. What I did not know at the time was that the birth certificate (for parents who are not married) does not count in Chicago! You have to have a paternity test or have signed some special paperwork at the hospital that we did not know about at the time. Ward Family Law prepared the court filings so that we could establish our parental rights. Thank you!
At the end of my divorce case I realized that the paperwork required us to provide the court with a Qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) in order for our retirement and investment accounts to be divided as we had agreed. The problem was that we did not have them done in time. Jennifer and her team stepped in and handled contacting the plan administrators, completing the draft QDROs, submitting them for pre-approval of everyone and then presenting them to the court. While we had hoped this was super easy there were a lot of steps and a lot of things…
From the very start I was nervous and scared about the entire divorce process and ending up with nothing. Jennifer and Emily guided me step-by-step through the process with patience. I realized that the more that I knew about my own finances and the finances of my marriage the more I would be comfortable going forward with the divorce. With their expertise I was able to move forward and finish my case with a settlement that was fair and allows me to feel safe going forward on my own.
In the middle of the divorce process I realized that my business was up for grabs. I worked my whole life to build this business and could not believe that I could lose it in the divorce. In steps Jennifer and she saves the day. Her knowledge of the law and her team's analysis of my company allowed us to work out a settlement of my overall marital estate that would keep my business in one piece and in my control. If you want a level head that knows what she is doing, then give Jennifer a call and let…
After years of getting the same amount in child support I heard that the laws had changed and we had not updated the child support numbers even though I knew my ex made way more money since it was all done. I did an initial phone consultation with Jennifer and she walked me through the process of a modification of child support. On the day that I signed on with Ward Family Law we hit the ground running to get the papers on file so that the clock would start ticking for the new child support number to apply. I…
I cannot thank Jennifer at Ward Family Law enough for her hard work on my case. We had a lot of issues but the number one issue after years of marriage was alimony. I knew that I should receive some money each month to balance everything out, but I had no idea how to make sure that I got it. Jennifer told me that alimony is called maintenance in Illinois. Well, there you go. I had the wrong term to even start with. It didn't matter though because Jennifer got all the income documentation and asked all the right questions…
The reviews were right! We were having trouble filing the divorce papers correctly. We knew that if we could not start the divorce process on our own there was no way that we could finish it on our own. We didn't have anything to fight over though. We already split up everything and we are on good terms. I hired Jennifer at Ward Family Law to take care of everything and it was so smooth and easy start to finish. Having a lawyer take care of our case made sure that things were done correctly so that we did not…
I am writing a review because I think a lot of times people make the same mistake that I did at the beginning of my case. I had a wonderful talk with Jennifer before my case started and I was very comfortable with her demeanor and her explanations of the Chicago Divorce process. I decided to go with another lawyer because the retainer was a little lower. Big mistake. I didn’t really like the lawyer when we spoke but I was more focused on the money instead of the big picture. I felt like there was no communication during my…
My Husband, now ex, and I wanted a friendly, fast divorce. We had nothing to fight about and nothing really to divide. We thought that would make it easy but when we saw all the paperwork we knew that we needed help. It takes one piece of paper to get married and 100 pieces of paper to get divorced in Chicago!! Ward Family Law made the divorce a smooth process for us and got it done faster than we thought. If you want to be friends with your ex but still want the divorce then look no further and call…
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