A lawyer that represents a party in a divorce can serve many roles, including investigator, negotiator and advisor. Most importantly, though, a divorce lawyer is an advocate for their client, guiding the client through the divorce process and helping reach a resolution in what is often one of the most emotionally difficult times in the client’s life.
Below are some of the main responsibilities of a divorce lawyer, specifically in the State of Illinois. If you are looking for a divorce lawyer in the Chicago area, we welcome you to contact us to speak further about your particular needs and concerns. Based in Wheaton, we commonly work with clients in Chicago's western suburbs, including Aurora and Naperville.
Understanding the Client’s Needs
A divorce lawyer will meet with the client in the beginning to understand their situation and gather information important to assessing the client’s case and the legal course of action needed. The divorce lawyer should be in ongoing contact with the client as their case proceeds to help them understand changes to the case and discuss the client’s objectives.
Filing the Summons and Petition
Once the client has decided to move forward with the divorce, the lawyer will file a summons and a petition for the dissolution of the marriage in state court to begin the formal divorce process. If the other spouse has already filed a summons and petition, the lawyer will prepare and file a response.
Negotiating a Settlement
In many cases, the parties can avoid a trial in court, and save time and money, by negotiating out of court. The lawyer will negotiate on the client’s behalf and will keep the client informed and involved in the decision-making throughout the negotiation. If the parties to the divorce can agree on the terms of their divorce, they will enter into a formal settlement agreement, which will be drafted by the parties’ lawyers but will ultimately need to be approved by the judge.
Representing the Client in Court
In cases in which a settlement cannot be reached, the parties will have to try their case in court to resolve it. In those cases, the divorce lawyer will be responsible for representing the client in court, including obtaining discovery, drafting motions, pleadings and responses, and arguing the case before the court. The case will then be in the hands of the judge to decide the final outcome.
Understanding the Legal Issues
A divorce lawyer must be familiar with a number of legal issues that can arise in an Illinois divorce case in order to sufficiently advise a client and negotiate and advocate on their behalf. The key issues in a divorce with which the lawyer must be thoroughly familiar include:
- Marriage termination: In Illinois, like all states, a party can seek a divorce without alleging fault by either spouse. Nevertheless, there are also grounds for divorce available in Illinois that are based on the fault of a spouse, with which a divorce lawyer should be familiar. The ultimate distribution of property will not be affected by whether either party is alleged to be at fault, however fault can have an impact on child custody and visitation issues. The lawyer will be able to advise the client on the best grounds for divorce in their case.
- Property distribution: One of the most common and often most complex issues in a divorce is how to divide the property belonging to the couple. In Illinois, property is considered either marital or non-marital. Marital property is typically property that is acquired during the marriage. Non-marital property, on the other hand, can be property that the spouses acquired before the marriage or that is expressly non-marital under a valid agreement between the spouses, like a prenuptial agreement. Spouses will continue to own their non-marital property after the dissolution of the marriage, but marital property will be divided equitably by the court if the parties cannot agree to a division on their own. A divorce lawyer will gather information about your property, will help determine whether it should qualify as marital or non-marital property, and will help negotiate and advocate for the distribution of the property according to your interests.
- Child custody and support: If a couple has children, the custody and support of their children will be of utmost importance to the divorce process. This can be a deeply sensitive issue for the spouses, so the role of the lawyer in supporting a client in achieving the best possible outcome is critical. In Illinois, spouses may be granted joint custody or a single spouse may be granted sole custody of the child or children of the marriage. Though one parent may be granted sole custody, the other spouse may still be granted visitation rights allowing the parent to have time with their child. The parties in a divorce case are highly encouraged to come to a mutually acceptable custody arrangement outside of court, and will be required to attend mediation before the issue can be heard in court. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the issue will be presented to the court and the court will determine the custody arrangement based on the best interests of the child. In some cases, parents may be required to pay child support to ensure the continued financial well-being of the children of the marriage. The amount of child support is typically a percentage of the paying spouse’s salary determined using Illinois guidelines. A divorce lawyer must be familiar with the laws affecting child custody and support to be able to communicate with their client on the possible and desired outcomes and to negotiate and advocate on the client's behalf.
- Maintenance: Illinois courts may also award spousal maintenance (formerly known as alimony) in a divorce if it determines such an award is appropriate based on a number of factors. The laws around maintenance in Illinois have recently changed, and the amount of maintenance in many cases is now determined using a formula under Illinois law. A divorce lawyer must be up to speed on the recent changes in maintenance law, and be able to advocate for their client to receive maintenance where it is due.
Contact a Wheaton, Illinois, Divorce Attorney
If you are seeking a divorce attorney in Chicago's western suburbs, contact our Wheaton divorce attorneys for a free consultation. The Law Office of J. Patrick Nelson, PC has the experience and know-how to help you through an Illinois divorce, and we will help you get through the often difficult process of divorce as efficiently and effectively as possible.