#HarveyLawSpeaks | Who Pays for College Expenses?

In Illinois, during a divorce even with young children, the court typically will handle the issue when it comes to college and college expenses. Where it has typically been governed by statute, it was not until 2016 that the Illinois legislature took their time in really explaining how college expenses would be handled going forward (750 ILCS 5/513)

It is important to remember that contribution to college expenses is not the same as child support. College expenses include the following: tuition, room and board, and book costs. If divorced parents cannot come to an agreement on how to pay for college, you will need to consult your divorce decree or parenting agreement to see if it addresses this issue. Otherwise, you will need to return to court, and a judge will determine how college will be paid for per the statute.

In order to make a determination the court examines the following:
1. Each parent’s income and their ability to contribute. This is different from child support wherein the court currently only looks at the income of the none-custodial parent.
2. The child’s ability to contribute. The court will examine financial aid, scholarships, grants and/or work study or if the child has a job how much if any, he or she can contribute.
3. The child’s academic performance. In order for the court to continue to award child support, the child must maintain a 2.5 GPA.
4. Access to information. Typically the money for college/college expenses is not given to the other parent, it is paid directly to the school. A parent has to have access in order to make those payments and should be able to access the student’s grades as well.
5. Also the contribution to tuition is capped at the cost of tuition at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign at the time of the student’s enrollment.

Speak to an attorney today if you want to discuss college expenses: (312) 981-0096

#HarveyLawSpeaks | The Importance of a Guardian Ad Litem/Child Representative

Image by CareersinPsychology.org

A child representative or a Guardian Ad Litem (“GAL”) is an attorney appointed by the court for the parties’ child, usually in proceedings involving allocation of parental responsibilities, relocation, abuse, or general welfare purposes. The child rep/GAL will investigate the facts of the case, interview the parties and the child, and will speak to the court regarding recommendations in accordance with the best interests of the child.

By definition, a child representative and a GAL have almost identical duties. What is the main difference? A GAL may be called as a witness for cross-examination, whereas a child representative may not be called as a witness.

Having a Child Representative or GAL essentially forces parties (and their attorneys) to prepare better and be on their best behavior. It is crucial to understand that judges respect the authority of the Child Rep or GAL, and the court trusts their judgment of what is in the best interests of the child. If the parties do not come to an agreement, the judge will ultimately make the decision. The judge has no independent “behind-the-scenes” knowledge of the case, and that is ultimately the purpose of the child rep or GAL: to find out the facts and report back to the court. Since they are giving the court a look “behind the scenes” so to speak, it is imperative to have a civil relationship with the child representative or GAL on your case. Hostile or adversarial behavior is not appropriate with the child rep or GAL. Adverse behavior, difficulty making compromises, inability to follow directions and the like are all issues the Child Representative observes when giving reports to the court.

A Child Representative or GAL does not represent either party. They represent the child. They are the court’s eyes and ears to a case. It is vital to show the GAL that you are engaged, courteous, and take your case seriously. Avoid any acrimonious behavior with the opposing side and instead focus on your own parenting abilities and efforts at co-parenting. As long as a GAL is on your case, you are under observation and do not want anything to negatively affect the GAL’s thoughts on your fitness as a parent.

#HarveyLawSpeaks | What to Wear to Court

We all know appearance is important, in both professional and personal settings. At some point in our lives we hear the saying “dress to impress”, and although that may sound cliché, it is a lot more important than people think.

It may seem like common sense, but when you represent yourself in court, it is always a good idea to “dress to impress”. Although there is no official dress code in Cook County, a trip to the courthouse should be considered an occasion warranting business attire. You are there to advocate on your own behalf, and dressing appropriately shows the court that you take yourself, and the case, seriously.

Dressing well in court will not only show competence, but confidence as well. According to a recent report from the Wall Street Journal, how you dress can affect your negotiating skills, as well as spike your creative thinking. When you’re up before a judge, you need to be thinking clearly, as anything you say can affect the outcome of the case. Even parties who are represented by attorneys should dress appropriately when required to be present in court.

Here are some quick tips on attire as well as etiquette:
• No hats or baggy clothing
• No revealing clothing
• No sunglasses
• No gum chewing
• No cell phone usage

Worker’s Compensation Reform in Illinois

Last week, I had an opportunity to attend a Worker’s Compensation seminar hosted by the Illinois State Bar Association. Topics ranged from claims of retaliatory discharge, 2016 Appellate Court decisions, and ethical dilemmas. A great topic of discussion was Governor Rauner’s latest proposal regarding worker’s compensation reform.

Illinois employers spend approximately $3 billion per year on worker’s compensation, which includes medical expenses as well as disability benefits. Governor Rauner recently introduced an outline of proposed changes to the state’s worker’s compensation system, which he claims will help overcome the state’s economic policies that have led to “very weak economic growth and massive manufacturing job losses”.

Rauner has met with employers all over the state, and he says they typically mention two challenges for Illinois businesses—an “uncompetitive” worker’s compensation system as well as an extremely high property tax burden. As a result, Illinois has lost 34% of its manufacturing jobs since 2000. Taxpayers are also affected, since government employees file worker’s compensation claims more twice as often than private-sector employees.

Image by TaskInsurance.com

According to Governor Rauner, “Many other good ideas have been proposed to make the system more efficient. Ultimately, we will all benefit from balanced reform: Employers will save costs, Illinois will be a more attractive place in which to create jobs, workers will still be protected in the case of a workplace injury while enjoying greater job opportunities, and the state and local governments will experience a broader tax base through growth.”

Rauner’s proposed reform involves the following:
• Rebalancing the fee schedule: certain procedure costs remain to be three, four, and even five times more than the comparable Medicare rate
• Illinois workers receive some of the highest benefits, almost two or three times more than the national average. While Rauner does not want to reduce benefits, he wants lawmakers to take specific circumstances of a case into consideration.
• The court system: Recent judicial rulings have removed award caps for certain injuries, undermining employers’ defenses when it comes to the accompanying conduct of the employee. Rauner wants to restore the commonly accepted practices, which would reinstate award caps.

Image by InsuranceJournal.com

While Rauner’s proposed reform is aimed to reduce claims and costs, there is no mention of insurance companies being required to provide lower insurance rates, which is very concerning to employers. Worker’s compensation reform must involve protecting employers from insurance companies’ high company profits. House Democrats have been relentlessly fighting for legislation that would reduce costs for local businesses, prevent fraud, and ensure insurance savings to local employers. This legislation would allow the Illinois Department of Insurance to review insurance rates before they become effective, and also allow for rejecting excessive rates.

#HarveyLawSpeaks | Common Mistakes in Parenting Agreements

A parenting agreement, known as an “allocation judgment” in Illinois, is a written agreement negotiating and resolving issues related to parenting time and decision-making regarding a couple’s child/children. These issues can involve almost anything regarding the children, including the following issues:

  • Parenting time schedules
  • Holiday time schedules
    • This would also include summer, winter, and spring breaks
  • Which parent (if not both) has primary decision making authority regarding religion, healthcare, extracurricular activities, and education
  • How medical costs are to be divided amongst the parents

When deciding on these major issues, it is best to be as detailed as possible. Dealing with specifics at the time of drafting the agreement can save the parties from coming back to court due to the agreement not addressing a certain details.

Here are some examples of common mistakes:

-“The parties agree the father will have parenting time with the child Friday after school to Sunday.” However, there is no mention of who is to pick up or drop off the child on Sunday back to the mother, or what time his parenting time ends Sunday.

 –“The parties agree the mother will have the children on New Year’s Eve, and the father will have the children New Year’s Day.” No pick up or drop off times are indicated, or where the exchange of the children is to occur.

-Not addressing the possibility of one parent going on vacation with the child

-Failing to take into account spring, summer, and winter breaks

Some parents are able to resolve issues like these in a civil manner, but others are unable to, causing conflict and the possibility of coming back to court. While it is impossible to plan for every single type of contingency, laying out the specifics in a parenting plan can save the parties hassle in the future.

 

New Alaska Law Takes the “Well-Being” of Pets into Consideration

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There is no doubt that divorces can be messy, especially when it comes to dividing property, both real and personal. Marital property needs to be distinguished from separate property when determining distribution, and this can include items such as vehicles, bank accounts, furniture, vacation homes, and in most states, pets.

More than half of pet owners consider their pets as apart of the family. However, in a majority of states, including Illinois, pets are treated as property. Last December, a Canadian judge’s ruling in a divorce case sparked controversy when he refused to discuss custody regarding the couple’s two dogs, further stating “But after all is said and done, a dog is a dog. At law it is property, a domesticated animal that is owned. At law it enjoys no familial rights.”

Until recently, all fifty states have considered pets to be property rather than family members. This time, the second to the last state added to the United States, was the first to change. An amendment to Alaska’s divorce statutes, which went into effect the first week of February, makes it the first state to treat pets more like children in a divorce proceeding. The amendment requires courts to take the “well-being” of pets into consideration, and explicitly gives judges the power to assign joint custody. It even allows the courts to name pets in domestic violence protection orders, and requires the owners of pets taken as a result of cruelty or neglect to pay for shelter costs.

The new law is groundbreaking in the world of animal law, and animal activists everywhere hope other states follow suit in protecting pets in divorce and domestic violence proceedings.

Social Media and Your Case

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There is no doubt that we are living in the age of social media—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat are just several platforms that dominate how people communicate with friends, family, and even strangers. We are able to express ideas, connect with loved ones, and share monumental moments in life. However, with the Internet at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever to share posts or comments without thinking.

High school students are now being told that negative posts or pictures on social media can hurt college admission or scholarship opportunities. College students are being told that what they post on social media could hurt employment opportunities. Adults are being told that what they post on line can affect their current employment. We may think that social media is contained to a certain area but that’s not the case- – posts on social media even have an effect in the legal world. In the legal world, posting something in poor taste online can definitely hurt your case, because online photos and posts are increasingly being used in court as evidence.

Prior to, during, and even after your case, it is vital to be mindful about what you post online. In Family Law, social media evidence can have a big impact in a divorce or parentage action. Activities such as going to a party, attending a happy hour with co- workers, or celebrating an event with a champagne toast could have a negative spin— allowing the opposing party to suggest a substance abuse issue or not keeping children a priority.

Even posts that do not have evidentiary value could be problematic. Sometimes opposing parties will start a case out with civil attitudes towards one another, but one party posts a picture online with a new significant other or a rant talking about the case at hand. This could anger or provoke the other side, causing them to become more difficult, and thus prolonging the case.

Bear in mind that even if you rethink things and subsequently delete a post or picture, nothing can really disappear from the Internet, especially when it is so easy to screenshot something within seconds. What you post can be admissible in court, and judges have been known to look at cell phone and social media activity and read observations into the record.

Here are a few tips on social media while in the middle of a legal actions:

  • Do not check into the courthouse or your lawyer’s office
  • Refrain from posting status updates about the case
  • Do not provide disparaging remarks about the case, the other party/opposing counsel, or the Judge presiding over your case
  • Do not post photos of court orders or pleadings
  • Do not post anything thought to anger or for the specific purpose of provoking the other party

#HarveyLawSpeaks | How long will this divorce take?

Today on #HarveyLawSpeaks, we will be discussing one of the most common concerns in Family Law, how long a divorce will typically take.

First, it’s important to determine what kind of divorce you are dealing with, contested or uncontested.

In an uncontested divorce, both spouses agree on everything and do not require the court to intervene and divide assets or debts, make determinations about maintenance (formally known as alimony) or determine issues regarding children. Usually an uncontested divorce will go through the court system more quickly and be less of a financial burden.

Contested divorces often present a number of challenges, which can be time consuming, especially when both parties are adamant about what they want. How long a case takes will almost always depend on the parties. Contested divorces are far more complicated and more common. There are several issues that need to be litigated including:

  • Property division including real property or personal property
  • Determining how much maintenance (if any) should be awarded
  • Arranging allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time
  • Calculating child support and other fees
  • Enforcing any prenuptial/postnuptial agreements

 

Join us next time as #HarveyLawSpeaks on:

“What are some of the common mistakes in parenting agreements?”

If you have a question you would like for us to discuss on #HarveyLawSpeaks, email us at harveylawspeaks@gmail.com.

 

#HarveyLawSpeaks | I can’t afford to pay my child support

Today on #HarveyLawSpeaks, we will be discussing how to deal with child support after the loss of a job or a sudden change in income.

If you have lost your job or a change in income makes paying child support difficult, a child support obligation will not simply go away. You must ask the court to modify your child support obligation due to a change in your financial situation. Unilaterally modifying how much you pay without a court order could lead to a finding of contempt and perhaps even jail time.

Here is what you can do:

First, go to court: remember, just because there’s been a change (no matter how unexpected) in your income, you cannot stop paying your child support obligation because of it. The Court must change the obligation amount. Until the court changes your amount, you have to continue to pay.

Second, present a Petition for a Modification: A Petition for a Modification will tell the Court why you need your support obligation modified. It helps if you have proof of your change of job. Including new job income information or the financial affidavit required by the Cook County Court.

Third, present your new financial information or your unemployment information: When you go to court be prepared to show the court your change in income. This shows the Court in detail how much your income is currently versus how much it was in the past- and allows for a new amount to be set, if warranted.

Remember, you MUST go to Court to have your child support obligation modified.

Join us next time as #HarveyLawSpeaks on:
“How long is this divorce going to take?”

If you have a question you would like for us to discuss on #HarveyLawSpeaks, email us at harveylawspeaks@gmail.com.

#HarveyLawSpeaks| I am Representing Myself, I Need Help

Today on #HarveyLawSpeaks, we will be discussing what you can do to help your case if you have decided to represent yourself.

We understand that not everyone can afford an attorney. If you choose to represent yourself, also known as appearing Pro Se or Self Represented, it can be intimidating and overwhelming, and difficult to know how to begin.

It is important to keep in mind that courthouse employees are not allowed to give legal advice, but here is an acronym to help you remember several tips: GET HELP!

G: Go to court
Missing a court date or arriving late can be detrimental to your case, and can result in a ruling against you. If for some reason you are unable to make it, contact the other side and let them know well in advance.

E: Errors can hurt you
Typically, Judges do show some leniency with Pro Se litigants. But, it is always important to be prepared and conduct yourself in a professional manner.

T: Talk to an Attorney
Even if you cannot afford an attorney to represent you in your entire case, a consultation may help you in the long run. An attorney can give you an idea of what petitions you need to file, as well as time limitations regarding your case.

H: Have your paperwork in order
Organization is key when it comes to your case. Save any relevant documents and any communications from the opposing side and keep them organized in a folder. You do not want to lose any important information.

E: Every date counts
Bear in mind a domestic relations case can and will require multiple court dates. Sometimes you will come to court just to file paperwork, other times you will be before a Judge. Every time you go to court is important to your overall case.

L: Law Library and Legal Aid
There are many resources out there to help you when you are representing yourself. The Cook County Law Library located at the Richard J. Daley Center at 50 W. Washington can help you find the information you need for your case. There are also many Legal Aid organizations in Illinois, such as Chicago Volunteer Legal Services and Metropolitan Family Services (linked) that can help you with your case. Use your resources!

P: Petitions and Pleadings Must be Done Correctly
Please make sure your petitions and pleadings are accurate and thorough. If done incorrectly or carelessly, a Judge may issue an adverse ruling.

Remember, G.E.T. H.E.L.P.

 

Join us next time as #HarveyLawSpeaks on:
“I recently lost my job and I have a child support order that I am struggling to pay, what do I need to do?”

If you have a question you would like for us to discuss on #HarveyLawSpeaks, email us at harveylawspeaks@gmail.com.