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How Your Illinois Divorce Affects College Funding for Your Child

529 college savings plan theme with textbooks and piggy bankDivorce planning for parents with a child in or on route to college includes navigating some potentially difficult issues to ensure the best possible financial aid benefits.

According to a recent article by Andrea Williams on USNews.com, there are three specific areas that can affect the child’s ability to receive adequate financial aid funding.

OWNING A 529 PLAN

If you and your spouse opened a joint 529 college savings plan, you must decide who will take ownership of the plan after the divorce.

“If one parent becomes the sole owner, he or she will be the only person who can make decisions regarding the use of account funds, so it is important that parents come to a mutual agreement,” says Williams. Divorce mediation can be a huge help in reaching a consensus on this issue.

College aid specialists often recommend that the plan be owned by the non-custodial parent because this person’s income and assets do not need to be included on the FAFSA form when requesting financial aid. If the custodial parent owns the 529 plan, that asset will have to be reported.

Only one person can “control” the plan, but experts say that the non-owning parent should be designated as an authorized user who can see the assets but cannot move them around. The non-owning parent should also be named the “successor owner” on the death of the owner parent.

CLAIMING THE CHILD ON TAXES

The parent who claims the child as a dependent on their annual taxes will receive the available tax reduction as well as any college credits given by the IRS that year. It’s important to take a good look at potential financial implications before making this decision.

For example, a parent who makes too high a salary is not eligible for certain IRS credits so it might make more sense for the lower-earning parent to claim the child and be eligible for financial refunds. Check with the IRS for specific salary thresholds.

CUSTODY DECISIONS

The child custody decision can have an effect on how much financial aid a child can receive. Williams states that “it is the custodial parent’s finances that are used to determine financial aid eligibility – unless the noncustodial parent still resides in the same household. Additionally, if the custodial parent remarries, the new spouse’s finances will be considered also.”

Colleges can also ask for additional financial aid forms and these generally do not require the non-custodial parent’s financial information. So if the potential non-custodial parent makes $40,000 per year and the custodial parent makes $250,000, the child has a better chance at financial aid if the lower-earning parent has custody.

These are very tough, complicated decisions that often cannot be made without the help of a separate party such as a family mediator or collaborative law expert.

If you are a divorcing parent with a child in college, contact me to learn how I can help you make the best possible decisions for the child’s college education.


ABOUT ERIN BIRT

Erin BirtIllinois attorney Erin Birt is a skilled legal professional with over ten years of experience in trial and divorce law serving clients in many DuPage County cities including Wheaton, Glen Ellyn, Naperville, Warrenville and Winfield.

She opened the Law Firm of Erin Birt, P.C. in 2010 to offer her clients alternative divorce resolution services, specialized collaborative divorce options and family law expertise. She and her expert team continually develop creative outcomes such as divorce mediation and family law mediation that work for all parties involved, particularly children.

Ms. Birt holds a J.D. from DePaul College of Law and is a member of the Collaborative Practice Professionals of Illinois, the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois, the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and the DuPage County Bar Association. She is a past board member and presenter for the Mediation Council of Illinois.

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More On New Illinois Divorce Laws

A judge?s gavel coming down on a broken heart designFor the past several months, I’ve been providing information on the new Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act that went into effect on January 1, 2016.

Outlined below are a few more important changes from a recent article by P. André Katz and Erin B. Bodendorfer in the Illinois Bar Journal.

This is key information for those in the midst of an Illinois divorce, particularly parties with children.

RESTRICTIONS ON EDUCATIONAL EXPENSES AFTER HIGH SCHOOL

Educational expenses for children continuing beyond high school can be incurred until a student turns 23, but no later, unless for good cause or on the agreement of both parents. However, awards cannot be made under any circumstances once a student is 25 years of age.

Without good cause, the allowed amount for tuition, fees, meals, and housing cannot exceed what is charged for these expenses at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Medical and other living expenses are not part of this capped amount. Students receive this benefit as long as they maintain a “C” average or better.

This provision ends when a student reaches the maximum age allowance, receives a bachelor’s degree, or gets married. However, it will continue if the student becomes pregnant, goes to jail, or joins the military.

When setting the award for post-secondary education, the court can consider how this decision will affect the current and future financial situation of both parties.

SUPPORTING A NON-MINOR CHILD WITH DISABILITIES

Under the new law, the court can now order that awards to support a disabled non-minor child be paid to a trust for the benefit of that child. Parties must apply for this award either when the child is eligible for child support or is eligible for post-secondary educational expenses.

USE OF FINANCIAL EXPERTS

When valuing assets or property, the court may appoint financial experts or other specialists to reduce or eliminate the costs of each party engaging their own professional for the purpose of asset protection in divorce.

MARITAL AGREEMENT MODIFICATIONS

The new law describes what is and is not open for modification in a marital agreement. Decisions on property can never be modified. The following are open to revision based on the requestor showing a major change of circumstances: parental responsibilities, child support, maintenance, and educational expenses. Parties can also decide on modifications of maintenance amounts, time, or both.

These new laws are meant to be more fair and transparent for all parties involved in a divorce. They also provide the opportunity for open discussion so that all parties can come to mutual agreement on various issues. Sometimes, however, parties reach an impasse. When this happens, divorce mediation can often help everyone to reach a consensus.

The professionals of Birt Law are trained in the effective use of family mediation and collaborative law procedures. Contact me to learn how we can help in your specific situation.


ABOUT ERIN BIRT

Erin BirtIllinois attorney Erin Birt is a skilled legal professional with over ten years of experience in trial and divorce law serving clients in many DuPage County cities including Wheaton, Glen Ellyn, Naperville, Warrenville and Winfield.

She opened the Law Firm of Erin Birt, P.C. in 2010 to offer her clients alternative divorce resolution services, specialized collaborative divorce options and family law expertise. She and her expert team continually develop creative outcomes such as divorce mediation and family law mediation that work for all parties involved, particularly children.

Ms. Birt holds a J.D. from DePaul College of Law and is a member of the Collaborative Practice Professionals of Illinois, the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois, the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and the DuPage County Bar Association. She is a past board member and presenter for the Mediation Council of Illinois.

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Consultation Today

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More Court Involvement in Illinois Parenting Agreements

Cropped image of male judge signing document at desk against black backgroundDoes the joint parenting agreement from your Illinois divorce need updating? It might, based on several new family and divorce laws taking effect in 2016.

Parents who are already divorced or still in the process of divorce planning should be aware of how these changes will affect them and of the potential for more court involvement in post-divorce parenting arrangements.

RE-DEFINED PARENTING ORDERS

After January 1, 2016, a parenting order will be referred to as an “allocation judgment.” Under the new laws, the Court can allocate parenting plan rulings (formerly called visitation) and can also assign specific parenting and decision-making responsibilities to each party. These include:

  • Education
  • Religion
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Nutritional needs
  • Bedtime/wake-up routines
  • Illness and injury care
  • Hygiene, grooming, dressing
  • Ensuring attendance at activities
  • Transportation
  • Protection of child’s safety

MODIFIED PARENTING PLANS

In addition, any changes or modifications by the Court to a parenting plan or allocation judgment will now be considered and determined by a preponderance of evidence rather than the higher standard of clear and convincing proof.

This means that the Court will be involved in many more parenting issues than before, which may help some parents but may also be an invasion of privacy to others.

MAKING USE OF MEDIATION

Developing a professional relationship with a divorce mediator or attorney can help separated parents maintain control and privacy and prevent over-involvement of the court in the parenting of their children.

My practice offers family mediation and collaborative divorce services by trained professionals. We show divorced parents how to work as a team to reduce or eliminate the Court’s involvement in their parenting duties. Contact me for more information.


ABOUT ERIN BIRT

Erin BirtIllinois attorney Erin Birt is a skilled legal professional with over ten years of experience in trial and divorce law serving clients in many DuPage County cities including Wheaton, Glen Ellyn, Naperville, Warrenville and Winfield.

She opened the Law Firm of Erin Birt, P.C. in 2010 to offer her clients alternative divorce resolution services, specialized collaborative divorce options and family law expertise. She and her expert team continually develop creative outcomes such as divorce mediation and family law mediation that work for all parties involved, particularly children.

Ms. Birt holds a J.D. from DePaul College of Law and is a member of the Collaborative Practice Professionals of Illinois, the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois, the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and the DuPage County Bar Association. She is a past board member and presenter for the Mediation Council of Illinois.

New Laws For Post-Divorce Child Relocation

Traveler's suitcases.Post-divorce custodial parents and children looking to relocate inside or outside of Illinois should be aware of new laws and procedures for this situation effective in 2016.

See the brief outline below, and consider reviewing your specific circumstances with a qualified Illinois divorce attorney and/or employing divorce mediation.

  • Up to now, a post-divorce move out of Illinois with a child has been termed “Removal.” The new law now defines this issue as “Relocation.”

  • Previously, parents and children could relocate anywhere within Illinois without Court approval. Quite often, however, this action negatively affected visitation options between the non-custodial parent and the child, resulting in the following changes:

    • For residents of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, or Will Counties who will move more than 25 miles from their current location, a visitation/parenting agreement must be reached between the parties or a Court petition filed requesting the right to relocate.

    • For residents of all other Illinois counties, the above actions are required for moves of 50 miles or more.

  • The parent seeking to relocate with a child must provide the other parent with a 60-day written notice of the intent to relocate.

All of this means that the relocating parent must be very prepared and take action well before this planned post-divorce modification.

A qualified DuPage County divorce attorney can help ensure that notice of this child relocation is properly written and sent within the required time frame and that any petition filed or agreement reached complies with the new 2016 divorce and parentage laws.

As a divorce lawyer trained in family mediation, I can help you navigate these new laws so your relocation is a positive experience for everyone involved. Contact me to learn more.


ABOUT ERIN BIRT

Erin BirtIllinois attorney Erin Birt is a skilled legal professional with over ten years of experience in trial and divorce law serving clients in many DuPage County cities including Wheaton, Glen Ellyn, Naperville, Warrenville and Winfield.

She opened the Law Firm of Erin Birt, P.C. in 2010 to offer her clients alternative divorce resolution services, specialized collaborative divorce options and family law expertise. She and her expert team continually develop creative outcomes such as divorce mediation and family law mediation that work for all parties involved, particularly children.

Ms. Birt holds a J.D. from DePaul College of Law and is a member of the Collaborative Practice Professionals of Illinois, the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois, the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and the DuPage County Bar Association. She is a past board member and presenter for the Mediation Council of Illinois.

Parenting Plan Changes for Illinois Divorces

Young father picking up his son in shared custody after amicable divorce from his former wife and her new husband homeIllinois parents who are considering or actively involved in divorce proceedings in 2016 should be aware of changes in both creating and maintaining a post-divorce parenting plan for their children. Here are the details.

NEW FILING DEADLINE

Beginning in 2016, all Illinois divorcing parties with children must submit a proposed parenting plan within 120 days from filing for divorce or serving the other parent a notice of divorce.

If the divorcing parties cannot agree on a parenting plan, a hearing will be scheduled to determine a temporary parenting plan and allocation of parenting responsibilities. This temporary plan will then be considered by the Court as the divorce process continues.

PLANNING IS NOW CRITICAL

If you are thinking of filing a petition for visitation (now called Parenting Time) as part of your divorce, start preparing for this filing as soon as possible. The 120 day filing deadline is really not a lot of time to create a temporary parenting plan that can affect your children’s future by determining how much time they’ll have with each parent.

MEDIATION CAN HELP

Consider using mediation before you file your initial parenting plan petition. The mediator can help you narrow or resolve particular parenting issues so you submit a workable plan to the Court and avoid Court involvement in the outcomes as described above. Mediation can also help avoid making post-divorce modifications to any plan created.

A Mediation Consulting Attorney can offer invaluable guidance both before and during your divorce mediation sessions and can seamlessly transition the mediation matter to the Court where the agreed-upon plan or remaining issues can be presented to the Judge.

As a trained DuPage County divorce attorney and mediator, I can help create a parenting plan that works for everyone involved. Contact me for more information.


ABOUT ERIN BIRT

Erin BirtIllinois attorney Erin Birt is a skilled legal professional with over ten years of experience in trial and divorce law serving clients in many DuPage County cities including Wheaton, Glen Ellyn, Naperville, Warrenville and Winfield.

She opened the Law Firm of Erin Birt, P.C. in 2010 to offer her clients alternative divorce resolution services, specialized collaborative divorce options and family law expertise. She and her expert team continually develop creative outcomes such as divorce mediation and family law mediation that work for all parties involved, particularly children.

Ms. Birt holds a J.D. from DePaul College of Law and is a member of the Collaborative Practice Professionals of Illinois, the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois, the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and the DuPage County Bar Association. She is a past board member and presenter for the Mediation Council of Illinois.

Changes To Temporary Spousal And Child Support Laws

Rolled newspaper with the headline Changes in legislationNext on the list of 2016 changes to Illinois divorce planning are updates to the Temporary Support laws, affecting both temporary spousal maintenance and temporary child support. This means that temporary financial support hearings will no longer be summary in nature. Rather, the Court will hold an evidentiary hearing to determine the resolution of these temporary support issues.

As a result of these changes, correctly completing financial disclosure documents for child and spousal support will be critical for a successful outcome in your divorce case. Here are more details.

NEW STATE-WIDE FORMS

Under current laws, a temporary support hearing (temporary maintenance for a spouse or temporary child support) requires that parties complete and submit a financial statement and affidavit, and each county has its own form. For example, the Comprehensive Financial Statement for DuPage County, Illinois, can be found at this link:

http://www.dupageco.org/CourtClerk/CourtForms.aspx.

The new Illinois Divorce Act directs the courts to have a single statewide form and requires that tax returns, paystubs, and bank statements be attached to that form.

ACCURACY IS CRITICAL

Financial documents can no longer be casually completed. Documents that are misleading or show any discrepancy between the form and supporting documents or testimony will result in the Court imposing sanctions on the offending party. These sanctions can include payment of the other party’s attorney fees.

HELP IS IMPORTANT

Because correct and timely completion of the financial affidavit is critical to success, consider hiring a divorce attorney who is trained in these areas and can effectively use divorce mediation skills to reach a consensus. My office will work with you to complete your divorce-related disclosure forms correctly and submit them on time so you avoid any form-related court sanctions.

Contact me for more information.


ABOUT ERIN BIRT

Erin BirtIllinois attorney Erin Birt is a skilled legal professional with over ten years of experience in trial and divorce law serving clients in many DuPage County cities including Wheaton, Glen Ellyn, Naperville, Warrenville and Winfield.

She opened the Law Firm of Erin Birt, P.C. in 2010 to offer her clients alternative divorce resolution services, specialized collaborative divorce options and family law expertise. She and her expert team continually develop creative outcomes such as divorce mediation and family law mediation that work for all parties involved, particularly children.

Ms. Birt holds a J.D. from DePaul College of Law and is a member of the Collaborative Practice Professionals of Illinois, the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois, the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and the DuPage County Bar Association. She is a past board member and presenter for the Mediation Council of Illinois.

Your Virtual Illinois Divorce Attorney

Search DivorceOne often-overlooked challenge of divorce planning is time. In addition to regular life activities, divorcing couples must also research information, complete a variety of documents, meet with their attorneys, and attend any number of court proceedings.

Important and necessary as they are, these additional tasks require time away from work which can then affect a person’s job performance in actuality or as perceived by supervisors and co-workers.

A 21ST CENTURY SOLUTION

The age of technology has brought us virtual shopping, virtual employment, and now a virtual option for some divorce services: the Virtual Divorce Attorney. This is a fully-trained and licensed attorney who provides limited scope divorce or separation services that can be done via computer or phone.

I’m proud to announce that I am available as a Virtual Illinois Divorce Attorney offering any Illinois resident these virtual options in addition to my family mediation, in-person divorce, and collaborative law services.

VIRTUAL DIVORCE ATTORNEY BENEFITS

Probably the most important benefit offered by a Virtual Divorce Attorney is cost savings coupled with custom-tailored personal service. Unlike big companies offering virtual legal services and forms, I will work directly with you and help you assess your needs at all times.

Our custom-tailored limited-scope services can help keep your overall divorce costs down. In addition, working virtually allows for fewer days away from work and/or a smaller time commitment outside of work hours as your finalize your Illinois divorce.

SERVICES OFFERED

Among other offerings, a virtual attorney can help ensure that your prepared documents are up to date and comply with current law. All communication can be handled via phone, video conferencencing, or email and all work is submitted to you for review via email, everything at your convenience.

You save time and money and will not miss additional work while going through a difficult time. Contact me to learn how virtual divorce services can help with your divorce or separation.


ABOUT ERIN BIRT

Erin BirtIllinois attorney Erin Birt is a skilled legal professional with over ten years of experience in trial and divorce law serving clients in many DuPage County cities including Wheaton, Glen Ellyn, Naperville, Warrenville and Winfield.

She opened the Law Firm of Erin Birt, P.C. in 2010 to offer her clients alternative divorce resolution services, specialized collaborative divorce options and family law expertise. She and her expert team continually develop creative outcomes such as divorce mediation and family law mediation that work for all parties involved, particularly children.

Ms. Birt holds a J.D. from DePaul College of Law and is a member of the Collaborative Practice Professionals of Illinois, the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois, the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and the DuPage County Bar Association. She is a past board member and presenter for the Mediation Council of Illinois.

New Illinois Parentage Laws In 2016

FamilyAmong the specific changes being made to Illinois divorce laws in 2016 are new statues around parentage rights. Key changes are as follows:

NEW PARENTAGE ACT – The Parentage Act of 2015 goes into effect on January 1, 2016, and replaces the Illinois Parentage Act of 1984.

PURPOSE OF NEW ACT – Through this new act, the state of Illinois extends equal rights to every child and parent regardless of marital status and gender. It also extends the marital presumption of parentage to same-sex couples.

SPECIFIC KEY CHANGES TO VOLUNTARY ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF PATERNITY (VAP)

  • The VAP can now be signed before the birth of a child.

  • Any challenges to the VAP must be made with two years and offer clear and convincing evidence around paternity.

  • The VAP form will not be updated by 2016 to include gender-neutral terms. For now, the current form will be used and considered valid.

Issues around child support, custody and paternity can be stressful even in separations or divorce with little or no hostility. As an experienced DuPage County divorce attorney, I successfully use divorce mediation skills and litigation experience to help you resolve these and other issues to the satisfaction of all parties involved.

Contact me for more details.


ABOUT ERIN BIRT

Erin BirtIllinois attorney Erin Birt is a skilled legal professional with over ten years of experience in trial and divorce law serving clients in many DuPage County cities including Wheaton, Glen Ellyn, Naperville, Warrenville and Winfield.

She opened the Law Firm of Erin Birt, P.C. in 2010 to offer her clients alternative divorce resolution services, specialized collaborative divorce options and family law expertise. She and her expert team continually develop creative outcomes such as divorce mediation and family law mediation that work for all parties involved, particularly children.

Ms. Birt holds a J.D. from DePaul College of Law and is a member of the Collaborative Practice Professionals of Illinois, the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois, the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and the DuPage County Bar Association. She is a past board member and presenter for the Mediation Council of Illinois.

New Grounds For Illinois Divorce

Erin Birt New Grounds For Illinois DivorceAs of January 1, 2016, Illinois will be streamlining the specific grounds one can use to plead for divorce.

This won’t negate the valid reasons that bring couples to divorce planning, only the way in which a divorce attorney can present them in court.

CURRENT ILLINOIS DIVORCE GROUNDS

At this point in time, lawyers commonly plead just two grounds for divorce: irreconcilable differences and mental cruelty. In my 12 years as a DuPage County divorce lawyer, I have rarely pled anything other than these two grounds in a divorce case.

However, current Illinois grounds for divorce also include:

  • Impotence

  • Bigamy

  • Adultery

  • Desertion for more than one year

  • Habitual drunkenness for two years

  • Excessive use of addictive drugs for more than two years

  • Attempt to take the life of the spouse in a manner that shows malice

  • Extreme and repeated physical or mental cruelty

  • Infecting the partner with a sexually transmitted disease

NEW GROUNDS AS OF 2016

On January 1, 2016, Illinois will have only one ground for divorce: irreconcilable differences. The Court specifically defines this as follows:

  1. Such differences have caused an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage.

  2. Past attempts to resolve the differences have failed.

  3. Future attempts at resolution would not be in the best interests of the individual and the family.

In addition, the new 2016 laws will eliminate the statutory two-year waiting requirement to file for divorce.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN COURT

When viewed in legal context, the list of grounds for divorce in the previous (prior to 2016) divorce act can be understood as irreconcilable differences between two parties. It’s also understood that couples will continue to divorce for any of those legitimate reasons.

The key difference is that regardless of the specific cause(s) the divorce will be pled and introduced in court as simply an irreconcilable difference.

I can help you navigate these new laws and reduce the stress of divorce through family mediation and collaboration techniques. Contact me for details.


ABOUT ERIN BIRT

Erin BirtIllinois attorney Erin Birt is a skilled legal professional with over ten years of experience in trial and divorce law serving clients in many DuPage County cities including Wheaton, Glen Ellyn, Naperville, Warrenville and Winfield.

She opened the Law Firm of Erin Birt, P.C. in 2010 to offer her clients alternative divorce resolution services, specialized collaborative divorce options and family law expertise. She and her expert team continually develop creative outcomes such as divorce mediation and family law mediation that work for all parties involved, particularly children.

Ms. Birt holds a J.D. from DePaul College of Law and is a member of the Collaborative Practice Professionals of Illinois, the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois, the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and the DuPage County Bar Association. She is a past board member and presenter for the Mediation Council of Illinois.

New Illinois Divorce Act Benefits Children

Marital agreementIllinois couples with children who are planning a divorce now or in the near future should note that Illinois divorce laws will change on January 1, 2016.

The new Illinois Divorce Act will likely have a significant impact on how your divorce is ultimately resolved.

PURPOSE OF THE NEW LAWS

There are three primary aims of the newly updated Illinois Divorce Act:

  1. To protect children from exposure to conflict and violence during the divorce process;

  2. To recognize and enforce the right of children to continue a healthy relationship with both parents post-divorce;

  3. To expressly uphold that frequent contact with both parents–absent domestic violence or other harmful factors–promotes the healthy development of children.

COURT ENFORCEMENT STRATEGIES

To honor and achieve these stated goals, the Illinois Court will:

  • Promote or order parents to participate in educational programs so they learn how to minimize the negative effects of divorce litigation.

  • Facilitate parental planning discussions, including explicit allocation of parenting time and parental responsibilities, to help reach a mutual agreement about the children’s upbringing after the divorce, including child custody and visitation.

  • Safeguard the continuation of existing parent-child relationships to ensure each parent’s maximum involvement in the well-being of their children.

IMPACT ON YOUR DIVORCE PLANNING

If you want to avoid the impact of these new laws on your divorce, you must ensure that it is finalized by December 31, 2015. Any matter currently pending that has not entered a final judgement before January 1, 2016, and any new matter filed after that date, will need to comply with the updated laws.

An experienced DuPage County divorce attorney trained in divorce mediation can help divorcing or already divorced parents to create an Allocation Judgement that complies with the new Illinois divorce laws as well as the spirit and purpose of the new Divorce Act.

Contact me if you need assistance and support navigating through these restructured laws.


ABOUT ERIN BIRT

Erin_Birt_37033-199x300Illinois attorney Erin Birt is a skilled legal professional with over ten years of experience in trial and divorce law serving clients in many DuPage County cities including Wheaton, Glen Ellyn, Naperville, Warrenville and Winfield.

She opened the Law Firm of Erin Birt, P.C. in 2010 to offer her clients alternative divorce resolution services, specialized collaborative divorce options and family law expertise. She and her expert team continually develop creative outcomes such as divorce mediation and family law mediation that work for all parties involved, particularly children.

Ms. Birt holds a J.D. from DePaul College of Law and is a member of the Collaborative Practice Professionals of Illinois, the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois, the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and the DuPage County Bar Association. She is a past board member and presenter for the Mediation Council of Illinois.