Category Divorce

Divorce and Separation: Coping with the holidays

Individuals going through a divorce or separation during the holidays can find it difficult to cope with the added stress.  This time of year is especially difficult as the holiday season is a day to day reminder of happier times or feelings of loneliness.  Just because a family is in transition does not mean the holidays should be dreaded.  Planning ahead will drastically reduce the amount of stress and moments of loneliness.  The following are 10 tips to cope with divorce or separation during the holidays:

1. Plan Ahead – Planning ahead saves time and money (ex: less attorney fees!), and often prevents stress.  Anticipate any problems that may arise and develop Plan B, or C, or D. Families involve many people and rarely does one person get to make all of the decisions. Therefore, if something in your Plan A changes, and it will, you can easily transition to Plan B (or C, or D…). Jotting down your plans in a journal will also help eliminate the stress of trying to remember what Plan B is!  Planning ahead does not mean you have to plan every minute of every day, rather planning ahead should be used to set goals, identify objectives (ex: attend a dinner with Uncle Joe and kids),  and anticipate scheduling conflicts.

2. Create a Schedule – If a problem can arise, it will arise.  Discuss concerns with your spouse, ex, or other parent.  Make a best attempt at resolving the issue within the family.  If this is not possible, schedule an appointment with a mediator, family law attorney, and/or collaborative divorce attorney, to proactively resolve the issue in a timely manner.  In general, Illinois Courts (such as Cook County, DuPage County, Kane County, and Will County) do not look favorably at emergency holiday petitions.

3.  Take It One Day at a Time – This may be difficult to do, but it helps put issues into perspective.  This does not negate the need for planning ahead! If you have planned ahead and developed a flexible schedule, the best way to execute that plan is to focus on one day at a time. Worrying about Friday will only ruin Wednesday.

4.  Modify or Create a Holiday Tradition – If you have children, children need stability and, based on their age, some level of predictability.  See if an existing tradition can be continued or modified slightly.  This will help the children feel comfortable during this time of change.  Adding a new tradition can also provide you or your children something new and exciting to look forward to.

5.  Communicate with the Children – Let the children know what events are planned, who they will see (ex: extended family & friends), and where they will be (ex:mom’s, dad’s, grandpa’s, etc.). This may be difficult for parents, however children of divorce or separation often express anxiety and stress related to not knowing where and when they will see the other parent.

6.  Communicate with Extended Family and Friends – Be proactive and inform other members of your family about holiday plans. This will help reduce the amount of stressful questions you have to field from those outside your immediate family.

7. Question: Is This in the Best Interest of the Children?  – Anger and stress can cloud a parent’s judgment.  Being upset with the other parent often leads to decisions that unintentionally affect the children.  When making a decision or changing plans, stop and ask “Is this in the best interest of the children?” This can help prevent retaliatory decision making.

8.  Take Time for Yourself – Recharge, relax, and enjoy a special holiday moment for yourself.  Investing in you will benefit all.

9.  Find Support – Support comes in many forms: friends, family, and professionals. If you can’t turn to family or friends and feel isolated, lonely, or depressed, please seek positive professional support.  It is confidential and will help guide you through your difficult time.

10.  Ask and Accept Help – If you need help, ask a trusted friend, family member,or professional.  If help is offered, accept it and know that that person cares for you

If you or someone you know needs help in resolving a family issue, developing a holiday plan, determining a holiday schedule, or would like more information, please contact The Law Firm of Erin N. Birt, P.C. for additional assistance.


Cook County Family Law: Parent Coordinator

Families in a Cook County Divorce or Cook County Paternity case may be assigned a parent coordinator.  While a parent coordinator is often utilized in Cook County, it is not as frequently utilized in DuPage County Divorce or Paternity cases.

Below is the Cook County Local Court Rules that address the appointment, qualifications, confidentility, and duties of a parent coordinator:

“Parenting Coordinator
(a) Appointment – The Court may appoint a parenting coordinator when it finds the following:

1. The parties failed to adequately cooperate and communicate with regard to issues involving their children, or have been unable to implement a parenting plan or parenting schedule;
2. Mediation has not been successful or has been determined by the judge to be inappropriate; or
3. The appointment of a parenting coordinator is in the best interests of the child or children involved in the proceedings.

Notwithstanding the above, the court may appoint a parenting coordinator by agreement of the parties.

(b) Qualification – The parenting coordinator shall possess the minimum qualifications of a mediator with the Marriage and Family Counseling Services as set forth in Rule 13.4 of the Rules of the Circuit Court of Cook County.

(c) Confidentiality – Communications with the parenting coordinator shall not be confidential, except that upon the agreement of both parties and the parenting coordinator, the court may deem all or any specific part of the communications with the parenting coordinator to be confidential, if such designation appears to be in the best interests of the children.

(d) Duties

(i) The parenting coordinator shall educate, mediate, monitor court orders and make recommendations to the court as necessary.  In addition, the parenting coordinator may recommend approaches that will reduce conflict between parents and reduce unnecessary stress for the children.

(ii) The parenting coordinator may monitor parental behaviors and mediate disputes concerning parenting issues and report any allegations of noncompliance to the court, if necessary.

(iii) The parenting coordinator shall recommend outside resources as needed, such as random drug screens, parenting classes and psychotherapy.

(iv) The parenting coordinator may recommend detailed guidelines or rules for communication between parents.

(v) The parenting coordinator shall maintain communication among all parties by serving, if necessary, as a conduit for information.

(vi) The parenting coordinator may meet with the parties, the children, and significant others jointly or separately.  The parenting coordinator shall determine if the appointments shall be joint or separate.

(vii) Each parent should direct any disagreements or concerns regarding the children to the parenting coordinator.

(viii) The parenting coordinator shall work with both parents to attempt to resolve the conflict and, if necessary, shall recommend an appropriate resolution to the parents.

(ix) The parenting coordinator shall not have any decision-making authority which is the sole province of the court.

(x) The parenting coordinator shall not serve as a custody evaluator in any proceeding involving one or more parties for whom the parenting coordinator has provided parenting coordination services.

(xi) The parenting coordinator shall not be permitted to give a recommendation or opinion concerning the ultimate issue of fact, law, or mixed issue of fact and law as to child custody, primary physical residence, or visitation.

(xii) No parenting coordinator shall be held liable for civil damages for any act or omission in the scope of the parenting coordinator’s employment or function, unless such person acted in bad faith or with malicious purpose, or in a manner exhibiting wanton and willful disregard of the rights, safety or property of another.”

The complete Rules of the Circuit Court of Cook County for Domestic Relations Proceedings can be found here.

While a parent coordinator is similar to a court appointed guardian ad litem, one of the benefits of  involving a parent coordinator in a case is that the relationship with the parties can continue beyond the current litigation.  The appointment of a guardian ad litem is often terminated at the conclusion of the pending litigation.  Both offer valuable services and in each case it must be determined by the parties, attorneys, and/or court which type of service is most beneficial for that particular family and that family’s particular circumstances.

Parent coordinators can also be used as a team member and as a resource in collaborative divorce cases.  Again, the ongoing relationship between the parents and the parent coordinator can provide consistency and tools to promote stability for families.


DuPage County Divorce: A La Carte Services

A La Carte Legal Services are also called “limited scope legal representation” and “unbundled legal services.”  Regardless of what the service is called, it means that the client can pick and choose what services the attorney will perform during the course of representation.

Attempting to navigate the legal system alone is daunting, inefficient, and not cost effective.  Vacation days, sick days, or unpaid absences will have to be used to prepare documents and travel to court to file petitions, motions, notices, proof of service, etc. There will be more time off of work to attend court appearances. And if the documents are not prepared correctly, it will have to be redone and more time will have to be taken off from work.  Less time at a job most likely means less pay.

Finding yourself in this situation is extremely stressful, however, there are options.  You can hire an attorney to help you where you need it the most: prepare a legally sufficient Petition for Dissolution of Marriage or Petition for Modification of Child Support (or any needed petition, motion, or response), obtain court dates, appear at hearings, or just provide legal consulting in order to adequately prepare you for discovery, a court appearance, or hearing date, etc.

Money is tight for all right now, and especially during the holiday season. Money should not prevent you from addressing your legal needs and/or life transition.  A unique package of services can be created to fit your specific legal and financial needs.

If you, or someone you know, is attempting to represent themselves and feel it is not sufficient, or are in need of divorce related services now and don’t know where to get started, please contact The Law Firm of Erin N. Birt, P.C. to discuss your legal needs and to determine an acceptable A La Carte Service package.  For more information about A La Carte Services, please visit our webpage dedicated to such services.



Mediation Month

October or November is traditionally recognized as Mediation Month by various organizations throughout North America.  The recognition helps promote and educate the public about the benefits of the alternative dispute resolution process.

For those that may be unfamiliar with mediation, The Model Standards of Conduct for Mediators, adopted by the American Bar Association, defines mediation as:

“Mediation is a process in which an impartial third party facilitates communication and negotiation and promotes voluntary decision making by the parties to the dispute.”

Mediation has been gaining popularity in recent years with corporations, government, federal courts, circuit courts, business owners, families, and individuals. In the spirit of raising awareness, promotion, and education, included below are links to articles, websites, and general information about mediation:

*Oregon proclaims October Mediation Month;

*Some Illinois organizations celebrate Mediation Month in November;

*Mediation Council of Illinois’ Standards of Practice;

*Mediation Council of Illinois’ recommendations for screening a potential mediator;

*American Bar Association’s Model Standards of Conduct for Mediators;

*ABA Rule 2.4 Lawyer serving as a third party neutral;

*Role of Attorney in mediation process;

*Example of Family Mediation Services Abroad (Ireland);

*Myths about mediation.

For families especially, November is a good time to schedule a mediation appointment to address any holiday parenting time concerns.  Resolving family issues before the holiday season approaches will help reduce stress and allow everyone to enjoy the holidays with loved ones.  Please visit our contact page to secure an appointment before the holiday season.

Rules of evidence and online communication

Social media, such as Facebook, and other internet communication is changing the landscape of divorce settlement negotiations and divorce trials.  Domestic Relations courts generally accept emails, text messages, online pictures, and Facebook posts as relevant evidence.  And as businesses are going paperless, more and more internet produced documents are being submitted by parties during discovery and in the courtroom.

The rules of evidence have evolved and it is now easier than ever to authenticate online documents and communication and to perfect evidentiary foundations required to introduce internet documents and communication into evidence. There has been an expansion of the hearsay exceptions, business records, and ways to authenticate documents.  The new methods of authenticating documents and introducing evidence should shorten the time of court appearances and trials and thus free up resources for other matters.

What does this mean for the average party to a divorce case?  1. Follow the old adage ‘never put anything in writing’ especially in email and through the internet unless you understand that it most likely can and will be used against you; 2. Be upfront with your attorney about your emails and online posts so your attorney can adequately prepare you; 3. Don’t assume that your privacy settings will protect you; 4. Take internet communications seriously during settlement negotiations, in either a collaborative divorce or a court-based divorce setting, because should your case proceed to trial the communications may be used as evidence against you.