Category Family Law

Parental Alienation – Case Law Update

In Illinois, parental alienation is the programming of a child by the alienating parent to believe that one parent is good and the other parent is bad with the goal that the child completely rejects the other parent.  A recent Illinois custody case, In re the Marriage of D.T.W., illustrates alienating behavior of a mother against the father.

In the case, the Court stated it could not ignore the evidence of the mother’s alienating behavior when considering each party’s willingness to facilitate a continuing relationship between the children and the other parent. The Court took note of the mother’s actions such as:

* taking children for medical treatment on a repeated basis that lead to a
curtailment, restriction or cancellation of the father’s visitation;

*the mother’s repeated attempts through pleadings to prevent the father’s scheduled visits through pleadings;

*the existence of a child’s journal and the child’s use of words such as “abuse” and “abandoned” which raised questions of the origin of the idea of writing a journal about the father and the source of the child’s information about the events memorialized in it;

*the mother’s efforts to alienate the children from the father’s sister.  In the most egregious example of trying to alienate the children from the aunt, the mother filed a criminal petition for order of protection on behalf of one of the children against the aunt and caused the child to testify at the trial; and

*the mother’s failure to follow the pre-trial recommendations of the 604(b) court appointed evaluator, failure to follow court orders, and her pattern of behavior and her unwillingness to obey court orders that were not in her favor.

This case also illustrates that court appointed evaluator’s reports are not controlling.  The Court held that a 604(b) recommendation concerning the custody of a child is just that, a recommendation.

In the end, the Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s decision. It awarded sole custody of the children to the father and granted his petition to remove them from Illinois to Florida.

Please contact The Law Firm of Erin N. Birt, P.C. at 630-891-2478 with any questions about the case and whether it may apply to your situation.

UPDATE: Illinois Cases have been focusing on this topic again.  I work with an experienced litigation team and together we can help you fight back against parental alienation. You can rebuild a positive parenting relationship with your child before it is too late.  Contact us today to schedule a consultation.


Illinois Divorce: Case Law Update

In an Illinois divorce case, hiding assets or failing to disclose assets during a divorce is costly.  It may affect the classification and distribution of assets and it may be cause for a court to sanction a party.

A recent Illinois Appellate Case, In re the Marriage of Bradley, illustrates how the failure to disclose an asset in discovery can bar a party from claiming it is nonmarital property, permit the court to sanction that party, and require that party to pay the spouses attorneys fees.  In Bradley, the husband failed to disclose farm property until 2 weeks prior to the divorce trial.  The Court barred him from claiming it was non-marital and granted sanctions which required the husband to contribute to the wife’s attorney’s fees due to the increase in litigation caused by the husband.

In Illinois custody cases, the distinction between sole custody vs. joint custody often comes down to three major issues: health/medical needs, eduction, and religion.  If the parties can agree, or have no major objections, on the three major issues joint custody may be appropriate.  If the parties do not agree, or there are factors that prevent the parties from being able to communicate and discuss these issues on a regular basis (such as domestic violence, mental health issues, substance abuse issues) and reach an agreement, then sole custody may be appropriate.

A recent Illinois custody case, In re the Marriage of Voris, illustrates how a sole custody parenting agreement can be modified.  In this case, the non-custodial parent was affecting the mental health of the children and attempting to alienate the children from the custodial parent via religious exploitation.  Although the major issue of religion is present in this case, it was the non-custodial parent’s actions, i.e. attempts to alienate, which in turn had adverse affects on the health of the children, that justified a modification to the parenting agreement.  In Voris, the parenting agreement was modified to include supervised visitation between the children and the father.

Please contact The Law Firm of Erin N. Birt, P.C. at 630-891-2478 or via our Contact Page with any questions about the above cases and how they may apply to a particular situation or for additional information about divorce, collaborative divorce, asset classification and distribution, or custody matters for families in Illinois.


Conveniently Pay an Invoice Online

The Law Firm of Erin N. Birt, P.C. accepts family law clients (adoption, mediation, divorce, collaborative divorce, general family law, child support, paternity, etc.) from Cook County, DuPage County, Kane County, Kendall County, and Will County.  Understanding that it is often difficult to write a check or pay for legal services upfront with cash, the firm accepts credit cards (Discover, Mastercard, & Visa) which allow clients to budget and create a personal payment plan.

At the time of retaining the firm, clients select a private and convenient method for payment.  Clients seeking to pay for family law or mediation services with a credit card are offered traditional and green payment options.  The traditional option includes receiving a paper copy of an invoice via regular mail and requires that the client manually pay the invoice via mail or telephone.  The green paperless option includes the convenience of paying an invoice privately online through the firm’s website or via email notice.

Whether a client receives a paper invoice or an emailed invoice, the client can pay online through the firm’s website.  The online payment method can be found on the contact page of the website.  When viewing the contact page, the left-hand column indicates “Pay Invoice Online.”  Clicking “Pay Invoice Online” will open a second window that allows for safe and secure payment of an invoice.

When a client selects to receive invoices via email,  the client will receive a detailed monthly invoice via email to the secure email provided by the client.  The email will also contain a private and secure payment link. An example of the payment link is here.  Once the client clicks on the payment link, the link will open a second window that allows for safe and secure payment of an invoice.

For clients that do not have access to a computer or an email address but still wish to pay for services with a credit card, the firm offers another convenient payment option (in addition to paying via mail or telephone).  Clients can authorize the firm, in writing, to process payment each month with the credit card information provided by the client.  This method of payment provides the client with a paper copy of the detailed monthly invoice and payment via credit card will be made approximately one (1) week after the detailed invoice is mailed to the client, unless otherwise agreed.

Payment methods can be modified at any time. To obtain more information about the firm’s payment options, please contact The Law Firm of Erin N. Birt, P.C. to discuss your questions or concerns.


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.



Illinois Adoption: Birth Certificates Now Available

Adult adoptees (21 years and older) are able to obtain important birth family information today, Tuesday, November 15, 2011.

In May 2010, a law was passed that allowed persons born prior to 1946 to obtain their birth certificates immediately and placed an 18 month waiting period on persons adopted after 1946 to allow birth parents time to provide consent.  Today is the day that all adoptees over 21 years of age can obtain a copy of their non-certified original birth certificate.

Important information about the non-certified original birth certificate is listed on the New Illinois Adoption Law website which states in pertinent part:

“*In most cases, the original birth certificate will list the first and last names of one or both birth parents.

*Birth parents of adopted persons born after January 1, 1946, may request that their names be deleted from this non-certified copy.

*All birth parents may indicate their preferences regarding contact with their adult birth child.

*The options available under this new law are different for adopted persons, birth parents and their family members. The options available also change depending on the date of birth of the adult adopted person.”

According to the article today in the Chicago Sun Times, nearly 95% of birth parents have consented to some form transparency for the adoptee.

To obtain a copy of a non-certified original birth certificate, the adoptee, aged 21 or older, must obtain an application at Once the application is completed, it must be mailed to the Illinois Department of Public Heath in Springfield.  Applications must include a $15 check for the fee and a copy of a government-issued ID.


National Adoption Month

The month of November has been dedicated to raising awareness about adoption and the adoption process.

On November 1, 2011, President Obama signed a proclamation which proclaimed the month of November as National Adoption Month.  The proclamation states in part, “During National Adoption Month, we celebrate the acts of compassion and love that unite children with adoptive families, and we rededicate ourselves to the essential task of providing all children with the comfort and safety of a permanent home.”

In addition, Illinois Governor Quinn signed a proclamation which proclaimed November 19, 2011 as National Adoption Day in Illinois.  Currently, there are over 17,000 children awaiting adoption in Illinois.

More information about foster care and adoptions can be obtained from the Department of Children and Family Services.  DCFS also provides a directory of Illinois licensed adoption agencies.

If you or a loved one is considering adoption, please contact The Law Firm of Erin N. Birt, P.C. to discuss finalizing the adoption process.