Back to School Planning Tips for Divorced Parents

Television commercials have started advertising the “hottest fashions” for Fall. Every store has

aisles lined with backpacks, pencil cases and lunch boxes. Clearly, it’s “Back to School” time! For students, the new school year brings new teachers, new activities and, for some, even a new school. For divorced parents, the beginning of the school year is the opportune time to discuss the inevitable changes to schedules and activities.

Similar to a child’s “school supply” list, designed to help prepare, organize and assist the student during the year, there are several items divorced parents should do to help them prepare and organize for the coming year:

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The Battle Over Frozen Embryos

In a world of constantly changing and improving technology, more and more couples are battling it out over the disposition of their frozen embryos. While it may seem uncommon for couples to contemplate a break up while going through the process of preserving their ability to have children, the idea of forced parenthood and potential child support obligations that stem from being a parent make this issue an increasingly hot topic. Thus, the significance of the specific terms of the consent forms couples must sign prior to creating and freezing these embryos is becoming increasingly more relevant and when parties do not understand the legal ramifications of an informed consent or other agreement on the subject, couples may be inadvertently faced with potentially life-changing consequences despite their respective intentions.

In ruling on the disposition of frozen embryos, courts look to what, if any, contract exists which speaks to the parties’ intentions. Interestingly, both oral and written contracts can be considered and, unless modified or contradicted by later agreements, the parties’ first oral or written agreement on the subject will control the embryos’ disposition. Further, in the absence of explicit restrictions on use, courts may rule that a party can use the embryos without obtaining the consent of the other party.

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Good News For Collaborative Process in Illinois

Effective July 1, 2018, the Illinois Supreme Court, issued New Rule 294 that directly impacts lawyers practicing pursuant to the Collaborative Process Act (“The Act”) (750 ILCS 90/1 et.seq.). Specifically, this Rule provides that a lawyer who has served as a collaborative process lawyer pursuant to the Act is disqualified from appearing before any tribunal representing any party in a proceeding relating to the collaborative process matter and must withdraw from representation if the collaborative process fails. While the Collaborative Process Act requires that the parties’ must discharge their lawyers if the collaborative process fails; the Supreme Court Rule more strongly provides that those lawyers are disqualified from representing the client in court if the process has failed.

Accordingly, Supreme Court Rule 294 indirectly puts the Illinois Supreme Court “stamp of approval” on the Collaborative Process and “fills in the blank” suggested by the Act’s reference at 750 ILCS 90/70 providing that it is “subject to the supervisory authority of the Illinois Supreme Court.”

Therefore, it appears that the Collaborative Process for domestic relations matters in Illinois if here to stay.

For background on this important issue, click here: http://www.familylawtopics.com/2018/02/heart-collaborative-divorce-process/

Bitcoin and Divorce

In Illinois, incident to resolving a divorce case, all assets and liabilities are required to be identified, valued, and allocated between the parties equitably. Although often resulting in a 50/50 division of marital assets, “equitable” does not necessarily mean “equal.” Prior to either reaching an agreed upon division of assets, or proceeding to trial on the issues of property division, all assets must first be identified and then where possible, valued. With the rise of the digital age, issues of valuation have expanded to the world of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Valuation, however, is not the only issue involving bitcoin and divorce. Today, divorcing parties and their attorneys must be diligent in approaching bitcoin (and all other cryptocurrencies for that matter) during divorce.

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Impact of Market Volatility on Divorce Agreements

Following more than a year of stock market euphoria, February 2018 is thus far a month serving as a harsh reminder of the concept of market volatility. For spouses contemplating or in the midst of a divorce, the takeaway transcends mere numbers on a balance sheet.

In divorce cases, litigants have the option to take their case to trial or reach a settlement agreement. When litigants opt for the latter, their rights and obligations concerning issues of property allocation, spousal and child support, and the like are outlined in a Marital Settlement Agreement (“MSA”). The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (“IMDMA”) vests courts with the discretion to value assets and liabilities for purposes of property division as of the date of trial, or such other date as agreed upon by the parties or order by the court. 750 ILCS 5/503(f). Generally speaking, when litigants reach a settlement of their case, they use the date of divorce or one very close thereto as a valuation date.

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The Wedding is Off: Now What?

As we approach the end of February, we also approach the end of engagement season. According to WeddingWire, nearly 40% of engagements will happen between the months of November and February. In fact, Valentine’s Day ranks as one of the Top 10 most popular days to get engaged. In spite of best intentions, however, not all engagements (including those on Valentine’s Day) will lead to marriage.

So then the questions include-, what happens if the ring is sized, the reception hall booked, the flowers ordered, the dress purchased, and the wedding is ultimately called off? Who pays what? Who keeps the ring? Can you get your money back?

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The Heart of the Collaborative Divorce Process

On January 1, 2018, the Uniform Collaborative Law Act (“UCLA”) was enacted in Illinois. This means that divorcing couples, who want to preserve their relationship, protect their children and maintain privacy can contractually bind each other to resolve their divorce outside of the courtroom by choosing to use the Collaborative Divorce Process.

Pursuant to the UCLA, parties officially enter the Collaborative Divorce Process by signing a uniform contract called the “Participation Agreement”. As promulgated by Section 15(a)(4) of the UCLA, this contract, which I have had the honor and privilege of drafting with an esteemed committee of local Collaborative practitioners, specifically requires that in the event the parties terminate the Collaborative Divorce Process, they must discharge their Collaborative lawyers and professionals and obtain new counsel. The disqualification provision is the heart of the Collaborative dispute resolution model because it completely changes the divorce negotiations from one of positional bargaining (i.e. traditional litigation) to a series of transactions based solely on the goals and interests of the parties and their children (i.e. interest based negotiations). Thus, the signing of this Agreement by the parties empowers the parties and their trained Collaborative team to create win-win solutions and dissuades the parties from running into court to ask a judge to order a result.

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Legal Fee Savvy

Everybody likes a good deal. At Schiller, DuCanto & Fleck, LLP, we take comfort using a team approach which makes our resources go further and adds value for the client. Oftentimes, consumers of legal services ask about hourly rates only for the lawyer they interview, but seldom ask about rates for other lawyers, law clerks and paralegals that may work on the case. When legal services consumers hear their lawyers use a team approach, many assume that this means multiple lawyers doing the same things and thus they worry about double billing. In reality, however, the team approach does not equate to double billing. When used effectively, the team approach allocates work to the right billing level so that when the total fees are divided by the number of hours spent by professionals (paralegals, law clerks, attorneys), the blended rate is lower than the individual lawyers’ hourly rate. Allocating work to the right billing level means paralegals and law clerks deal with things like document organization, file management, basic collating and analysis (starting a balance sheet) while the leading lawyer analyzes the documents already organized and preliminarily analyzed to determine how they can shape case strategy to achieve the client’s goals. Similarly, this means less experienced lawyers (at lower rates) handling routine court appearances and more experienced lawyers (at higher rates) handling more complex or critical court appearances or those where a client particularly wants them there.

Work being done by a team allows for the allocation of work to the right experience level and the right cost level. It does not mean a client never sees the partner they consulted and wanted, but instead means that a client is working with a responsive team so that the client is getting the most value for their money. This approach costs the client less since, for example, if the lead attorney elsewhere charges $400 per hour and does virtually everything, that will ultimately cost the client more than it will cost if the lead attorney charges $450 per hour, but uses a multi-leveled team blended rate approach.

 

Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Texas Same-Sex Benefits Case

In what will be seen by many as a victory for the Christian right and a blow to the LGBTQ community, the U.S. Supreme Court let a challenge go forward this week to Houston’s practice of providing benefits such as health insurance to the same-sex spouses of city employees, leaving intact a Texas Supreme Court decision that calls the policy into question. The order does not force the city to change its policy or preclude the nation’s highest court from taking up the dispute later.

The Houston case began in 2013 when Jack Pidgeon, a local Christian pastor, and Larry Hicks, an accountant, sued the city after Annise Parker, a Democrat who was Houston’s first openly gay mayor, gave municipal spousal benefits such as health insurance and life insurance to same-sex married couples.

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The House Passes Their Tax Reform Bill While The Senate Finance Committee Approves an Amended Version of Their Initial Proposal

On Thursday, November 16, 2017, the House passed their Tax Bill with a vote of 227-205.  Thirteen Republican members (eight from New York and New Jersey), along with every single Democrat member, voted “No” on the bill.  Regardless of its passing, however, the bill still faces an uphill battle of aligning with what is emerging in the Senate.

Later that evening, the Senate Finance Committee also voted along party lines, 14-12, to approve the Republican Tax Reform Bill.  Debate continued into the evening on Thursday in the Senate Finance Committee, with several new amendments to the Senate Bill emerging.  The full Senate will take up the Tax Bill after the Thanksgiving Break, with the goal of passing Tax Reform by Christmas, or as President Trump put it “We’re going to give the American people a huge tax cut for Christmas – hopefully that will be a great, big, beautiful Christmas present.”

In light of that, let us take a look at some of the amendments made by the Finance Committee to the Senate Tax Bill.

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