Mediation – Is it for you?

Mediation in Cook County

If you are involved in a divorce case or parentage case, you may hear about mediation. In an effort to promote settling cases on the parties’ own terms rather than litigating the terms before a judge,  there are established rules that require mediation in contested pretrial matters involving custody and visitation, or in contested post-trial matters to modify a joint custody judgment.  In Cook County, mediation is governed by Rule 13.4(e) of the Rules of the Circuit Court of Cook County. Parties are required to attend mediation in cases involving disputes over custody and visitation, unless there exists a valid reason to be excused from mediation, however, parties are not required to reach an agreement.  Mediation of financial matters is available, but is not required unless the Court orders it. Financial matters include disputes over debts, assets and money. Neighboring counties have similar rules, but for the sake of brevity, this post is only in the context of Cook County rules.

There have been a significant amount of changes recently in Family Law and Mediation in Illinois. The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act has been overhauled and will go into effect on January 1, 2016, which introduces many changes to how the courts will view custody and visitation issues.


Where do I go for mediation?

Previously known as Marriage and Family Counseling Services,  now “Family Mediation Services” (FMS), FMS is a department of the Office of the Chief Judge, Circuit Court of Cook County, Domestic Relations Division. “FMS provides mediation for parents who are separating, separated, divorcing or divorced, who were never married, and are in conflict over custody and visitation issues involving their children.” If the judge orders you to mediation in a pretrial matter involving custody and visitation, FMS is the where you will attend mediation. Mediation can also be completed through private mediators, if that is who the parties elect to utilize for their mediation. Joint Custody Judgments often contain a paragraph where the parties should attend mediation. This could be a mediator with Center for Conflict Resolution or it could name a specific mediator. Which mediator you use is important and you should speak with your attorney to decide which mediator is appropriate for your case.

What is a mediator? Do I need an attorney?

Mediation is a non-binding confidential process by which a neutral third party assists the parties in reaching a mutually acceptable agreement. A mediator is not an attorney for both parties but a mediator may be an attorney. A mediator does not have to be an attorney. It is highly preferred by mediators that the parties are represented by attorneys prior to attending mediation. Why?  Your attorney can help you understand the law and what you are entitled to before you make any agreements. Your attorney can help you understand the best possible result that you could obtain in litigation, the worst possible result that you could obtain in litigation, and the most likely result that you could obtain in litigation. Once you are fully informed, you can be more successful in mediation. Your attorney can help you know what you don’t know.

Does my attorney participate in the mediation?

Sometimes attorneys attend mediation with their clients. These attorneys are not attending mediation to zealously advocate for their client during mediation but to support their clients as they go through the process. Some attorneys prepare their clients ahead of time and are available by phone, if needed, but don’t attend the actual mediation. If the parties reach an agreement, the attorneys can then draft the settlement and court documents.

Will mediation save me money?

Rule 13.4 explains that one of the purposes of mediation is to be “cost-saving.” Does mediation save money? Well, that depends… What does it depend on? If it works! If you use private mediators and don’t reach an agreement, you have not saved any money. If you have very few assets and use a mediator for multiple sessions, you may not save any money if two competent attorneys can wrap it up in a few emails exchanging draft agreements. But mediation can save $$$ in many cases. It’s always a good idea to talk with your attorney about whether your case is appropriate for mediation. Sometimes, it is a matter of good timing whether mediation is successful and cost-saving. This is also something to talk about with your attorney.

Why should I use mediation rather than litigation?

So I just said that cost-savings are not a guarantee. You have an attorney that can negotiate a settlement or litigate at trial. You are probably wondering why you should go to mediation.  The reason is that, overwhelmingly, the parties that reach a settlement in mediation are happier with their settlement than if they went to trial, because it was their agreement not something that the judge imposed on them. Let’s be real: there is no winning in divorce or custody battles. You can’t actually “split the baby” and have two whole babies.

What mediation can give you is your voice. The family law court systems are clogged. If you think that going to court is going to give you your voice, you may want to go observe how the courtrooms actually operate. The judge is trying to get through their “court call” as efficiently as possible and that doesn’t leave a lot of time for your to air your grievances. Court cases don’t wrap up in a few short days like they do on TV dramas.

But if you prepare for mediation with your attorney, if the timing is right for you and your Ex to mediate a settlement, and if you go into mediation ready to compromise and get the best possible settlement for both you and your Ex, you could walk out more satisfied with the results.

Is mediation right for you?

That is a question that you should consider with your lawyer. We offer free initial consultations. Call or make an appointment on our website to get started:

10. September 2015 by Kelly Thames
Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Ashley Madison Hack


They are calling it a boon to divorce attorneys., an online dating website for married people to have illicit affairs has been hacked. It has been confirmed that hackers have leaked a massive amount of information, including user names, first and last names, street names and phone numbers, and 35 million email addresses, among other information.

Ashley Madison small


Apparently several websites have set up searchable databases to find out whether an email address was used to set up an Ashley Madison account. Undoubtedly, many of the names and addresses are likely fake and many people may use “burner” email accounts, but many internet users have a blind faith that the internet is a secure place to put personal information, a reality confirmed by the reported 15,000 email addresses hosted by US government and military servers using the .gov and .mil top-level domains.  In fact, according to many sources, the email addresses used could mean that the email owner created the account or it could mean that someone used that person’s email address to create a fake account. I imagine that a lot of curious people have set up fake accounts just to take a peek at the controversial website and have never used it to start affairs. I wonder how many divorce attorneys created accounts to see if they wanted to advertise their law firm on the site…

It is very likely that this may lead to an increase in marriages ended. At Chicago Family Law Group, LLC, we do not take ending marriage lightly. This hack will damage many lives. Many people handle extra-marital affairs privately, in their own way. Sometimes it ends up in divorce and sometimes it is dealt with through counseling or through private discussions, sometimes resulting in forgiveness and remaining together. Some couples choose to actively ignore their spouse’s extra-marital affairs, as long as it is discreet. With this public information dump, much of the privacy of dealing with infidelity has been stripped away. Co-workers, friends, and family members may learn of the affairs. Children may find out about their parent’s infidelity. Ultimately, this dump will narrow the choices a spouse normally has in how to handle the extra-marital affair, and many people will be immensely hurt by this.

If your marriage is ending, we are prepared to help you start the next chapter of your life. We offer free initial consultations.  You can book an appointment for a free initial consultation here NOW or call (312) 893-5888.

20. August 2015 by Kelly Thames
Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Shhhh… Are you a Fiscal Cheater? – Financial Infidelity

Are you cheating on your spouse, financially?  If you were to get a divorce or lose your spouse, would you have a grasp on your family finances or is your spouse keeping financial secrets?






  •  The action or state of being unfaithful to a spouse
  • A violation of a couple’s assumed or stated contract.

Financial Infidelity

In order to commit financial infidelity, there must be a violation of an assumed or stated contract. Money is never an easy topic to discuss, but money issues are a very common strain on a marriage. If you want your marriage to thrive, it’s important to have open communication about your finances. As family law attorneys, we think about you planning ahead in the event that your marriage ends in divorce. It’s important to know what’s going on with your family finances before you end up in our office.

Before you got married, did you discuss how you each spend? What secrets were behind your credit score? How much debt you were bringing into the relationship? What motivates you – are you a spender or a saver? Are you on the same page or financial opposites? Did you sit down with lawyers and prepare a premarital agreement that laid out your financial plan? Before or after you signed the marriage contract, did your discuss and decide on your financial plan?  If you don’t have a stated contract for your financial plan, then you may each have a different assumed financial contract.

If you or your spouse is hiding your money transactions from the other, then you may be committing financial infidelity. On the other hand, if you and your spouse have an agreement to maintain separate accounts for spending as your heart desires without judgment, (a.k.a. “mad money” accounts), then you may be in the clear.

If you suspect your spouse is having a financial affair, you may recognize some of the same behaviors as a spouse having a romantic affair:  they become noticeably withdrawn or easily agitated; their spending habits suddenly change; there is a sudden change in behavior about their email privacy.

Some “Red Flags” become quite obvious before you ever get up the nerve to confront your spouse: you discover hidden debt, secret expenditures, or secret accounts. You may discover that your partner is lying about paying the bills. Or you catch your spouse lying to someone else about their purchases: where they bought it or how much they spent.

What Happens Next?

Financial Inifidelity

Like romantic infidelity, a strong marriage requires rebuilding communication and trust. So, have a conversation. Seek marital counseling. Get financial counseling.

Self-Preservation and Divorce. Get a good grasp on your family’s financial situation. If you are unable to recover from fiscal infidelity, you will be in a better position in your divorce if you are already aware of how much you have in your checking and savings accounts, what retirement accounts you have, and whether you are living within your means. It’s important to understand that the cost of a divorce can increase significantly if your attorney needs to conduct extensive “discovery” work to investigate, obtain, review and analyze financial documents. Sometimes this means hiring a private investigator to hunt down accounts of which you weren’t aware. If you have done the legwork and know what your finances are, what documents you need and where to look for them, you can save a lot in legal fees and make sure you get a fair settlement.

01. June 2015 by Kelly Thames
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A Better Lawyer SAVES You Money

100 dollar bill
I recently had to visit my mechanic to have some car trouble repaired and I was reminded of the important but sometimes forgotten point that some mechanics are just BETTER than other mechanics (just like some family lawyers are just BETTER than other family lawyers). Meaning that in probably 95% of the service sector the trick isn’t really finding something or someone doing anything new or unique but rather the trick is finding out who’s the actually the BETTER provider.

Because the better mechanic/golf pro/child psychologist/family law attorney SAVES you money
(even if their base hourly rates are higher).

That’s what happened with my recent car repair situation, my wife had been driving home from Michigan and had some car trouble on her drive back to Chicagoland and had to make an emergency stop in the Milwaukee area to have our car repaired and as long as she was stopped there we had some new tires put on the car too. Long story short, the Milwaukee area mechanic quoted us some $1,000 for a repair related to the car’s air conditioning. Just last month in April as the temperatures around Chicago were finally warming up we decided to finally make the repair related to our car’s air conditioning with our usual mechanic around Chicago and the fix was made for $163. And it wasn’t our local mechanic being cheaper, no, it was the Milwaukee mechanic being wrong about the necessary repair.

Similar situations happen in our divorce and child custody cases all the time, basically, bad lawyers misdiagnose a case (just like the Milwaukee mechanic above) and the wrong advice ends up costing a client more money (especially if a client is getting billed for the lawyers time alone). What’s the cause of our slowest cases? 99% of the time it’s a poor opposing attorney who is just bad and advises his client poorly and then becomes defensive with us as the opposing attorney when I try to correct he or she on how something actually should be done. A bad lawyer causes unnecessary work to be required and just flat-out wastes a client’s time…and those things cost you more money.

How Can You Distinguish Between the Good & the Bad Family Law Attorneys out there??

  •  Contact a friend who is an active attorney for a recommendation. I know who the good attorneys are in the areas of law I practice in and in fields closely related to family law where I refer cases to regularly like immigration/bankruptcy/real estate. There’s nothing wrong with getting a referral from a non-attorney friend but from experience a lot of non-lawyers tend to recommend people/attorneys they like rather than attorneys who are actually good at what they do.
  • Narrow Focus. Unless you’re in a real small town where there are like 3 attorneys in an entire county, your attorney must be very narrow in the areas of law that they practice. Attorneys taking cases like child custody and divorce matters when that’s not their main area of law generally  are the exact sort of situation I refer too above that is the cause of our slowest cases. With the abundance of information available on the Internet you should be able to see what this lawyer is advertising as their practice areas online, what does the attorney’s LinkedIn profile list, and what materials is the law firm providing as part of arranging an initial consultation.
  • Just Right Size. In addition to attorneys who aren’t focused in their practice areas, we also see the problem regularly of 1-person shops that just aren’t equipped to get anything done. Family law is not an area where you need a huge firm, but, personally I don’t think a law firm can provide real quality customer service and legal representation with less than 3 staff people. In the family law space I think you need multiple attorneys with at least 1 support staff person because family law is quite court-centric. But conversely on the other side of the coin, working with a larger family law firm of say 20+ attorneys really isn’t going to benefit you much more than the 3-person firm because generally any individual client’s matter will be handled by 1-2 attorneys plus 1 staff person even if there are 50 people employed at the firm. The question to consider with the larger family law firms is how do the higher rates you’re paying for all these other staff persons actually benefit you?
  • Sample the Intake Process. Call the lawyer and schedule an initial consultation. A good family law attorney is going to have a very professional and polished intake process because this is as important as anything we do. To be blunt, if we can’t effectively sell legal services then we’ll be out of business. So think about it, if a law firm does a crappy job (think getting voice-mail on your initial call to the firm, no meeting confirmation follow-ups) with the most important part of a law firm’s business then what sort of attention does that law firm give to being high quality as substantive attorneys on the direct legal representation.

12. May 2015 by Peter Olson
Categories: Chicago Family Law Group, Child Custody, Child Support, Divorce | Leave a comment

“I just want half…” – Financial Matters

In a marriage, there is often one spouse that managed the finances and the family budget. During a divorce, it is important for the spouse that has not paid attention to finances to now get up to speed and pay attention because the financial settlement is not as black and white as it may seem on a spreadsheet. It is important to understand that not all assets are created equal.  What follows is a few of the financial definitions you should be acquainted with in order to understand the financial settlement portion of the divorce.



  1. Liquid Assets – No, we are not talking about liquid gold. This means that an asset can be converted into cash quickly with minimal impact to the priced received. You can look at this asset like cash because their prices are relatively stable when they are sold on the open market. Some examples of liquid assets are: most stocks, money market instruments and government bonds
  2. Illiquid Assets – So if liquid assets are not actually liquid, then illiquid assets are not gold in solid block form. These assets cannot be easily be sold or exchanged for cash without a substantial loss in value because there may not be as many willing investors or speculators to purchase an asset. Some examples of illiquid assets are: houses, cars, antiques, private company interests, and some types of debt interests.





  1. Capital Gains – When the value of a capital asset (investment or real estate) increases, the asset now has a higher worth than the purchase price but the gain is not realized until the asset is sold and you can also have a capital loss. A capital gain may be short term (one year or less) or long term (more than one year) and must be claimed on income taxes.
  2. Marital Home – If one party is keeping the marital home, it is often the case that the property can be transferred “pursuant to a divorce” to avoid property transfer taxes. In the City of Chicago, property transfers pursuant to divorce are not exempt from the real property transfer tax.




If you are going to receive a portion of a retirement account or an entire account is going to be transferred to you, you need to realize that not all retirement accounts are alike, especially when it comes to taxes and liquidity.

  1. 401(k) 
    1. 401(k) – contributions are pre-tax
    2. ROTH 401(k) – contributions are taxable but qualified distributions are not taxed
    3. Vesting Requirements – If an employee leaves the company, then he or she may not be entitled to that 401(k) employer match unless he or she has met the employer’s vesting requirements
  2. IRA
    1. ROTH IRA – contributions are taxed but the assets in the account grow tax-free and qualified distributions are not taxed
    2. Traditional IRA
  3. Qualified Distribution – distributions made from a Roth IRA that are tax and penalty free. In order to be a qualified distribution, the following two requirements must be met  :
    1. It must occur at least 5 years after the Roth IRA owner established and funded his/her first Roth IRA
    2. At least one of the following requirements must be met:
      1. The Roth IRA holder must be at least 59.5 when the distribution occurs
      2. Distributed assets limited to $10,000 are used towards the purchase or rebuilding of a first home for the Roth IRA holder or qualified family member
      3. The distribution occurs after the Roth IRA holder becomes disabled
      4. The assets are distributed to the beneficiary of the Roth IRA holder after his/her death
    3. Early Distribution – Distribution is the removal of assets from a retirement account, paid to the retirement account owner or beneficiary. The retirement account owner (or beneficiary) may be required to pay income tax on distributions received during the year. Early distribution penalties may also apply if the distribution occurs while the retirement account owner is under the age of 59.5. While distributions can occur at any time, certain requirements must be met before distributions can occur from qualified plans, 457 plans and 403(b) accounts.


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Ok, so you have heard of a budget,  but have you tried to prepare a budget? Do you know how much you spend on utilities, food, clothing, transportation, etc.? Part of the divorce process involves completing a financial disclosure form, which requires you to put your budget in writing. Many times, a client’s first attempt to prepare the budget is very difficult and usually incorrect. But in a financial settlement, it is really important to think about the assets that you will receive, whether they have liquidity and whether you will be able to live comfortably in your budget. If you plan to keep the marital home, will you be able to afford it with the assets you receive? Is your credit rating good enough to re-finance the mortgage in your name, only?

We never recommend going it alone on a divorce, but if you are going through a divorce and haven’t paid attention to your finances during the marriage, you definitely need someone on your side. We can help!

Make an appointment here NOW or call 312-893-5888.

07. April 2015 by Kelly Thames
Categories: Chicago Family Law Group, Divorce, Mediation, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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