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Rockford IL Family Law Blog

Has the increase of stay-at-home dads impacted fathers' rights during divorce?

The structure of the typical American family has changed since the turn of the century. While stay-at-home dads numbered fewer than one out of every 100 fathers before the year 2000, that number has more than tripled to greater than 2.5 of every 100 fathers living life as a full time dad. The trend toward greater male involvement in the life of children is clear; the impact this involvement will have in child custody cases is anything but clear, however.

Courts tend to be behind the times in recognizing the importance of fathers in child custody cases, so consulting with a lawyer who has extensive experience in this area is critical to any father who is faced with a divorce that could jeopardize his relationship with his children.

Issues regarding adoptions by stepparents

A stepparent adoption occurs when a stepparent adopts his or her marital partner's child. Illinois residents who are considering adopting their stepchild should consider all of the positive and negative issues that may arise.

Stepparent adoptions are a type of relative adoption, which is an adoption of a child by someone who is related to the child by marriage or blood. Concerning matters of custody, inheritance, consent, surnames and other legal issues, there is no distinction that is made between a biological child and an adopted child.

Options to resolve child custody issues

Illinois parents who are going through a divorce will need to determine how to handle child custody. While it would be ideal for both spouses to always agree on how to co-parent their children after a divorce, this is not always the case. When differences do arise, there are several options available to the couple.

In some cases, the ex-spouses choose formal litigation to attempt to resolve their differences. But litigation can be costly and time consuming, and often not the best option to solve smaller custody matters, such as where the children should go to school. If the ex-spouses rely too often on litigation to solve these smaller matters, the court might order them to participate in co-parenting counseling to receive guidance in improving their relationship so they can continue to raise their children successfully after the marriage ends.

Deciding who gets the house in a divorce

Illinois couples who are getting a divorce may need to think about what they will do with the family home. If they are not able to come to an agreement on the issue, a judge may make the decision, and the couple may have no recourse. A judge might decide to give the home to one person and a retirement account to the other. While the person who gets the home might be happy with this decision, it might not be the best outcome financially due to the cost of maintaining the home.

A judge may award a house to a spouse on the grounds that it was an inheritance or has been in the family for a long time even if both spouses are on the deed. The house might also go to the custodial parent because it provides a more stable environment for the child. A judge can also make the couple sell the home and split the proceeds although the split might be based on how much each individual put into the home.

The truth behind child support obligations

Parenting can be challenging, particularly for Illinois single mothers who are relying upon child support to assist in caring for their children. Many people seem to think that some child support awards are too high, however.

Celebrities are particularly susceptible to these types of statements. Bristol Palin is a case in point. During the 2008 presidential campaign, an announcement was made that Bristol was pregnant. Eventually, the father started to complain publicly about the amount of money he had been ordered to pay in child support. The reality is that courts base their child support determinations on state guidelines if the parents are unable to come to an agreement on their own. Most states take into account the income of both parents, while others look solely at the noncustodial parent's income and ascribe a percentage to it based upon the number of children and other factors.

Prenuptial agreements should address basic issues

Illinois couples who are excited about their upcoming marriage might not want to discuss a future divorce, but good reasons for establishing protections with a prenuptial agreement exist. Common motivations for creating contract terms if the relationship dissolves include different levels of wealth and debt between the partners, property ownership and citizenship. When people decide to negotiate a prenuptial agreement, they should make decisions about assets, spousal support and estate distributions in the event of death.

In general, people often choose to designate what they bring into a union as their own. Assets gained during the marriage might then be considered jointly held. When one partner has substantially more assets or income than the other person, spousal support could be legally mandated upon divorce unless the agreement prevents it. Two people could negotiate what that payment would be or if support would be paid at all.

Ways to protect college savings during a divorce

When Illinois couples are married and have children, they are often joint account holders. This also applies to their children's college savings. While this is practical during the marriage, this can cause issues when the relationship comes to an end.

When people decide to get a divorce, they often want to create distance between themselves and their estranged spouse. They start to cancel joint checking accounts and credit cards so that they will not be on the hook for their spouse's debt. These tasks are completed in order to create a divide between the two parties. However, this is difficult to achieve when the spouses have an ongoing link: their children. When their children have assets, such as a college savings account, they often remain tied together. This can cause issues since many college savings plans allow the account holder to make important changes to the account at any point in time. This can allow a bitter spouse who does not get much time with his or her children to change the beneficiary on the account to a new child born in a subsequent marriage. Many accounts allow for non-educational withdrawals and then penalize the account holder.

How can unmarried couples protect their assets in the event of separation? P.2

Last time, we began speaking about cohabitation agreements in Illinois, and how these documents can help unmarried couples protect their assets in the event of separation and death. As we noted, crafting an enforceable cohabitation agreement in Illinois can be tricky and it is important to work with an experienced attorney to ensure it is valid and enforceable.

Two particularly important issues unmarried couples can address either within or apart from a cohabitation agreement are the titling of real property and the disposition of property at death. The way an unmarried couple holds title to real property can certainly have an impact on how the property may be dealt with in the event of separation and death.

How can unmarried couples protect their assets in the event of separation?

Previously, we wrote about a recent Illinois Supreme Court decision which highlighted the need for unmarried couples in Illinois to take steps to protect their assets in the event of separation. This is an especially important issue to address when an unmarried couple plans on commingling their assets, since doing so makes it difficult, if not impossible in some cases, to determine which assets  belongs to which party.

One solution to this issue, particularly for couples who have yet to move in together, is to negotiate a cohabitation agreement. Such an agreement can specify how assets and debts are to be handled for the duration of cohabitation, in the event of separation, and upon death. This gives an unmarried couple control over how their assets and debts are handled with respect to the relationship. 

IL Supreme Court case highlights lack of financial protections for unmarried couples

Protecting oneself financially is important whenever a long-standing relationship fails. This is as important for unmarried couples as it is for married couples. In some ways, it is more important for unmarried couples given that state law does not provide any special entitlements.

A case decided last week by the Illinois Supreme Court highlights this point well. The court ruled in the case that unmarried domestic partners do not have any rights in each other’s property when their domestic partnership ends. 

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