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DuPage County family law attorneysIf you are going through a divorce, child custody dispute, or another family law proceeding, you may be interested in learning about guardians ad litem (GALs). A GAL is a child representative who helps protect a child’s best interests during a legal proceeding. GALs are sometimes appointed to a case by a judge and they are sometimes requested by a parent who wants to ensure that his or her child’s best interests are being prioritized. A guardian ad litem can have considerable influence over the allocation of parental responsibilities and other family law concerns, so it is important to understand how the appointment of a GAL may impact your case.

GALs Are Child Advocates

A guardian ad litem is often appointed during child custody disputes and family law cases involving allegations of abuse. The GAL is specially trained in family law matters and is tasked with representing children’s best interests during legal disputes. If a GAL is appointed to your case, he or she will investigate the circumstances of the case and then make a formal recommendation to the court about the case’s outcome. During the investigation, the GAL may:

  • Conduct an evaluation of each parent’s home
  • Interview each parent about the relevant issues
  • Speak with the child about his or her thoughts, feelings, and opinions
  • Talk to siblings and other household members
  • Interview teachers, social workers, friends, childcare workers, and other people who are involved in the child’s life
  • Review the child’s school reports and medical records
  • Review the parents’ criminal records, financial documents, police reports involving any previous domestic disputes, Child Protective Services records, and other relevant documents

Cooperating with the GAL is Important

If you are like most people, you value your privacy. It may make you uncomfortable to have someone looking around your home, researching your past, or asking you questions about accusations of domestic violence. In some cases, parents may even be asked to take a drug test or undergo a mental health evaluation. While this process can be awkward, fully cooperating with the GAL is the best way to make a good impression on him or her. Provide the GAL with the information and resources he or she requests and cooperate with any investigations and interviews. Do not feel like you need to “put on a show” for the GAL or pressure your child to act differently than he or she typically does.

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Oak Brook child custody lawyerIllinois has extensive child representation laws to help protect children’s best interests when their parents are divorcing. A court may appoint one of several types of child advocates to investigate before making decisions in proceedings involving child support, custody, visitation, and allocation of parental responsibilities. To represent a child, a court can appoint an attorney, a child representative, or a Guardian Ad Litem.

A Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is a professional with specialized training to advocate on behalf of children in legal cases. He or she submits a written report that can play a significant role in divorce proceedings and he or she can be called as a witness, so it is common for parents to get nervous when a GAL interviews them. Speak with a divorce attorney who has a rich understanding of a Guardian Ad Litem’s training and responsibilities for help understanding how they fit into your case. In the meantime, here are some tips to increase your chances of making a positive impression on a GAL.

Tips for Working with a Guardian Ad Litem

Despite your best efforts to appear as an infallible parent to a GAL, you should be honest. A GAL will be taking your financial situation, mental health, physical health, and home life into consideration before writing his or her report. It is best to be forthright since there is a good chance that he or she might call your bluff and form a negative impression. For example, if money is an issue, you should work with the court and the GAL office about starting a payment plan. Late payments look more irresponsible than making accommodations for fees.

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Naperville family lawyerMarried couples can create a postnuptial agreement to predetermine what would happen if they eventually divorced or in the event of one spouse’s death. Postnuptial agreements are not, however, required to discuss every aspect of separation. Although the process of creating a postnuptial arrangement is fairly uniform, you and your spouse have the flexibility to focus your legal agreement on particular areas of your life. If you and your spouse are interested in drafting one, you can cater the legal document to pertain to your interests, assets, and finances with the help of an experienced attorney. 

Topics Couples Tend to Focus on in Postnuptial Agreements

One of the most popular reasons married couples complete a postnuptial agreement is to determine how they will divide assets and liabilities. These agreements also tend to state whether or not one spouse will provide alimony or spousal support. Spouses can waive their rights to spousal support, if they wish, to gain specific marital property. Postnuptial agreements can cover how marital property will be divided and what will happen to any property that either spouse possessed before the marriage. For those who brought a family business into their marriage, the postnup can outline what would happen with the business in case of a divorce.

If a couple has children from previous marriages, it is important to consider how either spouse’s estate would be divided after their deaths. The Illinois intestacy laws state that if someone dies without a will, his or her probate estate will be divided in half - one half goes to the deceased person’s spouse, the other goes to his or her children. If a spouse wishes for the estate to be passed to his or her children from a previous marriage, then he or she can define the terms in a postnuptial agreement.

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Naperville family law attorneysYou have probably heard of a prenuptial agreement before. Although they are often misunderstood, prenuptial agreements can be a valuable tool for spouses who take their property and financial rights seriously. Prenuptial agreements protect both spouses’ property rights in the event of a divorce and also provide an effective way for engaged couples to ensure that they are on the same page regarding property and finances before getting married. When a couple decides to address property and debt after they have already gotten married, they may choose to draft a postnuptial agreement.

Issues That Can Be Addressed by a Postnuptial Agreement

Postnuptial agreements are generally used to establish arrangements for how a married couple’s assets and debts should be handled if the marriage ends in divorce. In a postnuptial agreement, a spouse may specify that a certain asset is exempt from asset division during divorce so that they will not risk losing the property.

Spouses may choose to address issues of spousal maintenance in their postnuptial agreement as well. Sometimes called alimony or spousal support, spousal maintenance refers to the payments that a lesser earning spouse makes to the higher-earning spouse in order to mitigate the negative financial effects of divorce on the recipient spouse. Some spouses include a spousal maintenance payment arrangement that would go into effect if the marriage ends in divorce. Other spouses use their postnuptial agreement to waive their right to spousal maintenance entirely. Information about how retirement accounts and the marital home will be managed in the event of divorce are also commonly included in postnuptial agreements.

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Naperville family law attorneyAccording to recent studies, nearly 40 percent of all marriages are remarriages for at least one of the partners. While, to many, numbers such as these represent a renewed hope in the institution of marriages—which may be an accurate perspective—these estimates also indicate that more and more individuals are bringing more with them into marriage. Children from previous relationships are an increasing part of marriages, and especially affect those marrying for the second or third time. Of course, there is not a “perfect” way to approach a stepchild situation, as the dynamics of each family will depend upon countless factors. However, for some stepparents, legally adopting their stepchildren may provide a level of needed security and legal parental responsibility.

Related Adoptions

Foster care adoptions, along with domestic and international infant adoptions are certainly important for the well-being of children in need, but represent just part of the adoption story in the United States. The Child Welfare Information Gateway, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reports that adopting a stepchild is the most common form of adoption in the country today. Stepparent adoption is a type of related adoption in which a family member of the child looks to become the child’s legal parent. Compared to other forms, related adoptions are generally much simpler and no agency involvement in most cases.

Consent of Both Parents

Under Illinois law, “a reputable person of legal age” may initiate the proceedings for the adoption of a child. In a vast majority of stepparent adoption cases, the requirement of a home evaluation and other steps in the “normal” vetting process are waived due to the familiarity between the stepparent and the child. The successful adoption of a stepchild, however, will most often depend entirely upon the willingness of the child’s other parent to grant consent to the adoption. By virtue of your marriage, your spouse’s consent will not be in question, but the other parent must agree or the adoption will not take place. If the other parent cannot be found to either offer or deny consent, the court may allow the adoption to proceed at its discretion.

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