Zealous Advocacy, without falling into the trap of incivility

Going to court is not like participating in a tennis match. It's not like hitting a ball back and forth in front of the judge.  In fact, bickering in front of judge may lead the judge to direct the parties and their attorneys to wait in the courtroom until later in the day, when others' cases are handled and the judge has time to listen patiently.  I prefer to watch carefully what the judge is focusing on.  There is no need to respond in court to every statement or criticism by the other party or attorney -- only those that seem important to the judge.   It's very easy for a party to let personal criticism and comments by the other side derail a discussion of what's important.  Better to be prepared with facts, documents, and a clear theory of the case -- a truthful story of the progress of the case, the actions of the people involved, and a clear goal for the outcome.  In my experience, judges are happy to see attorneys and litigants working diligently to reach agreeme

Zealous advocacy in divorce and custody cases

The practice of family law necessarily involves negotiation, trial preparation and trial strategy, knowledge of the law, knowledge of court procedures and rules, and the ability to take a client's goals and match them against the realities of a particular situation. That is, seeking to maximize achievement of the client's goals within the constraints of the facts, the evidence and the mechanics of the legal system -- here in one of the largest court systems in the country.  I'm a hard-nosed litigator who fights for my clients. With a younger attorney serving as my co-counsel, I recently fought an 8-day divorce and custody trial (successfully) in Cook County Circuit Court against one of the largest family-law firms in Chicago.  They admitted billing their client over $230,000 -- my client was billed less than $80,000. The other side appealed the trial court's decision, and the Appellate Court upheld it on every point - down to the last dollar of child support.   Whil

Dividing Assets in a divorce case

In an Illinois divorce case, the law classifies assets into two basic categories: non-marital and marital .   Section 503 of the Illinois Marriage Act, officially known as “ 750 ILCS 5/503 Disposition of property and debts,” says that “ Marital Property” is  “... all property, including debts and other obligations, acquired by either spouse subsequent to the marriag e ,” and then lists several categories of “ non-marital property ” under its section (a): “(1) property acquired by gift, legacy or descent or property acquired in exchange for such property; (2) property acquired in exchange for property acquired before the marriage; (3) property acquired by a spouse after a judgment of legal separation; (4) property excluded by valid agreement of the parties, including a premarital agreement or a postnuptial agreement; (5) any judgment or property obtained by judgment awarded to a spouse from the other spouse except, however, when a spouse is required to sue the other spouse in ord

Best to rely on family-law advice from a Licensed Illinois Attorney

Many people suffer with family problems that can only be resolved in the court system. Divorce, custody, abuse, parenting-time disputes, unwanted or unexpected relocation of children to other areas or states -- these are just some of the conflicts and issues that often require court intervention. The question is how to move through a complicated legal system as smoothly and efficiently as possible. The reason is that inefficiency and delay can be very, very expensive! I practice law in Cook County Circuit Court, one of the largest court systems in the country. There are procedures, rules and laws that govern the proceedings in and out of the courtroom. It's a constantly-shifting landscape, and it's important not to get your advice from family and friends who have had “similar” cases or who think they know how the system works. If you live in Cook County, Illinois, or have a case in Cook County, then only a licensed Illinois attorney, steeped in the laws, rules and procedures

Children are Children - leave them out of the adult conflict

Divorce and child-custody cases are very stressful, and it's important to shield the children from that stress as much as possible. By discussing the details of court proceedings with a child, or showing documents to a child, severe damage can be caused. The child can suffer emotional scars that can last for years and that will affect that child’s ability to have normal relationships. So, my advice to a client when asked questions by his or her child about divorce or about the progress of a court case is just simply tell that child, “You are my child, you will always be loved, you will always have a place to live and you will always have food and clothing. The adults will handle everything else.” If you would like to discuss you particular divorce, custody or other family-law situation with a licensed Illinois attorney, please give me a call, seven days a week, at 312-493-4241. - Kevin Johnson

Good fences make good neighbors

Why is it important to have very specific language in court orders, parenting agreements and divorce settlement documents? You could look at this like the orange line painted down the middle of a highway. You wouldn't make that line with chalk! No, you'd want to use paint that would be permanent, and that would stand the test of time. Similarly, the language of a court order defines each party's rights and responsibilities, their areas of influence and the limitations on their behavior. Especially when children are involved, it's very important that those limitations be clearly set forth. Just as you would not want the center line on the highway painted with chalk, you don't want the language of your court orders or agreements to use words like “reasonable” or “accommodate the changing needs of the children,” or “either party can cancel his or her parenting time upon 48 hours’ notice.” This is just going to cause day-to-day and week-to-week stress, due to the unpr

Circling the airport?

Have you ever felt that your case is going around and around in circles without going anywhere?  Continuance after continuance, without seeming to move the case forward? One analogy that I use in handling family law cases is that of a pilot of a small plane. I say that I'm like the pilot, and my client is like a passenger in my two-seater plane. I need to know which airport my client wants to go to, that's the goal for the case. If a client would say to me, “I want everything that I'm entitled to, “or “I just want the best outcome possible,” I have to slow down, and be very specific in defining the client's goals. Obviously, no one wants to pay to circle the airport endlessly.   There has to be a constant push toward resolving and completing the case. If you find yourself in a situation that might require a first or second opinion from a licensed Illinois attorney, please give me a call. 312-493-4241,  7 days a week. - Kevin Johnson

Divorce and custody agreements are essentially Contracts

As I have said many times, careful care and attention must be paid to the wording of divorce and custody agreements, since they will be subject to opposing parties' interpretations, and have to be clear and 'unambiguous' in order to weather years of use. I noticed this 2018 article about the importance of commas  in business contracts and criminal laws, and I thought it worth including: I believe in being very, very careful to draft agreements and court orders that have staying power -- that can stand up to years of use, and to a variety of people using them to guide their own behavior and to hold others to account for their behavior. If you're being presented with a long, complicated marital settlement agreement, allocation judgment or other court order that will be governing your life for the next several years -- and you would like a different perspective -- please give me

Child custody, divorce and lies

People seem so surprised that lies are told in court during child custody and divorce cases. Over the years, I've learned that judges tend to be skeptical of spin, and almost hungry for actual facts and documents. If you're trying to show that the opposing party in your case is untruthful, be prepared to show documents that contradict his or her story. Use text messages, email messages, bank statements, pay stubs, pictures, whatever you can gather to bolster your case and show that you are the truthful one. If you find yourself waging a court battle for your future, the integrity of your assets, or the future of your children and their health and safety, and you would like to sit down for a detailed analysis, please give me a call. - Kevin Johnson   312-493-4241 (cell)

Divorce and Custody - Reimbursement myth

I've been learning recently more about the psychology of enforcing marital settlement agreements, and other agreements between parents. Especially in the area of dividing expenses, always a contentious issue. There's a common misperception that a 50/50 split of children's expenses means that when one parent pays an expense, and provides a receipt to the other parent, that parent's obligation is to refund or reimburse 50% of that amount to the other parent. That is not the case! If the obligation of each parent is to pay 50% of the children's expenses of some kind, or 50% of uncovered medical expenses, then any petition or motion seeking to enforce that 50/50 provision should take into account how much the other parent has already paid independently toward children's expenses and medical expenses. To simply say "I paid this money,  you me owe half" completely misses the point, and is not what these paragraphs mean . If you want the other side to have to

Divorce and custody cases made easy (-er)

It's important that you discuss with your attorney the psychological aspects of your divorce or custody case. Advice that is limited only to the legal aspects of the case is practically worthless in a family situation, since it leads to wheel-spinning and the massive overuse of expensive attorney time and Court time. Your children are very aware of the conflict between their parents, and sometimes find themselves whipsawed emotionally as they pass from one hostile household to another. You need a day-to-day strategy for dealing with this. How parents behave, whether they rise above the chaos and show True Leadership, can really make an impact on the children's lives, their social and emotional development, and their ability to have healthy relationships. This has nothing to do with "taking the high road," as has been mentioned in books and websites. Nothing of the sort. What's necessary is to think ahead, plan actions in advance that will help your case Move Al

Divorce, domestic violence, internet-connected devices

Here's a link to a 2018 New York Times article,  detailing how some people feel manipulated and controlled by their abuser, due to the existence of internet-connected devices in their home. These can include thermostats, Amazon Echo, Google home,  and other appliances that are  controllable through a smartphone app  or other internet means. Thermostats, Locks and Lights: Digital Tools of Domestic Abuse New York Times article If you are in an emergency situation, where your safety is being immediately threatened, you should call 911, or go to your family doctor, counselor or emergency room. If your children have witnessed abuse, they should be brought along to be interviewed. In the Chicago area, there are many, many resources for victims of domestic violence and their families, including free counseling, free shelters, free food and other assistance. If you would like to have a confidential discussion of your particular situation, please find a safe place where you can talk, give m

Why it is BAD to obtain information about the other household through your children

I meet many people who insist on talking with their children about the other parent's household. Parents who are separated think that they see their child's true personality and their unforced, natural behavior. In reality, under the tremendous performance pressure of passing back and forth between hostile households, children tailor their behavior, their words and actions, to the particular parent. For Dad, they talk negatively about Mom and appear reluctant to go to Mom's house.  For Mom, they complain about Dad's girlfriend, about Dad's strange behavior, about how bored they are at Dad's house and they express reluctance to go to Dad's house. It's a perfect storm of misinformation!  Both parents, hearing negative things about the other parent, believe that they are winning the war for their child's love and affection. Each of them believes that they are gaining and are now more likely to become the majority-time parent. The child, with full know