February 2010 News: The Chicago Family Law Blog

The Chicago Family Law Blog

February 2010 Archives

Divorce attorneys in Chicago are probably keeping an eye on a disputed case involving a same-sex couple that legally married in Massachusetts and now wants a legal divorce in their home state of Texas, as reported by the Austin American-Statesman.

In Illinois, it is not necessary to have been married in the state to seek a divorce here according to state law. FindLaw states that Illinois law specifically prohibits same-sex marriage, but it's not clear if that also includes divorce.

The Texas case shows that same-sex divorce is a relatively untested area of law in most states.   

Many of us who married in our thirties can look back at our high school sweethearts, college flings and short lived relationships of early adulthood with a combination of nostalgia and relief. Would any of them have worked as solid and lasting marriages?

Everyone has their own experience, but data suggests the odds are that those who marry early have a greater likelihood of getting divorced, according to the Pew Research Center. 

The above-referenced article concludes that states with the youngest brides and grooms such as Arkansas and Oklahoma had higher than normal divorce rates in 2007 and 2008. Meanwhile, Massachusetts and New York had a higher percentage of older first-time married couples and a corresponding lower rate of divorce.

This is definitely a strange child custody case. Illinois family lawyer Fred Turner successfully argued that client Michael Chekevdia deserved custody of his 7-year-old son; whom his mother allegedly hid for two years. She hid him in strange places such as "in a crawl space," according to an article in the Carmi Times. Mr. Chekevdia is the former boyfriend of the boy's mother, Shannon Wilfong.

Franklin County Circuit Court Judge Melissa Drew expressed her findings about the boy's alleged treatment by Ms. Wilfong; including exclusion from school and reported refusal to provide her address to child-welfare officials, amounted to neglect, the article reports.

Babies born to incarcerated mothers are not much different than babies born on the outside of prison: they require nutrition, affection, pediatric care and a stable domestic life. That means they can't possibly be reared behind bars without additional nursery facilities; so what happens to these children?

Child custody matters involving incarcerated parents, particularly mothers, are not one-size-fits-all.

One Chicago family law attorney representing the biological father of a prison-born child is seeking immediate custody of the girl on behalf of his client, according to a press release by the attorney's law firm. The daughter of Chicago resident Clement Bell, Ryleigh, was born to a federal prisoner in Texas and reportedly given her mother's last name.

How Divorce Affects Your Tax Return

A divorce attorney in Chicago might not be qualified to give you tax advice, but it's important to understand how divorce affects your taxes. And since the deadline for filing a tax return is only seven weeks away, now is the time to start getting prepared.

Tax preparation company H&R Block provides a concise overview of four tax tips for recent divorcees on its web site as summarized below. Additional information can found at the Internal Revenue Service web site.

Adoption of children from halfway around the world by A-list celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and Madonna has brought much attention to international and multiracial adoption. But while children in need always benefit from a good home, new research published in the journal Family Process (PDF) sheds new light on the importance of cultural identity among multiracial adoptees.

Dr. Gina Miranda Samuels, author of the study and a multiracial adoptee herself, was quoted in a press release stating the importance of identifying with one's culture of origin:

"We must question the meaning and cultural experiences (or lack thereof) beneath these labels. Furthermore, the idea of 'colorblindness' is now challenged as an effective approach in transracial parenting." 

While the most longest-lasting marriages are built on trust, mutual respect and the ability to overcome adversity, it's important to understand the role of money in matrimony. The link between money-related marital disputes and divorce rates is sobering, according to a recent study discussed at The New York Times' Economix Blog.

That study concluded that couples who disagree over money at least once a week were more than 30 percent more likely to get divorced than couples who have financial disputes only a few times per month, the NYT blog reported.

A Wall Street Journal article republished by Yahoo! Finance also asserts the notion that financial harmony often translates to marital bliss. The article suggests couples take a few moments after becoming engaged to discuss each other's financial health, attitudes toward money and perspectives on how to manage finances once they tie the knot.

In a story illustrating what can go wrong when tensions run high during a divorce, the Chicago Sun-Times reported on a Niles resident who allegedly shot his estranged wife before turning the .32 caliber pistol on himself. Gregory Vaughn was found dead from a gunshot wound to his head, while wife Amy Vaughn was reportedly listed in "stable" condition.

Police told reporters they received a 911 call from a neighbor who heard gunshots, only to find the body of Mr. Vaughn next to his wife's car. Police say they found Mrs. Vaughn yelling for help in the driver's seat of her car with a gunshot wound to her face.

She told police she had been staying with a relative in Northbrook while she and Mr. Vaughn were going through the process of divorce. 

Do Grandparents Have Visitation Rights?

In a perfect world, there would be no objections to children spending a weekend or even just an afternoon with Grandma and Grandpa. But in the real world, custodial parents might not always agree that such a visitation is in the best interests of their kids.

But while grandparents denied the joy of seeing their grandchildren may see it as their right, the truth is that Illinois law treats grandparent visitation as a "privilege" according to information provided by Illinois Legal Aid.

Getting An Annulment In Illinois

Like divorce, annulment is the legal process for ending a marriage. But that's where the similarities end since annulment is only used to end an invalid marriage or one that "should not be recognized by the state," according to information provided by Illinois Pro Bono. Still, divorce attorneys in Chicago are qualified to answer questions you may have about annulments.

Annulments are rarely ever used in Illinois because it is much more difficult to prove grounds for annulment than for a dissolution of marriage (the legal term for divorce in Illinois), according to the Southern Illinois University School of Law (PDF).

Legal Separation: Not Quite Divorce

Sometimes married couples just need a little time apart when they are not sure whether or not they ultimately would like to end the union. The process of a legal separation can help insure that each party continues to do their part to maintain the family structure, as explained by the Chicago Bar Association (CBA).

CBA describes legal separation as follows:

Legal separation is a formal arrangement set forth in an order or judgment approved by a judge. The order or judgment will set forth rules under which a husband and wife may legally live apart and will detail the responsibilities and obligations of each.

It is not necessary to hire an Illinois family lawyer, but it is advised for anyone with additional questions or special circumstances.

Do It Yourself: The Pro Se Divorce

Contested divorce in the Windy City, in which child custody or division of property is at issue, usually requires the services of a divorce attorney in Chicago; but uncontested divorce is much simpler and often can be handled "pro se" (which literally translates to "for himself"), according to a manual compiled by The Self Help Legal Center at the Southern Illinois University School of Law.

The first considerations have to do with the jurisdictional requirements and grounds for divorce, according to the self-help guide. It is not a requirement that the marriage took place in Illinois, but one of the spouses must be a resident of the state for at least 90 days before filling a petition for dissolution of marriage.

Two girls, a disabled 9-year-old and a 16-month-old, were placed in the custody of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services after police allegedly found them home alone in the middle of the night, the Chicago Tribune reports.

28-year-old single mother Arezou Khamiss of Wheaton was charged with criminal neglect of a disabled person, and endangering the life of a child, according to reporters. While her criminal charges may require the services of a criminal defense attorney, she likely will need to contact an Illinois family lawyer to pursue a child custody action.

DuPage County Circuit Judge Liam Brennan set Ms. Khamiss' bail at $30,000.

A statewide advertising blitz by Foster Kids Are Our Kids, a group representing more than 60 Illinois child welfare agencies, was launched in February 2010, according to a press release. The ad campaign consists of television, print, transit (i.e. public buses and trains) and online media ads.

The purpose behind the "In It For the Kids" marketing campaign to promote foster care in Illinois is to dispel negative stereotypes, according to Ruth Jajko, associate executive director of Lutheran Social Services Illinois, who was quoted in the press release:

"Too many people, including many who would make amazing foster parents, are put off because they only hear about foster care when there is some tragedy on the evening news."   

Republican gubernatorial front-runner Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) proposed amending the Illinois constitution to ban same-sex marriage; according the Chicago Sun-Times. Going even further than other same-sex marriage opponents, Sen. Brady reportedly plans to seek a ban on civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.

Furthermore, Sen. Brady voted against a 2005 law banning discrimination against gays and lesbians in the context of housing and employment, the Chicago Tribune reported last month. An Illinois family lawyer may be able to shed more light on the rights of same-sex domestic partnership and employment law issues.  

Illinois does not currently provide for civil unions between same-sex partners, according to an article in ChicagoPride, but Equality Illinois political director Rick Garcia told reporters that momentum is building:

"Polling in the past has indicated that Illinois voters support civil unions and there is growing support in the legislature. I am hopeful that we will pass the civil union bill sooner than later."  

Eighty-one percent of divorce attorneys surveyed by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) say the number of cases citing evidence from social networking sites has increased in the past five years, according to a press release.

One of the most popular such services is Facebook, cited in the release as a "primary source for compromising information," cited as the primary source of incriminating information by 66 percent of respondents. MySpace was the second-most popular at 15 percent, with Twitter at 5 percent. LinkedIn is another popular social networking site, catering to business people.

AAML president Marlene Eskind Moses was quoted in the release:

"If you publicly post any contradictions to previously made statements and promises, an estranged spouse will certainly be one of the first people to notice and make use of that evidence."

Study: Does Divorce Make People Happy?

Are you unhappy with your marriage? You're not alone. But before you pick up the phone and call an Illinois family attorney, perhaps it's worth answering the following question: Will a divorce really make you happier?

A study of unhappy marriages by University of Chicago researchers titled "Does Divorce Make People Happy?" attempts to shed light on that important but difficult question.

Abandoned Boy Highlights Safe Haven Law

A Chicago woman abandoned a 3-year-old boy; whom she claimed was not her own child. She then told fire fighters that she had to catch a plane to Virginia for military service, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune. 

She told the fire fighters that the toddler was her nephew, and that the boy's mother neglected to pick him up after dropping him off three days prior. She said she had to follow deployment orders and could no longer care for him, according to Police News Affairs Officer Laura Kubiak, who was interviewed for the story.    

The unidentified woman may have believed she was acting lawfully in accordance with the state's Abandoned Newborn Infant Protection Act, more commonly referred to as the "safe haven" law. However, that may not be the case.

Unmarried couples lack many of the benefits and protections extended to married couples, according to FindLaw, including hospital visitation rights. But that doesn't mean domestic partnership doesn't allow contracts, wills, powers of attorney or other legal mechanisms for the benefit of a couple's relationship.

According to the Census Bureau, there were 4.9 million unmarried couples as of 2005, including many same-sex couples who in most states are prohibited by law from marrying. 

Sure, there's nothing quite like holding your child after a long period of separation if you lost your child custody case, especially if you live too far away for regular visits or who are incarcerated. Besides the ability to hug your daughter, or hold her hand, what's the next best thing?

How about virtual visitation? ABC News reports that parents who can't physically visit their children about a relatively new law that allows virtual visitation through web-enabled video calling (i.e. Skype), email, instant messaging and telephone. For more information, should ask an Illinois family law attorney about this law.

Once a couple decides to end its marriage, one of the first things an Illinois family law attorney will do is try to determine how marital property should be divided, usually 50/50 according to FindLaw. The house, cars, kitchen appliances, savings accounts and other tangible assets are relatively easy to assess.

Deferred assets such as future pension payments have been determined to be marital property and thus subject to division, according to Illinois law (Il. General Assembly). But what about accrued sick time and vacation time earned during the marriage?

The Illinois Supreme Court answered that question in an opinion filed Feb. 4: In re Marriage of Mary Abrell and John Abrell (Il. Supreme Court). 

War veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are two to three times more likely to inflict violence against their intimate partners, spouses, or families in general, according to research from the Veterans Association. While there is no excuse for battering a loved one, PTSD is a serious injury that many believe has increased in frequency among American servicemen and women due to multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And along with the increase in PTSD among returning veterans, so too has the frequency of domestic violence, according to an article published by Associated Content citing the VA research.

Parental Alienation Syndrome And Divorce

Divorce attorneys in Chicago will tell you that not all divorces result in fits of rage or attempts to cajole the children into alienating the other parent. But despite a lack of statistics, the phenomenon of children turning against one of the divorcing parents might be quite common. 

The late psychiatrist Richard A. Gardner, M.D. first identified the clinical term "parental alienation syndrome" (or PAS) in the mid 1980s as it relates to the children of divorced or divorcing parents. He suggested that PAS was present in "most" divorces where minor children were involved. 

Unwanted pregnancies most often are the result of two consenting adults having sex either without birth control or with defective or misused contraception. But sometimes women in abusive relationships find themselves tricked or forced into pregnancies, according to a study reported by Newsweek.

Elizabeth Miller, a pediatrics expert and professor at the University of California, Davis, published the study in the journal Contraception to shed some light on what many of her contemporaries say is an underestimated phenomenon. 

Reproductive coercion, Newsweek writes, occurs "when the male partner pressures the other, through verbal threats, physical aggression, or birth-control sabotage, to become pregnant." An Illinois family law attorney could provide more clarity as to how the law handles such instances, but Miller's research finds a close correlation between reproductive coercion and physical abuse.

The Chicago Tribune reported on Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Scott Lee Cohen's withdrawal from the election. This was amid public disclosure of some troubling details about his personal life. "For the good of the people ... I will resign," Mr. Cohen told reporters at a news conference he held at a Far North Side bar.

Mr. Cohen beat out five Democratic rivals for lieutenant governor before details from his divorce file were leaked and posted on the Internet. There were revealing charges of domestic battery, along with allegations of anabolic steroid abuse and violence against his family.

Countless families where the parents practice different religions figure out how to raise children without squabbling over issues of faith; although it likely remains a contentious issue for many. However, most divorce attorneys in Chicago will say that divergent religious views create conflict among parents after a divorce, including child custody and visitation disputes.

The story of 35-year-old Chicago father Joseph Reyes is a perfect example of this type of religious conflict during a divorce. CBS News' Chicago affiliate reported that Mr. Reyes, who practices Catholicism, was blocked by a court order from exposing his daughter to religious teachings other than Judaism.