The Chicago Family Law Blog

March 2010 Archives

A year-old Chicago Tribune article discusses the legalization of same-sex marriage in the neighboring state of Iowa, the result of a judicial ruling from the state's highest court. While Illinois courts do not recognize same-sex unions, what if a gay couple from Illinois got married in Iowa and decided to call it quits a few months later?

It's not so unusual among heterosexual couples, of which roughly half end in divorce.

But would this hypothetical same-sex couple have legal standing for divorce in a state that doesn't recognize their marital status? Divorce attorneys in Chicago may have a more definitive answer, but a recent NBC Philadelphia article sheds some light on this dilemma.

An unusual lawsuit from Granite City filed by Thomas Dodd involves tort claims but also brings up questions of family law; as reported by The Madison Record. Mr. Dodd, who is divorcing his wife Carol Dodd, is also suing her for fraud after she allegedly forged his signature and cashed out an investment that was solely in his name.

But here's where the "bizarre set of facts," as Madison County Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder worded it, comes in: Mr. Dodd claims his wife left him in a bathtub without food for two days after he fell and became injured.

Mr. Dodd claims that Ms. Dodd had a duty to help him after he fell and became immobile; by virtue of their marriage. But Ms. Dodd's attorney, Illinois family law attorney Alexander Wilson, argued that Illinois law does not recognize any special obligation of spouses.

Any divorce attorneys in Chicago care to tackle that one?

Instances of otherwise mature adults letting their emotions get out of control in family court are likely fairly common. To wit, the Chicago Daily Herald reported about a father who was arrested on charges that he threw two raw eggs at a DuPage County judge

No one was hurt when 40-year-old Naperville dad Agim Demiri allegedly hurled an egg at Judge Timothy J. McJoynt that "narrowly missed" him; a second thrown egg landing nearby. Deputies arrested Mr. Demiri, who did not resist and he later apologized for his outburst.

Judge McJoynt did not pursue assault and battery charges, but found him in contempt of court and ordered him to serve seven days in jail. No mention was made of an Illinois family lawyer, who no doubt would have advised against throwing the eggs.

The Chicago Tribune provided an update to the ongoing child-rearing dispute between Joseph Reyes and (soon to be) ex-wife Rebecca Shapiro. As was widely reported by local and national press, Mr. Reyes was barred by court order from exposing his 3-year-old daughter to Catholicism because of objections from Ms. Shapiro.

Mr. Reyes, along with his Illinois family lawyer, argued that the courts have no business deciding whether one religion is more or less harmful to a child than another. He wanted to be able to take his daughter to Easter service at his Catholic parish but the most recent ruling bars him from doing so.

While it may sound outrageous on the surface, it's not a departure from established law.

The New Yorker published an article about how the so-called "mancession," a made-up term describing how more men than usual are affected by job insecurity during the current recession, just might be a boon to the marriage therapy industry.  

While the author points out that Americans are among the most "marryingest" and the most "divorcingest" people on earth, she says most couples simply can't afford a divorce right now.

The solution?

It may not work for everyone, but an increasing number of Chicagoans (and Americans in general) too broke to hire a divorce attorney in Chicago may be entering marriage therapy instead. The perspective of many Americans during tough economic times seems to be this: If you can't afford to end it, you may as well make the best of it.

In a case that would puzzle any Illinois family law attorney, it seems like a child custody battle may be the cause of a tragic double homicide. Roughly one year has passed since a Joliet couple was found shot to death in their home, the Chicago Tribune reports. Brian and Angela Charles were survived by their two-year-old son, Sean, who was asleep in his crib.

Sadly, murder is nothing new to the greater Chicago area. But what's unique about this particular cold case is the heated child custody trial that was set to begin just a few weeks after the couple was killed execution-style.

Mr. Charles' former wife, 31-year-old Kathleen Rundle had sought custody of their two children. That in itself probably is no reason to suspect she had anything to do with the murders, but there's more to this story.

North Carolina-based divorcee Cynthia Shackelford successfully invoked a seldom-used law to sue the woman who allegedly was responsible for her divorce, as reported by CBS News. Meanwhile, ex-husband Allan Shackelford insists that his relationship with the other woman was not the reason the marriage failed. 

Regardless, Ms. Shackelford was able to prove that Anne Lundquist broke up her marriage and was awarded $9 million: $5 million in compensatory damages and another $4 million in punitive damages.

The law is called "alienation of affection" and has been overturned in all states except North Carolina and six others, including Illinois. It's a remnant of common law that is rarely used, but it allows spouses (or ex-spouses) to sue the person he or she believes is responsible for ending a marriage.

You can't make this stuff up. Jesse James, husband of Oscar-winning actress Sandra Bullock, allegedly had an affair with heavily inked L.A. stripper and model Michelle "Bombshell" McGee, as profiled by ABC News. It's no big deal, at least within the context of celebrity affairs.

Meanwhile, Mr. James maintains custody of a 6-year-old daughter he fathered with ex-wife and former porn star Janine Lindemulder, also profiled by ABC.

Ms. Lindemulder, once convicted of tax evasion, and current husband (and convicted felon) Jeremy Aikman were found to be unfit parental figures in an Orange County, Ca. court last December, as reported by ABC News. Full custody of the girl, Sunny, was granted to Mr. James.   

But the pair believes Mr. James' alleged affair with the tattooed "Bombshell" will help them regain custody of Sunny.

Chicago family law attorneys will tell you that the marital communications privilege allows married couples to refuse to testify against one another with respect to things said or written, as explained by LawBrain. It is similar to the exceptions granted to communication between priest and penitent, attorney and client, and doctor and patient.

But a piece of state legislation may carve out an exception to this privilege in cases of suspected sex crimes against a child, the Morris Daily Herald reported.

Specifically, the bill (H.B. 5666) would expand the existing exception to allow a spouse to testify before a grand jury for his or her spouse's alleged sex crimes against a child. Current law holds that an individual can testify to otherwise privileged communications only once his or her spouse has been charged with a crime. The bill unanimously passed the House and only recently was read in the state Senate.

Blake Dawson lived only 89 days before he was found face down on March 13 in his family's Belleville trailer home and later pronounced dead, according to the Belleville News-Democrat. The death of an infant is tragic in itself, but the Dept. of Children and Family Services is under fire for what many have said was a preventable death.

Blake was one of Angela M. Laquet's and Michael W. Dawson's eight children, six of whom were taken by the DCFS and adopted into other families through a court order. A 17-year-old daughter, the oldest, remains with her parents. The parents have not been charged with a crime but reporters want to know why Blake was not removed from the home.

Forensic psychologist Steven N. Shapse, who was quoted by reporters, also wants to know why the infant remained in the home:

"Looking at a family where they (DCFS) come to this determination that the mother or the parents were not competent as parents, I don't know why they wouldn't remove all the children." 

One of the oft-repeated sound bites of the 2004 presidential election was the issue of "traditional family values," poorly defined but claimed by Republicans as a conservative principle. In short, the conservative or "red" states were all about family values, while liberal or "blue" states were generally permissive.

As with most political generalizations, that stark division reinforced by the media was more myth than reality. You could say we're all shades of purple.

But a new federal study discussed in a Christian Science Monitor column pokes more holes in the flimsy, "red-state, blue-state" facade.

When a marriage just doesn't work out but no one is really to blame, often there's nothing left to do but shrug one's shoulders and contact a divorce attorney in Chicago (or wherever). The so-called "no-fault" divorce is defined by FindLaw as one in which neither party blames the other for the failed marriage.   

FindLaw describes "fault" divorce, on the other hand, as one involving one or more of the following allegations by either party:

  • Cruelty
  • Adultery
  • Desertion
  • Imprisonment
  • Previously unknown inability to have sexual intercourse

Plenty of divorces end because the parties simply don't like each other anymore or have grown apart for whatever reason. But the Chicago Marriage Examiner interviewed the coordinator for an organization that hopes to end no-fault divorce, currently protected under federal law.

State law allows birth parents, adult adoptees and adoptive parents of minor adoptees to apply to the Illinois Adoption Registry, according to the US Dept. of Health and Human Services. Otherwise, birth records of adoptees and related information is held in strict confidentiality. 

The registry allows those who wish to find their birth parents or (or vice-versa) to register, meaning at least one of the adoptee's birth parents must also register. Information may include the name and last known address of the consenting individual, a copy of the consenting person's registry application and/or a copy of the adoptee's original birth certificate.

But an advancing piece of legislation would allow adults adopted as children easier access to their birth certificates, as reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 

New York Daily News reported that British actor Jude Law finally met his six-month-old daughter Sophia, now six months old, for the first time. He also delivered the details of his child support and visitation arrangements with Sophia and her mother, model Samantha Burke.

Mr. Law's attorney drafted an agreement that entitles Ms. Burke to roughly $5,000 per month in child support. The agreement also outlines his visitation rights, according to an unnamed friend of Ms. Burke quoted by the paper:

"His visit was fleeting and seemed mainly businesslike. Jude will visit his daughter at least twice a year, once around Christmas."

Mr. Law met Ms. Burke in 2008 when he was filming "Sherlock Holmes" in Manhattan and the two engaged in a short-lived fling. Mr. Law has three other children from a previous marriage. It seems as if Mr. Law opted to share more of his money with his new daughter than his time, if Ms. Burke's friend is right about the visitation agreement.

But what about unmarried Chicago parents who are not movie stars?

FindLaw explains how matters of child custody and visitation are determined by the consideration of what's best for the child. Therefore, a parent who is abusive in all likelihood will not be given custody and may at best be granted supervised visitation rights. 

But what if one of the parents has a bad habit of kicking the family dog? Can a divorce attorney in Chicago use such information in court? First let's look at the correlation between animal cruelty and domestic violence. 

Individuals who mentally or physically abuse their spouse and/or children often abuse their pet as well, according to statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence cited by the organization Jewish Women International (JWI). Abusers might harm pets "to assert even more dominance and power over his human victims," according to JWI.

Marriage & Taxes: An Overview

You may have fond memories of your wedding night: The outpouring of support from family and friends, the presents, the week in that tropical paradise. But now it's time to file your taxes as a married couple for the first time.

It's not nearly as much fun as doing the Macarena or shoving wedding cake in your partner's face, but careful preparation can help ease the pain of tax time.

A column in Kiplinger's Personal Finance covers some general information about filing as a married couple for the first time. The columnist, Kimberly Lankford, answers a question sent by a reader who was married on Dec. 16. Since she was single for all but 15 days of the year, she wants to know if she should file separately.

If you're like most married couples, nearly all of your friends also happen to be your spouse's friends. Married couples tend to spend time with other married couples, so what happens to these shared friendships when a marriage ends in divorce?

It would be nice if divorce attorneys in Chicago (or anywhere else) could negotiate an equitable division of "marital friendships," but of course it doesn't work that way.

But what if those friendships also happen to be family members, as a letter written to Chicago Tribune advice column "Ask Amy" illustrates?

A federal law that's been on the books for nearly 12 years makes it a crime to cross state lines in an attempt to avoid paying child support, as a 1998 CNN article explains. The so-called Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act (DPPA) makes the offense a felony under federal law.

Parents who regularly worry whether or not their ex (or former partner) will pay child support have little to lose by contacting an Illinois family lawyer, many of whom provide free initial consultations. But if it exceeds the threshold of the DPPA, it becomes a criminal matter as well. 

Parents owing $10,000 or more in payments or who haven't paid support in more than two years can face up to two years in prison if convicted. If a parent is more than one year or more than $5,000 behind in payments, the offender faces misdemeanor charges.

Giving Birth To Your Adopted Child

A recent entry by Illinois blogger and health care executive Dr. Robert Parker, M.D. discusses how Illinois law mandates the coverage of infertility care, which he says otherwise could cost a couple about $35,000 annually.

Coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of infertility, including in-vitro fertilization and other such procedures, is one of several categories of medical services that are mandated for coverage by the Illinois Dept. of Insurance (PDF).

The main thrust of the article concerns mandated coverage regulations in Illinois, but Dr. Parker also discusses the increasingly popular practice of embryo adoption, which falls under the mandate for coverage. He points out that since adoption costs are not a mandated benefit for insurance coverage, embryo adoption won't break the bank.

The Belleville News-Democrat reported on the disturbing case of a 6-month-old boy caught in a messy custody and visitation dispute in the wake of his half-brother's murder more than a year ago. Scott Endicott claims the child, Colin Schoolfield, is his and is seeking legal paternity.

But Mr. Endicott remains in custody himself, accused of beating his girlfriend's son (the baby's toddler half-brother, Joseph) to death. So while he prepares his defense to murder charges, he is working with Illinois family lawyer Jay J. Zanton in his effort to claim Colin as his son. Legal paternity has not yet been established.

Valerie Schoolfield also remains behind bars and faces similar murder charges linked to the boy's beating death while her son Colin is in the custody of Ms. Schoolfield's mother, Magdalene Oates. Ms. Oates filed for custody 13 days after Colin's birth.

Joseph Walczak, an Illinois family law attorney who writes a legal advice column in the Southtown Star, recently answered a question from a woman whose fiancĂ© wants a prenuptial agreement (or "prenup" for short). He earns more money and has more assets than she does, so it may serve his interests more than hers. 

But she wants to know if it's in her best interests and ultimately whether or not she should sign it. It's a touchy prospect to sign a contract detailing how property should be divided after a divorce when the couple is not yet even married.

Mr. Walczak tells her that any prenuptial agreement could "substantially limit [her] rights" if the marriage ends or if her spouse dies, which is kind of the point of the prenup.

The Belleville New-Democrat reports that the downstate triple-murder of 31-year-old Sheri Coleman and her two sons, 11-year-old Garett and 9-year-old Gavin, may have been motivated by her estranged husband's desire for a new family. Christopher Coleman now stands accused of the three murders and remains held without bail.

So instead of hiring an Illinois family law attorney and divorcing Ms. Coleman, he'll now have to defend against three counts of first-degree murder. 

Police records indicate that Mr. Coleman told his wife he wanted a divorce but that she told his employer, televangelist Joyce Meyer, who then told Mr. Coleman he could no longer work security at her organization. One has to wonder if things may have turned out differently had he been able to keep his job and pursue the divorce.

Mr. Coleman reportedly not only wanted out of his marriage but allegedly sought an entirely new family. 

If asked, most people would probably say that gun-ownership advocates and same-sex marriage proponents have very little in common. One group supports a strict reading of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution, while the other group wants the same rights and privileges available to heterosexual couples.

But both groups have something to gain if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiff in a case challenging the constitutionality of Chicago's 28-year-old ban on handgun ownership, according to a CNN article.

Confused? Most people who are not Illinois family law attorneys or constitutional lawyers probably are, but first let's summarize the case before the nation's highest court.

Prosecutors say Jacob Nodarse stalked and murdered 50-year-old Jeff Kramer, his 48-year-old wife Lori Kramer and their 20-year-old son Michael Kramer at close range, as reported by the Chicago Daily Herald. Angela Kramer, a 25-year-old mother, survived the shooting by hiding in an upstairs closet.

Michael's girlfriend (identified only as Tina) and another son, Anthony Kramer, also survived the attack.

But while Mr. Nodarse allegedly pulled the trigger, prosecutors say he did so at the behest of his friend Johnny Borizov, Angela's ex-boyfriend and the father of her 13-month-old son.

Angela lived to witness the execution-style murder of more than half of her family even though she may have been the prime target. Mr. Borizov stands accused of masterminding the murders as revenge for a reportedly bitter child custody battle with her and by extension, her family.

But there's plenty of disagreement over this theory.

Most of us know that marital property is divided by the court in divorce proceedings, often 50/50. But with so many families struggling and in the red these days, how is debt handled when a marriage ends?

As with marital property, an astute divorce attorney in Chicago can best help you determine how marital debt should be parceled out. But understanding the basics is a smart first step. 

Marital debt includes debts incurred after the date of marriage and it doesn't matter which party is actually responsible, according to the Illinois Legal Advocate. So if your husband ran up a $50,000 gambling debt during the marriage, it's a shared burden in most situations. FindLaw says that assets and debts accumulated during marriage are subject to equitable distribution upon divorce in Illinois.

Few Americans would argue that military servicemen and women should automatically be denied custody of their children because they are deployed overseas. But it must also be said that raising a child when you're halfway around the world is a challenging prospect, to say the least.

It's a difficult situation with few clear solutions. One controversial federal bill introduced on Jan.19 would amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act by prohibiting a court from "modifying or amending any previous judgment or order" relating to child custody, as detailed by GovTrack.

In other words, it seeks to protect deployed military servicemembers from losing custody of their children.

Anyone who interferes with court-ordered visitation, child custody or a protective order would be fined $100 for each violation if an Illinois state bill becomes law. The bill is sponsored in the House by Rep. Robert W. Pritchard (R).

The bill (HB 5942) would amend a number of statutes. Ninety percent of the fine would go toward the state's Domestic Violence Victims Assistance Fund in the treasury, while the other ten percent would pay for administrative costs.

Introduced and read last month in the House by Rep. Pritchard, the bill was assigned to the Civil Law Committee on March 2.

Nothing can bring back 9-year-old Duncan Connolly or 7-year-old Jack Connolly, two boys who were murdered by their father one year ago. But mother Amy Leichtenberg hopes a change in the law will prevent other parents from going through similar tragedies, as reported by the Associated Press and republished by ABC Chicago.

Since the boys were with their father when they went missing, authorities failed to issue an Amber Alert. Current law requires that missing children must be determined to be in danger before such an alert is triggered.

Ms. Leichtenberg, who had been in visitation disputes with ex-husband Michael Connolly for years, believes changes in child custody and child abduction laws could have prevented the tragedy:

"What I would like to see happen is when children are not returned, and an order of protection is in place that blankets the children, the Amber Alert should be issued immediately."

Prosecutors say Jacob Nodarse stalked and murdered 50-year-old Jeff Kramer, his 48-year-old wife Lori Kramer and their 20-year-old son Michael Kramer at close range, as reported by the Chicago Daily Herald. Angela Kramer, a 25-year-old mother, survived the shooting by hiding in an upstairs closet.

Michael's girlfriend (identified only as Tina) and another son, Anthony Kramer, also survived the attack.

But while Mr. Kramer allegedly pulled the trigger, prosecutors say he did so at the behest of his friend Johnny Borizov, Angela's ex-boyfriend and the father of her 13-month-old son.

Angela lived to witness the execution-style murder of more than half of her family even though she may have been the prime target. Mr. Borizov stands accused of masterminding the murders as revenge for a reportedly bitter child custody battle with her, and by extension her family.

But there's plenty of disagreement over this theory.


A column by father advocate Glenn Sacks talks about the case of Illinois resident Richard O. Phillips, who six years ago engaged in oral sex with then-girlfriend Sharon Irons. No big deal, except two years later when Mr. Phillips was served with a paternity suit.

DNA tests confirmed that Mr. Phillips indeed was the child's father and he was ordered to pay $800 in monthly child support. Ms. Irons eventually admitted that she saved his sperm and impregnated herself and he followed up with a suit of his own, claiming emotional distress from the incident.

His suit claims he was haunted by "feelings of being trapped in a nightmare" and that he had trouble sleeping and eating.

The case of a Hoffman Estates mother's attempt to regain custody of her 9-year-old son Tejas, discussed by Chicago Daily Herald columnist Burt Constable, goes beyond state and even federal law. Malini Byanna's son is in the custody of her wealthy and politically connected ex-husband Vikram Akula, who is thousands of miles away in India.

Mr. Constable says Illinois family law attorneys are calling this international struggle "one of the most important and complicated custody cases ever."

Ms. Byanna faces monumental hurdles, not least of which is a 62-page decision by a judge in India granting Mr. Akula custody of Tejas. The boy was baptized as a Christian, but Ms. Byanna claims Mr. Akula lied to the court to take advantage of what she calls a legal system that favors Hindus and males in such proceedings.

Eighty percent of custodial parents are women and custodial mothers are twice as likely to live at or below the poverty line as custodial fathers, according to a report by the Center for American Progress entitled "The Straight Facts on Women in Poverty" (PDF).

Also, the standard 50/50 splitting of assets often leaves women broke for a number of reasons, according to certified financial divorce practitioner Carol Ann Wilson. Her article entitled "How to Help Older Divorcing Women Avoid the Bag Lady Blues" appears at the Encyclopedia Britannica's web site.

She explains how even the most highly polished divorce attorneys in Chicago sometimes overlook how the husband's career assets, such as health insurance and sick pay, impact finances:

Divorced women are swelling the poverty rolls. Why? The courts are trying to split the marital property 50/50, yet they traditionally overlook one major asset of a marriage: the husband's career.

Chicago dad James Coman sued the doctors who treated his 7-year-old son for autism, claiming they harmed him with "dangerous and unnecessary experimental treatments," according to the Chicago Tribune. Divorce court records cited by the Tribune claim the boy's mother is a proponent of the therapies.

Autism is a term that covers a wide variety of developmental brain disorders that often impact socialization and relationships with others, according to Autism Speaks. 

Reliable figures are difficult to come by, but one parent of an autistic child interviewed for a Washington Post article cites a commonly quoted divorce rate of 80 to 85 percent for parents of disabled or chronically ill children.

If the rate is anywhere near that high, then most divorce attorneys in Chicago are likely familiar with the disorder. 

A USA Today article from several years ago highlights a film about a teenage girl whose poetry reflects her "yearning for her absent dad." It's a work of fiction, but studies show that girls whose fathers aren't around as they grow up because of a divorce or otherwise, lack important guidance.

That means divorce attorneys in Chicago and elsewhere should do whatever they can to negotiate adequate visitation of daughters by their fathers; based solely on the premise that it's in the best interests of developing girls.

San Diego psychologist Constance Ahrons, author of The Good Divorce, told the newspaper that girls isolated from their fathers tend to idealize the absent dad and yearn for attention. But she says, this doesn't always play out in healthy ways:

"They're seeking 'the good dad' out there. [Boys yearn, too] but it tends to get translated into sexuality only for girls."

While some religious groups may still frown upon the act of living together as a couple before getting married, an article in USA Today cites a study concluding that prenuptial cohabitation has little effect on the ultimate success of the union. The report by the National Center for Health Statistics based its findings on a sample of nearly 13,000 families.

So even though the number of cohabitating couples and children born out of wedlock continue to climb, according to another USA Today article, it doesn't translate into a corresponding increased demand for divorce attorneys in Chicago.

Past research, according to the first article, indicated that those who described themselves as "not married but living together with a partner of the opposite sex" in fact did have a higher divorce rate after marriage.

So what has changed?

Minor Emancipation 101

FindLaw describes minor emancipation as a court process whereby a minor assumes the responsibilities of an adult, meaning he or she must support him or herself (in most cases) and is no longer under the care of his or her parents. Individuals are legally treated as adults in Illinois upon their eighteenth birthday, while minors as young as 16 may petition for emancipation.

A minor seeking emancipation would benefit from contacting an Illinois family lawyer first.

The court considers the following: Best interests of the minor, maturity level of the minor and ability of the minor to support him or herself financially. Minors are automatically considered emancipated when they join the armed forces, get married, or turn 18.

Adopting a dog or cat is often one of the first things couples do together after they get married. A study by the State University of New York at Buffalo even suggests that couples who own cats or dogs generally have better relationships and respond better to stress than their non-pet-owning counterparts. 

But when marriages end in divorce, divorce attorneys in Chicago can't really do much in the way of visitation or other custody issues typically associated with children.

That's because, as Chicago Daily Herald columnist Burt Constable says, pets have "no more civil rights than a table lamp." The key word is "ownership," which is exactly how Illinois law treats pets in divorce proceedings.

The divorce rate for Army soldiers after deployment has risen steadily over the past three years, according to Department of Defense statistics cited by the Belleville News-Democrat. In an effort to help soldiers and their families cope with the pressures of deployment and ultimately reverse this trend, the Illinois National Guard is holding training seminars for its clergy in March.

About 19,000 Illinois National Guard servicemen and women have been deployed to active duty since September 2001, the article reports.

A press release from the state's National Guard provides some more details about its "Tying the Yellow Ribbon" campaign, consisting of 10 so-called "Reintegration Family Academies" that are open to families with a deployed soldier in any branch of the military. However, the Guard notes that the seminars are specifically targeted to families of soldiers in the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

A Daily Herald story about a Fox River Grove woman who admitted to selling her ex-boyfriend's speed boat illustrates what can go wrong when a couple that jointly owns property breaks up without deciding how that property should be handled. Kathleen M. Helman initially was arrested on felony charges after selling the unidentified man's 1998 Wellcraft Scarab. 

While the couple was never married or in a legal domestic partnership. But both parties were named on the boat's title and Ms. Helman said she was left with the monthly payments after her ex allegedly left her for another woman. She claims she couldn't afford to make the payments, so she sold the boat.

A heated dispute between Joseph Reyes and Rebecca Shapiro over the spiritual upbringing of their young daughter following the Chicago couple's 2008 divorce has grabbed headlines across the country. While Ms. Shapiro insists on raising daughter Ela exclusively Jewish, Mr. Reyes would like to expose Ela to Catholicism as well.

ABC News provides a decent overview of the dispute, which centers around a court order preventing Mr. Reyes from exposing Ela to religions other than Judaism. Many of us have read about the debate or perhaps saw the ABC News television report, but how does Illinois state law treat the matter?  

Adoption is a process that gives countless children a second chance at something many people take for granted: A family. But often adoptees curious about their genetic and cultural heritage eventually seek the identity of their birth parents, usually after they themselves have become adults.

But according to the experiences recounted by Peoria adoptee Gina Martin, whose letter was published by the Peoria Journal Star, it's a difficult and often painful process in Illinois.

She begins her letter by expressing gratitude to both her adoptive family and the woman who gave her life more than four decades ago. However, Ms. Martin expresses the "heartache and financial unfairness" of the fact that her birth records are sealed and that she has to pay roughly $395 to have those records reviewed by a mediator:

What a racket that I have to pay someone to access my records, and even then I may not get any more information than I had prior to paying the state of Illinois.

Divorce proceedings, known in the Illinois law parlance as a "dissolution of marriage," involve many moving parts. But while opposing divorce attorneys in Chicago quibble over the details of how property is split, matters of child custody often can't wait until the entire case is resolved. 

That was the Illinois Supreme Court's rationale behind its recent rule amendment, which allowed parents to appeal child custody issues before the entire case is initially resolved, as explained by the Illinois State Bar Association. The Feb. 26 amendment adds "custody judgment" to the list of "Judgments and Orders Appealable Without Special Finding" under Supreme Court Rule 304.

But instead of getting tripped up over the legal lingo, it helps to just look at the intent of the amendment and what it actually means for divorcing parents with custody disputes.

A two-year old child that police say was left unattended at a Chicago Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza restaurant was taken into the custody of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), according to an article in the Chicago Tribune. The two-year-old girl is expected to remain in custody until DCFS completes its investigation.

The mother, whose name was not released by police, might consider contacting an Illinois family law attorney to help her get her child back. But according to her statements to police, the girl was abandoned by accident due to a mix-up with the girl's aunt.

Two-year-old children obviously require supervision, so what happened? 

Although the State of Illinois does not legally recognize same-sex marriage, the Chicago Tribune reports that this year's federal census will allow gay and lesbian couples in otherwise committed relationships to be counted. Illinois allows same-sex couples to register as domestic partners.

The article profiles North Side women, Ellen Meyers and Elena Yatzeck, who simply changed the pronouns in a traditional Christian prayer book for a 2008 commitment ceremony attended by more than 200 friends and family members.

Although any Illinois family lawyer will say it did nothing to change their legal status, the women claim the ritual "changed how they perceived us" (referring to those who attended the festivities). 

Now the federal government finally will perceive them as more than just roommates.

Illinois residents who weren't hiding under a rock for the past month know all about disgraced Lt. governor nominee Scott Lee Cohen, who the Chicago Sun-Times says spent $2 million dollars on his campaign despite owing his ex-wife $54,000 in child support. Reporters digging into his divorce files found numerous other outrageous claims as well.

But Mr. Cohen's delinquency in paying child support for on behalf of his four children raises an important question: How did he get so far in his campaign (i.e. he won) while thumbing his nose at the state laws he purportedly was prepared to enforce as Lt. governor?

That's the question Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell attempted to answer, even questioning her fellow journalists' integrity:

Now that the Scott Lee Cohen debacle is over, voters have every right to be disgusted. Not only did the media drop the ball by not digging deep enough into Cohen's past, but we didn't even follow the money.

Establishing Paternity In Illinois

For unwed mothers, the best-case scenario for establishing paternity is a voluntary acknowledgment by both parents. This allows the names of both birth parents to be added to the birth certificate without the need for an Illinois family lawyer, according to information provided by Illinois Child Support Enforcement.

Establishing paternity serves a number of purposes, but most often it helps the mother collect child support payments or determine custody if the parents do not live together, according to FindLaw.

Parents who don't complete the form at the time and place of birth may do so at an Illinois registrar of vital records, the County Clerk's office, Dept. of Human Services office, or child support enforcement office. Parents also have the option of signing the Illinois Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity form at home and then mailing it to the address provided (PDF). 

Children of adoption usually never meet their birth parents. There is a type of adoption where it can be arranged. This type of adoption is called an open adoption. FindLaw defines an open adoption as "one in which there is some degree of contact between the birth parents and the adoptive parents." 

The Illinois Adoption Act specifically states how the adoption process legally eliminates the parental status of birth parents:

"The natural parents of a child sought to be adopted shall be relieved of all parental responsibility for such child and shall be deprived of all legal rights as respects the child."

While that may sound harsh, it's meant to protect both the adopted child and adoptive parents from a birth parent who may have changed her mind, for example. But adoptive parents and birth parents still may draft an open adoption arrangement according to information from Illinois Legal Aid.