Changes in the Illinois Divorce Law


On Saturday, February 27th the firm of Ladden & Allen, Chartered held another Think Tank at the Peninsula Hotel focusing on changes in the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. The discussion was moderated by Gemma Allen and the speakers were asked generally to address the changes in the statute as of January 2016 and what clients or patients needed to know about it.

The speakers were Bruce L. Richman, CPA/ABV, CVA; Kerry Smith, Ph.D.; and Nicole Mayer, AIF, CDFA and the attendees included Gemma Allen, Jennifer Arguilla, M.P. Bernbom, Jacqueline Birnbaum, Dr. Gerald Blechman, Shirley Burnside, Kendra Chaplin, Leslie Datlow, Bob Downs, Dr. Demetri Dres, Robert Ferrer, Randy Franklin, Mary Gardner, Mick Gerhardt, Todd Glassman, Kara Glassman, Brian James, Dorothy Johnson, Ray Kane, Ellen Katz, Linda Kroll, Jay Lebow, Maura McMahon-Zeller, Camille Mikolaczyk, Albert Nader, Shelly Navaro, Paula Pitrak, Chris Ruys, and Andrew Stevens.

Nicole Mayer, the expert on financial planning and investments, commented that educating clients is key. She does workshops once a month to educate clients on the process of divorce. She noted that often misunderstood are the tax implications on spousal support and the pros and cons of keeping the former family home. Her goal is to coach clients from the beginning on how to handle their finances. For the person who controls money, there must be full disclosure so that everyone can be on the same page. For the non-breadwinner, she noted that he or she should keep track of all family expenses because otherwise they can get underestimated and underfunded.

Bruce Richman, when describing his expertise and how it is used in family law, emphasized two aspects. The first of these was lifestyle and how he analyzes it. He gathers all of a family’s financial information and goes through it. He looks at least 2 years prior to the beginning of the divorce to show what life was like during marriage. Sees the trends. Financial analysis helps the non-breadwinner who often did not have a real understanding of the cash flow, can help the breadwinner as well to understand needs of all concerned, and helps both parties come to a resolution. Regarding the work he does on business evaluations, Bruce noted the impact a family business or interest can have on an entire family and their standard of living. The statute now defines the valuation standard as “fair market value” where there are hypothetical willing buyers and sellers and a hypothetical sale/transaction.

The new statute specifically provides for the court itself to hire an expert which may in the long run help couples to resolve these issues. Bruce and many like minded experts and lawyers try to get divorcing couples out of the battling mode and take down the rancor and get to the truth of the matter. If the court appoints an expert to evaluate a business or a part of one, it
may either lead to mediation or at least more productive discussions regarding settlement which can be in everyone’s best interest.

Kerry Smith, noted regarding the all important topic of children in divorce, and the changes in the statute which now to the largest extent possible has dropped the word “custody” and instead talks of parenting rights and responsibilities, that when doing a parenting evaluation, the statute now directs an evaluator to find out who has been making the decisions and doing the child rearing historically. She hopes and believes that the new statute frames the conversation in a more productive way. It is of course hard to get people to stop using the word custody. She opined that the new law takes a more realistic view, you're either the sole decision-maker or not.

Dr. Smith noted and in the general discussion that followed it was agreed that of course the new law is not a perfect solution and there could be more litigation, at least temporarily. Bob Downs recalled that he had tried to accomplish improvements like this when he was president of the ISBA and that there is always resistance to change.

Jackie Birnbaum commented with others that we need to help clients get a handle on not being afraid. She stressed the importance of what we do and she believes that lawyers and professionals can contain situations collectively to keep them from getting out of control. All agreed that there can or even will be a period of mini-chaos while everyone adjusts to the new law. Part of our job is defusing some of the fear and upset inherent in these cases.

Four Points to Remember

1) There is a real fear factor in going into post-divorce lifestyle. Client’s can feel rage or depression. Goal: comfort. But comfort is so underrated and so hard to achieve.

2) Telling a client the truth – not what they want to hear is imperative. Tell them that they can make rational or irrational decisions beginning now.

3) Some religions now offer a religious service to uncouple. Gwyneth Paltrow talked about “conscious uncoupling” which sounds trite and very “LA”, but is not an all bad concept. Just acknowledge the pain. Your feelings make sense.

4) As change agents and participants in the Think Tank, we’re changing the face of divorce one couple at a time. We are enriched by having many voices with different expertise. It is important to keep the dialogue going with people of good will and skill levels in their respective professions, so that the dissolution process can be improved.

To that end: Save the date of September 17, 2016 for our next Think Tank; for pictures from the February session, visit our Facebook page at Ladden & Allen, Chartered.

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