Posts tagged ‘Attorneys’

Reforms: Seeds Sown For Change in Illinois Family Courts

By Josh Hoff
Ideally, every child grows up in a home where the parents co-exist in harmony and provide fertile ground in which the children can thrive.  Often times, however, this is not the case.  When a marriage dissolves, children are frequently caught in the middle of an adversarial legal system.  Typically, these cases end up in family court, where children are subjected to the trauma inflicted by a prolonged trial.

In the state of Illinois, reforms have been established and are underway to mitigate the impact of trials on children.  The statewide reforms have three components:

In July 2006, all parents in custody and visitation cases will be required to undergo four hours of education involving how to lessen the impact of custody disputes on children.
Lawyers appointed to represent parents in custody cases will be required to attend continuing education programs.

Beginning January 1, 2007, all custody disputes must first go to mediation prior to a court hearing to attempt to resolve the dispute before it goes to court.

“The reforms are intended to focus the guardians and the court on the children,”
explains Madison County Associate Judge Barbara Crowder, who presides over the family court division for the Third Judicial Circuit in Illinois.

In past cases, disputes have sometimes taken up the majority of a child’s life.  As a result, the child becomes surrounded by chaos.  Sometimes, when children are interviewed by judges, they curl up in a fetal ball.  In some instances, they will cry about not wanting to see their mother or father.  In fact, judges observe an entire range of children, from the angry to the withdrawn.

Once the custody case reaches the actual courtroom, various members of the extended family are brought in, which frequently proves divisive and undermines the cohesiveness of a family unit.  The reforms are intended in part to lessen the trauma of such conflicts.

“Two attorneys might swear that two parties could never see eye to eye,” Judge Crowder elaborates, referring to the trial process.  “By the time that they go to mediation, they are able to get past some of the conflict.”

“People are more open to possibilities,” adds Judge Crowder. The seeds were sown for change when the Supreme Court of Illinois appointed a special committee and requested that members address matters relating to custody – more specifically, the court wanted to address the need for cases to be handled in an expeditious manner and in the best interest of children.

“We were asked to draft some rules for circuits that do not yet have mediation,” says Judge Elizabeth Robb, who serves on the Eleventh Circuit and is the chair of the conference of chief judges.

Ultimately, the primary objective of these reforms is to send a strong statement to parents, lawyers, and judges that Illinois’ courts put the needs and concerns of children first.  Otherwise, children are put underfoot in a messy legal proceeding.

“The overall effect of mandatory mediation, parent education, and continuing legal education will be to emphasize that everyone in this process must do everything possible to minimize the emotional damage to children that accompanies child custody disputes,” Judge Crowder said in a written statement.

March 4, 2009 at 4:15 pm Leave a comment

KEEP HOPE ALIVE: Stories of Fathers & Attorneys Who Have Beaten the Odds in Family Court

By: Timothy E. Rogus, J.D.

Young Father Keeps Son Close to Him

Last year, I was retained by a client whose ex-wife was trying to move their 7-year-old son with her new fiancé from Illinois to Massachusetts. So the mother petitioned the court for the required order, saying that the benefits of removing the child far from dad outweighed the advantages of the child remaining in Illinois in the present custody arrangement.

 As we began to aggressively prepare for the case, I was shocked to see how quickly the court had fast-tracked the hearing. We filed for a continuance, on the ground that more time was needed for proper discovery, but this motion was denied by the court. The week leading up to the trial was filled with countless hours of preparation. My client and I spent the entire pre-trial weekend in the office preparing and interviewing witnesses, reviewing exhibits and formulating strategy.

At trial, I strategically presented many witnesses and evidence, showing that my client was a very vital part of his son’s life. He was not just an unnecessary and disposable part of his son’s life, but was a full-time dad. Moreover, the father had a large extended family in Illinois who had always been a large part of the life of his young son.

 After three days of trial, the trial judge, after careful deliberation, could not look past our evidence and our witnesses. It was clearly evident that my client was an extremely loving father and that he played a major role in the life of his son. The trial judge denied the mother permission to remove the child from Illinois. The mother has since married her fiancé and they have remained in Illinois where my client is still a very active and very happy father.  

Publishers Note:
As someone who has spent more than 20 years as a domestic relations attorney, fighting in the trenches for fathers, I have seen how too often society has failed in their duty to protect the family unit and instead seeks out punitive measures against men.

Some would say there is an unwritten, “anti-male” bias that exists in many of today’s family law courts, especially in child custody cases. Too often in our current system husbands and fathers are viewed as biological necessities, but social accidents.

But even in the face of bias, fathers must never give up when it comes to protecting their children. So in an effort to help give fathers some hope, each edition we will spotlight a case in which a father has beaten the odds in family court and gained extended custody or related rights with his children.

March 2, 2009 at 10:26 pm Leave a comment