When you choose to divorce your first question will certainly be, “How can I choose the best lawyer for my case?” In this podcast, DuPage County divorce lawyer Chuck Roberts discusses some of the common questions a client may have when choosing a divorce attorney in Illinois, and provides insight on what makes an attorney the right choice for your case. Chuck also explains the roles of the many divorce professionals you may have to work alongside of, including a Guardian Ad Litem, a psychologist, an accountant, and an appraiser.
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Hosted by: Diana Shepherd, Editorial Director, Divorce Magazine
Guest speaker: Chuck Roberts, Divorce Lawyer
With more than 30 years of experience in family law, Chuck Roberts has gained a reputation in the community for his ability to handle complex divorce cases, including contested child custody cases and cases where there are complex financial issues. He is considered to be the go-to suburban solution for professionals, business owners, sports figures, and their spouses to help navigate the challenging waters of the divorce process. To learn more about Roberts and his law firm – Momkus McCluskey Roberts LLC – visit www.momlaw.com.
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Read the Transcript of this Podcast Below.
Choosing the Right Attorney in Illinois
Diana Shepherd: What is the role of a Guardian Ad Litem, and how does that affect the person’s divorce case?
Chuck Roberts: In Illinois there’s several roles which the judge can designate for someone acting on behalf of a child or children in divorce court. The court can appoint an attorney. That person provides independent legal counsel for the child and that type of appointment is actually rather rare. We don’t see that terribly often in divorce court. It would certainly only be called for a limited situation.
In Cooke County the court will most likely appoint a child representative. That person will advocate for what the child’s representative finds to be in the best interest of the child after reviewing the facts and circumstances of the case. The child representative will generally have the same authority and obligation to participate in the litigation as would an attorney for a party, and certainly has all the powers and investigative role as does a Guardian Ad Litem.
Here in my county, in Dupage County, the court will typically appoint a GAL as a court’s own witness. The GAL will testify or submit a written report to the guardian, his or her recommendations in accordance with what they found to be in the best interest of the child. The GAL can be called as a witness by either party or by the court. A GAL can be cross examined again by the lawyer for either side or by the judge. The cross examination can relate to either the report or the recommendations that have been made by the GAL. The GAL is charged by law in investigating the facts of the case and is required to interview not only both of the parents but the child as well.
In the case where a guardian has been appointed, what should someone do to most effectively deal with them and how do they explain the role of the guardian to their children?
The parent can certainly help the Guardian Ad Litem by assembling any information they request and submitting it on a timely basis. So, for example if there’s a medical issue that’s been raised regarding one of the children, then at that initial meeting with the GAL that parent ought to bring a copy of the child’s file from the treating physician or pediatrician. If one of the parents is unable to get the kids to school on time then the parent who’s made that observation should obtain a copy of the child’s file from the school and that’s going to include attendance records and tardiness records.
For example if the child has special needs or receives special services from the school, bring along a copy of the most recent IEP report to that initial meeting with the GAL. You know that those documents are going to be required at some point, you might as well assist the GAL by having them upfront, it helps organize your explanation to the GAL of what you think the issues are and certainly is going to be looked upon favorable by the person that’s been appointed.
When I am a appointed and I initially meet with the children, I’m appointed to assist, I’ll typically explain to the kids that mom and dad have been unable to figure out what makes the most sense for the kids going forward. As a result the judge has asked me to meet with them and try to be of some assistance in terms of making some recommendations as to how mom and dad might most effectively parent them in the future.
Most kids are really happy to hear there’s somebody not in the middle of the fight who’s looking out for them and they also really benefit from the assurance that by having a GAL they aren’t going to have to go to court and pick a side or testify against mom or dad. It really gives the kid some comfort.
If a psychologist has been appointed to do a custody evaluation, what should the parent do or parents do to cooperate or participate with that? Do they need to do anything?
The recommendations there are sort of along the lines of what we talked about for the GAL. You and your attorney, the client and the attorney are going to have determined what the issues are. If there’s been domestic abuse then you need to get a certified copy of the court related to that criminal case and take it with you and share it with the evaluator. Emails, health records, relevant writings, school records, any documents that tend to confirm your position on the issues that are presented are going to be really helpful for the evaluator.
Then at some point in time generally in the evaluation, there’s going to be some pencil and paper tests that are administered by the psychologist to both parents. The lawyer really should spend some time on how to approach that kind of testing with their client. That should happen long before the person finds themself in the that little room in the psychologist’s office with a Scantron form and a pencil in hand. There’s some helpful tips that the lawyer can give the person that’s going to undergo that kind of testing.
You need to be respectful of the psychologist’s time, they don’t really need the 1 year history of the relationship or the difficulties that arose in the first three months of the relationship. What they need is information that summarizes and accurately reports what the current circumstances are, what the current issues that have manifested themselves, and what the goals are that the parent is trying to achieve in terms of the best interest of the kids.
If somebody needs to hire an attorney to help them with their divorce, what should they be looking for and what questions should they be asking that attorney to determine if they’ve got the right person for them?
There’s a lot that goes into trying to find the person that you can work with so it’s going to be a good and successful fit. Certainly one of the most important things to explore when you’re sitting down with someone in that initial meeting and you’re considering hiring someone to represent you is the issue of communication. How does the lawyer like to communicate? How are you comfortable communicating, is that by text message, email, telephone, letter? How is the communication going to be most efficiently handled?
What kind of hours is the lawyer available? If the lawyer is in court all day long and doesn’t get back to his or her office until five o’clock in the evening, when is it going to be most opportune to communicate with the lawyer? You want to know how many cases they’re involved in, how many cases they’ve handled that are similar to some of the issues that are presented in your case, and what the outcome was in those cases. I think you want to know whether or not the lawyer’s been successful in the past in navigating issues that are similar to yours.
One thing that I like to encourage people to do in the initial setting and it looks like a case that’s going to be highly contested, is I like to encourage them to come to court. Come to court someday when I’m in a hearing or presenting a motion and see how I do it, see how my style is, see if it’s something that you’re going to be comfortable with. I’ll typically give people a couple of opportunities or days when I know I’m going to be arguing something. Come on over, take a look and see what you think.
I like to introduce prospective clients to the staff. They won’t just be working with me, they’ll be working with a paralegal, maybe some of the other lawyers here if we know upfront that it’s going to be a situation where they’re going to have contact with a number of people in the office. I like to introduce them around. It can help put a face with a name and you know whether or not upfront the staff is a staff that you’re going to be comfortable with.
You need to be able to explain what your expectations are, the lawyers are going to have expectations of the prospective client as well. How many times do you think you’re going to have to go to court, what kind of involvement is the client going to have to have from an hourly standpoint? Is the client going to be active in managing the case? You want to know if the lawyer’s politically active and how does that affect the lawyer’s ability to interact with the judge that your case might be assigned to.
One question that I always get that I really appreciate is how long do you think this is going to take? How long is my divorce going to last? Do you think I can get divorced this year? Do you think that if we get done by the end of the year, I’ll be able to file a separate tax return than my spouse? Those are questions that we hear every day and those are really important. Those are obviously topics right at the front of what people are thinking about when they come into to interview a prospective lawyer.
Now another potential member of the team would be an accountant. Now what happens in the case if I and my spouse own a number of properties and businesses and we have an accountant that we’re working with? Does that accountant typically work with the divorce attorney, the family lawyer as well?
It depends on which side we’re on. If we have a business owner, typically the business will have an accountant that’s involved in helping the business owner prepare the filings and the scheduling for the business. That accountant is almost always made available to me in my representation of the client.
If however I represent the spouse who may not have an interest in that business or may not be involved in the business, it’s entirely possible that we won’t have access to that business accountant. In that case we’ll make a recommendation or two as to people that the spouse might be able to utilize to provide assistance to the accounting standpoint. We’ve got a team of people that we customarily work with here. We’ll make those introductions. These people are forensic accountants so they get up to speed very quickly. They’re used to the kinds of issues we’re presented with in divorce cases.
Even though the client may not have had a pre-existing relationship with an accountant, we can take care of that very quickly and it really doesn’t present any kind of an obstacle to the representation of that person.
What about the case where people have a pension? I understand that they need to get a QUADRO. Maybe you can explain what that is a little bit. And is that something that a family lawyer does, do they do these QUADROs?
We like to do those QUADROs ourselves, it stands for Qualified Domestic Relations Order. That’s actually the court order that divides up a qualified retirement plan. There are outside services that also prepare QUADROs. Over time we’ve found that often those outside services charge more money than what we charge to do it. It’s not unusual for us to find in the preparation of a QUADROs particularly if it’s a large employer, that we may have already done five or 10 QUADROs that relate to that particular retirement plan.
It’s not like we have to go back and start from the beginning. We’ve got forms on file that have been previously approved by the administrator or the plan that we know got the job done, they’ve been tested, they’ve been approved by the court. And it’s a simple matter to update one of those forms to something that meets the needs of the current situation. So, we’re able very often to get it done a little bit more efficiently than one of the outside services.
Now somebody who is starting out their divorce process might be considering the different options, litigation, mediation, arbitration etc. Can you tell me a little bit about what your thoughts are regarding mediation and is it something that you’re involved in or how does that work?
We do some mediation here. Sometimes we get appointed by judges in our county to actually conduct mediation. Sometimes lawyers independently of the court system agree on the selection of a mediator and there are times that I’m selected by my colleagues to mediate a case. Mediation is an interesting phenomena. If it’s not properly handled and the parties are not properly prepared, my experience in mediation is that often the strong get stronger and the weak get weaker.
For example if a person has the financial upper hand and has control of all the financial information during the marriage perhaps was responsible for paying all the bills and the other spouse really wasn’t involved in the financial arrangements of the marriage, then that other spouse is not really going to be on an equal footing to come into mediation.
It’s important that both sides evaluate the relative sophistication of the parties, the access to information, the stage of the proceedings. Then a mediator can sometimes be helpful in really streamlining maybe not the whole case, but at least some of the significant issues. It is a tool that we have available to us. We use it fairly often but it has to be handled properly.
What about the case where people own a property, or a number of properties for that matter. Do they need to get a property appraiser involved in that, a real estate appraiser or is that something that you look after as well?
It’s something that I like to make the recommendation for rather than having the client go out and pick somebody out of the Yellow Pages. We have for example a group of real estate appraisers that we frequently work with here at the firm. These are people that are experienced, they’re licensed by the state, they’re responsive so we get timely reports. They truly know what they’re doing.
Most importantly, they have experience in testifying. You know, the nicest report imaginable is of no value if your lawyer’s unable to get the opinion of value that the appraiser has reached into evidence in court. So, it’s not just a matter of being able to do an appropriate evaluation and prepare a comprehensive report. It needs to be done by someone who has the experience of standing behind that work and helping the lawyer get into evidence by testifying in the court proceeding. For all of those reasons I like to make the recommendation as to who we use for appraisal.
I know you also work with a good number of high net-worth people and in that case where they have fine art or antiques, do you also recommend appraisers for those type of things?
It works much the same way as the real estate side, although it’s a different group of people that we use to appraise those types of assets. It has to be somebody who has the experience of not only doing the work and being able to prepare a comprehensive report, but to testify, justify their opinion, explain their opinion to the court in a persuasive manner and get the opinion of value into evidence. We have a group that we rely on fairly often to perform those kinds of appraisals and it’s really important that a person with the appropriate credentials be selected to do that kind of work.
For more information about Chuck and his firm, visit his website: www.momlaw.com.