Cases that start out simple can fall apart, and sometimes the most difficult matters surprise us by getting resolved more quickly than anybody had imagined. When the latter happens, it is usually the product of good lawyering, cooperative clients, reason, and a court system running on all fours. Reality, however, lies somewhere in between.
An uncontested matter in which nobody gets hysterical and the attorneys diligently prepare the necessary pleadings, obtain the signatures on agreements, and conduct the hearing at which the Judgment is entered (called a prove-up) can conclude within 90 days of the start (and much quicker if necessary, but inevitably at greater expense). At the other extreme, the system itself will impose trial upon those cases that have not ended by settlement, somewhere between one and two years after commencement. The timetable to trial will vary with the complexity of the case, emotional issues, custody evaluations, and a host of other factors.
Every family law attorney is inescapably faced with a client who asks, “How come my case is taking so long?” We must remind the client that it takes two to tango and that one attorney is not in control of the entire process. For this reason, we say that two good lawyers can often bring about a much quicker settlement at a more reasonable cost than a situation where at least one attorney is dysfunctional, inexperienced, or unprofessional and, likewise, where one or more of the clients is unreasonable.
The court systems in Cook, Will, Lake, and DuPage Counties, where we practice, have made significant efforts to provide access to the courts, to set up case-management procedures, and to otherwise enable parties to reach resolution promptly. But the court can only hear what is presented to them according to the timetable it is presented, so that the court system does not occasion delay in the outcome of the case. On the other hand, rarely can we schedule hearings on temporary or interim issues that arise during the course of the case as promptly as we would like. There are many reasons for this which must be explained on a case-by-case basis.
The bottom line is that it is in every good lawyer’s interest to move a case along expeditiously, so that a prompt and reasonable outcome leaves a happy client. While the outcome may not be everything we wished, every lawyer’s goal is to have a client who understands and believes that their attorney did the best job they could under the circumstances. A judge I know often says: “If both clients are unhappy, there must have been justice.” We would rather achieve a more positive result for our clients, but it illustrates the frustration of the process.
About the author of this Illinois Divorce FAQ:
Robert K. Downs is a partner with Chicago, IL family law firm Downs Law Offices.