Frequently Asked Questions – Divorce
The Initial Interview
The Divorce Process
The Process in Post-Divorce Litigation
Post-Divorce Adjustments to Maintenance and Child Support
Allocating Responsibility for College Education
The Appellate Process
Getting Orders of Protection
Dealing With Emergencies
Going To Court
*The information below is general in nature and is intended to help you understand the divorce process. It may not apply to your specific situation, is not to be relied on as necessarily applicable to your situation, and, although updated regularly, may become outdated due to changes in the law.
The Initial Interview:
Is it free? No. We charge our usual hourly rates and expect payment at the conclusion of the interview. You pay only for the amount of our time that you use. For instance, if you meet with Christopher White for one-half of an hour, you will be expected to pay $200 ~ that is, his billing rate of $400 per hour (unless a lesser rate has been agreed upon in advance) multiplied by the time you spent meeting with him. We do take Discover, Visa and Mastercard.
Why isn’t it free? Our time and our expertise is the only thing we have to sell. The advice we give in the initial interview may be the most valuable information you receive in your entire case! We don’t think it should be free simply because it is dispensed in the first meeting. If it’s just general information you want, you can find it below . Once we have interviewed you, we cannot represent your spouse. We have found, based upon our reputation, that some attorneys send their clients to us to prevent us from representing their spouse. Since we have no way of evaluating the motives of the person at the initial evaluation, we charge. If you hire us, you will receive credit on your retainer.
What should I bring to the Initial Interview? For a divorce, bring: your three most recent tax returns and those of your spouse, both business and personal; your most recent pay stub; any prenuptial or postnuptial agreements; any financial statements for yourself or your spouse (often submitted in connection with a loan application or a car lease); and, if you are a respondent and have already been served, the petition for dissolution of marriage. In post-divorce litigation, bring the divorce judgment; the marital settlement agreement; the parenting agreement; any reports by therapists or psychologists, if you are seeing us for child-related issues; and, if you are seeing us for financial issues such as changing the amount of support or setting college contribution, all of the information you would bring if it were an initial interview for a divorce. For domestic violence cases, bring pictures, police reports, and petitions for and orders of protection issued for this and all prior incident.
The Divorce Process:
How long does it take? If everything is agreed and there are no children, we can get you divorced in two weeks or less. Generally, however, it takes between three months to two years. It is difficult to be more precise because of all of the variables involved, some of which include: the acrimony between the parties, the complexity of the issues, whether there is a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement in place, whether children are involved and whether custody is disputed, the responsiveness of yourself, your spouse and your spouse’s lawyer to requests for information, and the schedules of the judge and the lawyers. Many of these factors are entirely beyond our control. We can only promise never to be the cause of a continuance, except where pre-existing personal commitments or commitments to other clients are present.
How much does it cost? A divorce case, from the filing of the petition for dissolution of marriage to the entry of the judgment for dissolution of marriage, rarely costs less than $5,000 per spouse and rarely costs more than $100,000 per spouse. We recognize that this is a very wide range, but determining how much a divorce will cost requires consideration of the same variables as does figuring how long a divorce will take. Even when you and your spouse think you have everything worked out before you see the lawyers, there is much drafting to be done and probably many issues that need to be addressed which you did not consider.
What if I don’t have the money to pay you? If you lack the ability to pay us but your spouse has a decent income or substantial assets, Illinois law “levels the playing field” by requiring that your spouse pay us to represent you to the same extent that your spouse pays his or her lawyers. If neither of you have income or assets, then you probably have a relatively simple case and do not require the services of top divorce firms. We can recommend less expensive attorneys qualified to handle less complex divorces.
What is a “retainer” and how much is it? A retainer is an initial deposit that we require before we will agree to represent you, against which we bill our time â€“ much in the way that a checking account deposit is necessary before you can write checks or use your debit card. Our retainer for a divorce case varies between $2,500 and $10,000 based on the complexity of the issues and the amount of immediate work that needs to be done. For more information, see our billing practices below.
What do I get for my money? When you hire WSW, you are paying for services provided at your direction and subject to your control. That service is guidance and assistance through the divorce process. Our objective is to get you divorced as quickly as possible and as cheaply as possible, to accomplish your goals, and to protect you and your family from stress and harassment by your spouse or his or her lawyers. We will talk with you on the telephone and meet with you in person. We will appear in court for you whenever the judge commands your presence or schedules a hearing. We will assist you in responding to the requests of your spouse for information. We will undertake discovery for you. We will assist you in retaining accountants, psychologists, appraisers, private investigators, and other experts as needed to assist with the litigation. We will negotiate a settlement for you, draft and review settlement documents to ensure that they correctly reflect the agreement of the parties and protect you as much as possible from future litigation, and present your settlement to the court. And if the case cannot be settled, we will prepare the case for trial, call witnesses and cross-examine your spouse’s witnesses, research the law for favorable precedents, and argue forcefully for what you believe is the correct result. We also prosecute appeals when there is a basis to do so.
What property gets divided? Only “marital property,” as that term is defined under Illinois law, gets divided. Generally, marital property consists of all property acquired during the marriage, excluding property acquired by gift or inheritance, and all property owned prior to the marriage that is placed in some form of joint tenancy. Complex rules govern the treatment of commingled marital and non-marital property.
How does the property get divided? This analysis is very case specific. There are a number of factors for the court’s consideration. However, in the majority cases, the judge will assign specific property and allocate specific debts to each party so that, after subtracting debts allocated from property awarded, the value of the marital estate awarded to a particular party ranges between 40% and 60% of the net marital estate. The division can be more lopsided, but it is very rare for a party to receive more than 80% of the marital estate.
Who pays the litigation costs? You are primarily responsible for your attorney fees, expert fees, and other litigation costs, and your spouse is primarily responsible for his or her litigation costs. Most lawyers, including WSW lawyers, require regular payment of their fees and will withdraw from your representation if there are unpaid fees and you are unable to give adequate security for the payment of such fees. However, lawyers and judges recognize that, in many cases, there is only one wage earner and that person typically controls the family finances. In such cases, as noted above, judges may ‘level the playing field’ by requiring the financially able spouse to pay interim fees to the other spouse so that there is parity in the payment of fees while the case progresses. All payments to your attorney, if they come from marital income or marital assets, are treated as advanced receipts by you against your share of whatever the court ultimately determines you should receive from the marital estate. At the end of the case, especially when fees are still owed, the court may decide whether it is appropriate for the spouse with greater financial resources (either in the form of income or non-marital assets) to further “contribute” to the attorneys fees of the other spouse by paying some percentage of the other spouse’s outstanding attorneys fees and costs out of the contributing spouse’s share of the marital estate or his non-marital assets.
Does the judge consider who is responsible for the break-up of the marriage? No. By statute, the judge is specifically directed to disregard who is at fault for the break-up of the marriage when dividing the marital estate.
What if my spouse spends a lot of money during the divorce on stupid things? If, after the point at which the marriage breaks down, your spouse starts spending money on paramours, gambling, drugs, get-rich-quick schemes, or the like, he or she can be charged with dissipation. Only expenditures unrelated to the marriage after the breakdown of the marriage, and made from marital funds, are considered. Money dissipated is treated as an advance distribution of marital property to the spouse guilty of the frivolous expenditure. For example, if the marital estate would have been worth $100,000, but is now only worth $50,000 because your spouse used $50,000 of marital funds to buy his or her paramour a condominium during the divorce case, and if the judge thinks a 50/50 division of the marital estate is appropriate, the judge will give you the remaining $50,000, the paramour will keep the condominium, and your spouse will get nothing.
What if my spouse makes money or property “disappear” during the divorce proceeding? The burden is on your spouse to explain where his or her money or property went. If he or she cannot explain the disappearance, it will be treated as dissipation. We will assist you in detecting the secretion of money or property. Almost always, there is a paper trail and we find it.
Who gets custody of the kids? “Custody” means the right to direct and control the upbringing of the children; it is not synonymous with residential placement of the children. If the parents have similar parenting philosophies and show the ability to cooperate about where the kids go to school, what activities are important for them, how medical decisions should be made, and what role religion should play, then joint custody is likely — in which case all major decisions will have to be agreed upon, with disputes first presented to a mediator and then, if mediation is unsuccessful, to a judge to act as tie-breaker. Otherwise, sole custody will be awarded. While the law does not express a preference, usually the sole custodian is the mother because, typically, she has always been the primary care-taker, is still living with the kids in the family home, has a more flexible schedule, and is the care-taker who the children would prefer, if forced to make a choice. If one or more of the foregoing factors favors the father, then he may be designated the sole custodian. Of course, the foregoing analysis presumes both parents are healthy, stable, responsible parents; if not, the sole custodian is probably going to be the fitter parent. In all cases, the overarching goal of the judge is to do what is in the best interests of the children.
Who do the children live with? In almost all cases involving sole custody, the children live with the sole custodian, subject to visitation rights of the non-custodial parent. In cases involving joint custody, parenting time is divided as agreed to by the parties, with one parent designated the “primary residential parent” for purposes of establishing residency for the public schools. Equal division of time with the children in joint custody cases is disfavored because it is thought that children need a “home base” and should not find themselves being constantly shuttled back and forth between households merely to suit their parents’ demand for equal parenting time. A typical schedule, in both sole and joint custody cases, is for the parent who is not the custodian or primary residential parent to have the children for dinner one or two evenings a week, alternating weekends from Friday evening until Sunday evening, two to three weeks of uninterrupted time in the summer, one-half of Winter break, and one-half of the other major holidays.
What evidence does the judge consider in deciding custody? The judge considers any evidence you wish to bring to the court’s attention, so long as it is relevant and admissible. One major evidentiary obstacle in custody cases is the bar against hearsay evidence, which often keeps out things the children have said to you about the other parent. Partly for this reason, judges often order a family evaluation from a social worker or psychologist, at the parties’ expense, who will make written recommendations regarding issues of custody, parenting time, and the like. The judge is not bound by this report, and if you disagree with its conclusions, you have the right to hire your own expert to perform another family evaluation for the judge’s consideration.
What are the differences between child support, maintenance, and unallocated support? Child support is support for the child or children of the marriage. Maintenance (formerly “alimony”) is support for the spouse. Unallocated support is support for the children and the custodial parent lumped together in a single monthly payment. Child support is paid in after-tax dollars â€“ that is, the payments are not a deductible expense of the payor and are not reported as income subject to income tax to the payee. Maintenance, by contrast, is typically paid in pre-tax dollars, although the parties are free to decide otherwise â€“ that is, the payments are deducted from the income of the payor to arrive at the payor’s adjusted gross income upon which income taxes is calculated, and are added to the income of the payee to arrive at the payee’s adjusted gross income upon which income taxes are calculated. Unallocated support offers a mechanism by which child support can be paid along with maintenance in pre-tax dollars, assuming certain IRS rules are followed. Unallocated support is attractive to both parties in instances in which the payor is in a higher tax bracket than the payee, since it enables the parties to enjoy aggregate tax savings that they can then share â€“ i.e., the unallocated support deduction to the payor enables him to save more in taxes than the payee incurs in additional taxes by having to report the unallocated support as income, and the payee accepts the additional tax burden in exchange for the payor’s willingness to ‘cover’ the payee’s additional taxes by giving the payee some of his tax savings in the form of additional support.
Who pays child support? Almost always, the custodial parent or primary residential parent receives child support from the other parent. If you have the children more than half of the time, you are entitled to child support. If you have the children less than half the time, you are expected to pay child support.
How much is the child support? Except in high income cases (i.e., where the parent paying child support earns in excess of $300,000 to $400,000 per year) or cases involving children with special needs or expenses, child support will be set at “guidelines,” which are percentages set by statute. The guidelines are set as a percentage of the payor’s “net income,” currently 20% for one child, 28% for two children, 32% for three children, and 40% for four children. Net income is defined as income from all sources, less federal and state income taxes actually paid, health insurance premiums, medical expenses necessary to preserve life or health, and amounts actually paid that represent reasonable and necessary expenses for the production of income. Child support is paid with after-tax dollars, meaning the payments are not taxable to the recipient and are not deductible to the payor.
What kinds of expenses are the child support payments supposed to cover? Child support payments go into the general pool of funds available to pay family expenses, not just expenses specific to the children. The payor is not entitled to an accounting of the use of the funds and will rarely be heard to complain that he or she is paying too much, except in high income cases where strict application of the guidelines suggests extraordinarily high monthly payments.
When is maintenance or alimony awarded? The judge considers a number of factors in deciding whether to award maintenance (formerly known as alimony) and for how long, many of which are similar to those applicable to the issue of how to divide marital property. The most important of those factors are the income disparity between the parties, the ages of the parties, the employability of the recipient spouse, the length of the marriage, and the lifestyle established during the marriage. The duration of the maintenance award is generally more a factor of the age and employability of the recipient spouse, and the ability of the recipient spouse to self-support through employment and investments.
What if the recipient remarries or starts living with someone? Upon remarriage, maintenance terminates. If the recipient starts legally cohabitating with someone, the maintenance terminates upon the judge finding that the recipient and his or her significant other are living together on a resident, continuing conjugal basis. Whether the recipient is “legally cohabitating” with another person is a fact-intensive inquiry that require consideration of the frequency with which they reside together, whether they pool resources and share expenses, and whether they are romantically linked, among other factors.
What happens if the payor spouse dies? Maintenance stops, but child support can continue if the recipient makes a claim against the payor’s estate. Often, as part of the divorce settlement, the payor will agree to maintain life insurance for the benefit of the spouse and/or the children.
Does the judge decide who pays for college? Only for children in college or about to apply for college. The judge considers the financial resource of the parents and the child, and the availability of financial aid. If the children want to attend an out-of-state or private school that is beyond the financial means of the parties, the judge may limit the parents’ contribution to what they would have paid if the child were to have attended the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.
The Process in Post-Divorce Litigation
Why would I need to come back to court? Different events occurring after the divorce may compel ex-spouses to return to court. It may be because one of them is refusing to follow the terms of their divorce decree, or because one of them discovers that their ex-spouse hid assets or otherwise procured the divorce by coercion or fraud, or because children have reached college age and the parents disagree as to how the college costs should be shared, or because circumstances have changed since entry of the divorce decree that make provisions for maintenance or support too generous or too meager or that require adjustments to a parenting agreement.
When can the division of property under the divorce decree be changed? Only if it was coerced by fraud or other outrageous conduct and the improper conduct is brought to the attention of the court promptly. There is also a two year statute of limitations applicable to such a claim that begins to run on date that the divorce decree is entered or, in cases involving active efforts to conceal fraud, then on the date that the victim can reasonably have been expected to discover the fraud.
Is the judge the same as the one I had for the divorce case? Not necessarily, since cases may be reassigned for post-decree matters and the newly assigned judge may be different than the one you had for your divorce.
Post-Divorce Adjustments to Child Support and Maintenance
When does child support end? Child support ends on emancipation of the youngest child, which is generally deemed to be the later of the date that the youngest child turns 18 or the date that the youngest child graduates from high school. If you have more than one child, then child support is subject to reduction as each child is emancipated; in such cases, however, the reduction is not automatic, and a court order must be obtained authorizing the reduction and setting the new support amount. These rules also apply to unallocated maintenance and support.
When does maintenance end? Unless the divorce decree provides otherwise, maintenance terminates on the first to occur of the death of the payor, the death of the payee, the remarriage of the payee, or the cohabitation of the payee with another person on a continuing, conjugal basis. The last of these bases for termination means more than just occasional overnight stays by a boyfriend or girlfriend. Courts look for a de facto marriage relationship, and it is the court that must decide the issue before the payor is free to stop making payments.
When can the amount of child support be increased or decreased? Child support is generally only modifiable upon a substantial change in the income of the payor or the development of some exceptional, unforeseeable need on the part of the child. The same is true of support in the form of unallocated maintenance and support, except that the court also considers the recipient’s change of employment or marital status. To determine whether a change of circumstances is present, the court compares the present circumstances to those existing at the time that the last support order was entered.
When can the amount of maintenance be increased or decreased? This depends on the terms of the divorce decree. If the maintenance is “non-modifiable”, then it can never be increased or decreased. If the decree doesn’t say whether or not the maintenance is modifiable, then, by default, it is always modifiable on a substantial change of circumstances, which can include increased or decreased income of the payor or the payee, or increased or decreased expenses of the payor or payee. To determine whether a change of circumstances is present, the court compares the present circumstances to those existing at the time that the last maintenance order was entered. If the decree provides for a “review” of maintenance at a stated point in time, and that point in time has been reached, then the judge is free to adjust the maintenance according to need, and after considering the efforts of the recipient spouse to attain self-sufficiency, without proof of a change in circumstances.
How will I know whether the income of my ex has gone up? Sometimes the divorce decree will require the parties to periodically exchange tax returns, in which case the income of your ex-spouse can be monitored by forcing him or her to comply with the decree. Tax returns, pay stubs, and other evidence of income are also discoverable once a petition for increase of support is filed. However, a petition to increase in support cannot be filed unless you have a reasonable belief that there has been an increase in income. One way out of this catch 22 situation is to have your lawyer demand voluntary production of your ex-spouse’s pay-stub or W-2. If it is not forthcoming, that fact, along with other indicators of increased wealth (new cars, second homes, vacations, and the like) probably provides the basis for a good-faith filing of a petition to increase support.
Allocating Responsibility for College Education
Are the parents required to pay the college costs of their children? It depends on the aptitude of the child and the financial resources of the parents. Generally, if the child desires to attend college, the court will require some contribution of the parents. If the parents are of modest means and the child has no special aptitude, the court will often require each parent to pay between one-third and one-half of tuition, room and board rates for the College of Lake County, regardless of where the child attends college, with the child being expected to pick up the rest in the form of student loans, part-time employment and the like. For parents with greater means, responsibility may be allocated just between the parents based on University of Illinois rates, regardless of where the child attends college. For wealthy parents, often no caps are placed on the amount of contribution and the respective contributions of the parents are divided in proportion to their respective assets and incomes.
What if my child fails to take college seriously? If the student isn’t maintaining at least a “C” average and maintaining a full course load, the Court will likely excuse further contribution to college. If a child fails or refuses to execute a release to give you access to their grades, this can also be a basis for modification.
Will the judge decide responsibility for college as part of the divorce decree? Only if there is a child of or nearing college age. If there are other, younger children, the judge will probably “reserve” the issue of college contribution for the younger children until the time comes for them to apply to college.
Can the judge reallocate contribution to college if the circumstances change? Yes. A parent’s contribution to college can be increased or decreased if his or her financial resources change substantially.
The Appellate Process
What is the Appellate Court? The Appellate Court consists of a panel of three judges in Elgin, Illinois, who are available to review rulings made by the trial judges in Lake County who decide your case. The litigant who is unhappy with the decision of the trial judge and who requests review in the Appellate Court is called the “Appellant.” The litigant who wants to uphold the ruling of the Circuit Court judge is called the “Appellee.” The function of the Appellate Court is to correct mistakes made by the trial judges in their interpretation and application of the law, and to ensure that the factual findings of the trial judges are supported by at least some evidence.
What does the Appellate Court consider when reviewing trial court rulings? The Appellate Court bases its decision on all of the pleadings, motions, orders, and exhibits filed in your case, and all of the testimony, arguments, and court rulings transcribed by court reporters in your case, which in aggregate comprises the “record on appeal.” The Appellate Court also reviews briefs filed by the parties that argue as to whether errors have been committed. The Appellate Court does not consider any evidence or other matter not supported by the record on appeal.
When can an appeal be sought? Generally, an appeal may not be filed until after the trial court has made its final ruling in the case. However, some rulings made during the case, such as rulings involving injunctions, contempt sanctions, and changes of child custody, are immediately appealable. Strict timing requirements too complicated to explain here determine the ‘window’ within which an appeal may be sought.
How long does an appeal take? Generally, an appeal takes between eight and twenty months from commencement to completion. However, for certain kinds of rulings, such as custody appeals and injunctions, where the trial judge’s ruling has a drastic impact on the parties, the process can be much quicker. For instance, if the trial judge were to enter an order prohibiting you from closing on the sale of your business the next day because your spouse fears the sales price is too low, and as a result you might lose the buyer, your appeal would be heard within two days of entry of the order and the Appellate Court would likely rule the next day.
What does the Appellate process consist of and why are appeals expensive? Appeals are expensive because of the cost to the Appellant of having all of the trial proceedings transcribed (generally between $400 and $800 for each day of testimony), and the time it takes the appellate attorneys to prepare the briefs. The attorneys must read the entire record on appeal, the attorney for the appellant must prepare a written statement of facts disclosing everything that happened in the trial court pertinent to the issues appealed from, with citations to the record on appeal in support of every assertion made, the attorneys must research all of the reported decisions by Illinois courts that have previously addressed the same or analogous issues, and the attorneys must draft written arguments based on the record on appeal and those reported decisions. The Appellant files the first brief, not to exceed 50 pages; the Appellee then files a brief responding to the Appellant’s arguments, also not to exceed 50 pages; and the Appellant then files a second brief, not to exceed 20 pages, in reply to the Appellee’s arguments. If, after reading the briefs, the judges of the Appellate Court have questions for the lawyers, the lawyers may be ordered to appear before the Appellate Court in Elgin for oral arguments.
Is the trial judge’s ruling enforceable while the appeal is pending? Generally, yes. The parties are required to follow the trial judge’s rulings even though an appeal has been taken unless the appellant obtains a “stay” of the ruling. Usually, the only rulings subject to a stay are those affecting an interest in property or the payment of a money judgment, other than a judgment for maintenance or child support. To obtain a stay, the appellant may be required to post a bond in the form of a deposit with the clerk of the court, with an approved surety, or into an escrow account equal to approximately 150% of the value of the property or money judgment at issue; otherwise, the Appellee is free to enforce the judgment through contempt proceedings, garnishments, levies, and the like. If a bond is posted and the Appellant wins the appeal, the collateral is refunded. If a bond is posted and the Appellant loses the appeal, then the collateral is forfeited to the extent necessary to pay the Appellee the amount of the judgment, post-judgment interest at the rate of 9% per annum, the costs of the appeal excluding attorneys fees, and any other damages the Appellee can prove by reason of the stay of enforcement. If no stay is obtained, the judgment is executed, and the Appellant ultimately wins the appeal, the Appellant must then seek restitution from the Appellee for all money or property of the Appellant disposed of by the Appellee while the appeal was pending.
When can an appeal be taken to the Illinois Supreme Court? Unless the trial judge has sentenced one of the parties to death, which is rare in divorce cases, the Illinois Supreme Court is under no obligation to accept a petition for leave to appeal. The appeal must first go to the Appellate Court, and if one of the parties is dissatisfied with the Appellate Court’s ruling, that party can petition the Illinois Supreme Court for leave to appeal, but such petitions are rarely granted.
Are attorney fees incurred on appeal subject to contribution from the other party? Attorneys fees for appeals are subject to the same rules for contribution that apply to trial court proceedings, with one exception: the trial judge only has discretion to award contribution to those attorney fees of an Appellant attributable to those issues on which he or she substantially prevailed in the Appellate Court, and even then, contribution to attorneys fees is not automatic. The Appellant can always be ordered to contribute to the attorney fees of the Appellee.
Getting Orders of Protection
When can Orders of Protection be obtained? Orders of protection are available to protect one from harassment, abuse, or violence by family or household members. Such orders generally prohibit contact between the victim and the abuser and may prohibit the abuser from coming within 500 feet of the victim for a period of up to two years, although the duration of the order of protection can be extended.
Must the abuser be notified in advance of the issuance of an Order of Protection? No. Such orders can be obtained on an emergency basis, without notice to the abuser, by filling out a form petition outlining the domestic violence that has occurred and presenting the petition to the judge. However, the respondent will be served by the Sheriff with a copy of the order upon its issuance, and the respondent is entitled to an evidentiary hearing on the merits of the petition within 48 hours of making the request.
What if the Order of Protection is wrongfully issued? The only remedy for a wrongfully issued order of protection is to insist upon one’s right to an evidentiary hearing. Sometimes, unscrupulous spouses will obtain orders of protection without notice based on false allegations as an expedient way to get their spouses thrown out of the house. In such cases, it is imperative to demand a hearing, prove the falsity of the allegations, and have the order vacated.
Can an Order of Protection be sought after the divorce case is filed? Yes, but the request for an order of protection will be heard by the judge assigned to the divorce case and the divorce judge will generally insist on at least some form of minimal notice to the respondent before the matter is heard.
Dealing With Emergencies
The only true emergencies are those situations that threaten the health and safety of you or your family. In such situations, your first phone call should be to 9-1-1, not to your lawyer.
Remember that, under just about any conceivable scenario, your lawyer has just three options available to him: he or she can talk to the police for you, make a request of your opponent’s lawyer, or request relief from the judge. The first of these options is sometimes helpful, especially if you have trouble communicating legal jargon, but the second and third of these options are rarely effective, since they depend on the availability of your lawyer, your opponent’s lawyer, and the judge, and by the time contact is established between them, the emergency has generally already passed.
Nonetheless, all of the lawyers at WSW check their email and voice mail at least twice a day, except on weekends, on holidays or while on vacation, and are always reachable by cell phone on weekdays. We will assist if we can.
Going To Court
How do I know if I have to be in court? Every court hearing in your case will be scheduled by a notice or a court order, and every court order will be mailed to you well in advance. If your presence is required, you will be contacted by our office a few days in advance. We will also contact you in advance if your court date is rescheduled or postponed. However, to avoid unnecessary trips to court, it is a good idea to call our secretaries the afternoon before to confirm the need for your attendance the following day.
Where is the courthouse? The courthouse is on the Northwest Corner of County Street and Washington Street in Waukegan. There are two parking garages on County Street just north of the courthouse.
What time should I be there? Most court appearances are scheduled for 9:00 a.m., although trials and lengthy evidentiary hearings are usually scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Always bring a book or work with you to the courthouse because a lot of waiting is involved. The judges schedule as many as 40 cases each morning. Your case will not be called or will be “passed” until all of the lawyers and parties are present in the courtroom. Unfortunately, this may mean waiting until 11:30 a.m. before your case is heard, and sometimes the judge will ask you to come back in the afternoon or on another day.
Where should I meet you? Unless we have prearranged a place to meet, simply proceed to your courtroom and keep a lookout for us. We generally have multiple cases scheduled and will be moving between the courtrooms, but we will make sure to give you plenty of time to ask us questions and work out the game plan before your case is called.
What should I wear? It is always a good idea to dress in a way that doesn’t show disrespect for the court. However, if you are a doctor on your way to the hospital, it is okay to be in your scrubs; if you are a construction worker on your way to a job, it is okay to be in jeans and work boots; if you are a mother with kids to shuttle around, it is okay to dress comfortably; etc. The judge will respect the fact that you work hard to support or raise your family if you respect the fact that your judge is working hard to manage and decide the many cases on his or her docket every day. What is definitely not a good idea is to dress as if you are on your way to the golf course, to present yourself as if you are someone of great wealth, or to do anything else to present the image of someone who is not intensely focused on and concerned with the outcome of the case. Modesty and honesty are always the best policies.
How should I behave in front of the judge? When your case is called, we will motion you to step out of the gallery and accompany us at the bench. You should stand to the outside of your lawyer. You should never address the judge directly unless the judge or a lawyer poses a question to you. If there is something important that you think should be brought to the judge’s attention, whisper it to your lawyer or write it down on a piece of paper. When answering a question posed to you by a lawyer or the judge, maintain good posture, look your interrogator in the eye, and answer firmly and convincingly. Never interrupt the judge, and if the judge interrupts you, immediately stop talking. Resist the temptation to start arguing with your spouse in front of the lawyers and the judge.
How do you decide what to charge me? We bill in quarter-hour increments for time spent on your case. Our hourly rates are commensurate with our abilities and experience. At the commencement of our representation of you, we will present you with a fee agreement explaining in detail are billing practices.
Do I get charged if I call just to ask a “quick question?” That depends. If it is truly just a quick question, it is probably one that a secretary can answer, in which case there will be no charge. If it is truly a quick question for one of the lawyers, there will also be no charge. However, if you spend five minutes on the phone obtaining legal advice, you will be charged our minimum time increment of a quarter-hour. For that reason, it is a good idea to wait until you have list of questions or issues to discuss before calling us so as to use our time most economically.
Do you charge for travel time to court and waiting time in court? One of the things that makes us very competitive in our billing practices is that we handle a sizeable volume of cases and limit our practice to Lake County. When we are in court on multiple cases, we spread the travel and waiting time among all of our clients with matters in court on that particular occasion, rather than bill you for all such time. For instance, your case might be scheduled for 9:00 a.m. but might not be ‘called’ by the judge until 11:30 a.m., meaning that we will spend at least three hours of travel, waiting, and court time on your case, but if, as is often the case, we have a number of other cases scheduled for the same morning and can pass on some of that travel and waiting time to other clients, you may only be charged for an hour or less.
Do I get charged for the time of two lawyers when an associate asks a partner for advice? No. Only the least expensive lawyer in the room bills for intra-office meetings where the client is not in attendance. However, if your case is a complicated one, we may determine that effective representation requires the involvement of two or more lawyers for preparation and trial, in which case you will be charged for the time of all such lawyers involved.
How do I know what I am getting charged for? We typically send an itemized statement every month detailing all of the charges incurred over the past 30 days with a general description of the nature of the charge and name of the lawyer who expended the time on your case.
How long do I have to pay my bill? Typically, we charge a refundable retainer before we will take your case. Any such retainer taken will be applied against your monthly charges until the retainer is exhausted. Thereafter, we generally expect you to pay our bills promptly upon receipt of the monthly statement. If the amount due in a particular month is unusually large or there are other demands on you cash flow, please call us to discuss so that we can figure out an installment plan that will get us paid without leaving you financially strapped.
Can I pay by credit card? Yes, we accept MasterCard and Visa.