Law Office FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions When Working with a Lawyer

Why should prospective clients choose the Law Office of Brigid A. Duffield, P.C.?

Brigid’s philosophy is “Keep the Money in Your Family.” Though not always possible, we try to save families the overall cost  of a divorce by helping parties make decisions about their family, between you and the other party, rather than leaving it to the legal system. Brigid’s staff are pleasant to work with, and provide excellent and attentive customer service.

Is it helpful to be the first spouse to file for divorce?

There is no legal benefit to filing first and there may be some benefit to waiting to file.  This is a strategy question, fact specific, and can be answered more thoroughly in a consultation.

Should I schedule a consultation for a divorce?

If you are asking that question, you should. Scheduling a consultation does not mean that divorce is imminent. Most divorce lawyers will first evaluate and suggest ways to reconcile when appropriate rather than push someone prematurely into a divorce. A consultation with a lawyer is usually a strategy meeting, assessing pros and cons of staying, leaving and possible ways to reconcile. f you are not ready to end the marriage and if reconciliation is possible, having the general information you obtain in a consultation can expedite a reconciliation or give you what you need to move forward efficiently towards a divorce.

Can I get a free or reduced-rate consultation?

A lawyer’s stock-in-trade is time. Most family lawyers charge for the initial consultation. Often consultation fees are at a reduced rate from the lawyer’s normal hourly charge. This is not the time to be penny wise and dollar foolish. This is a long term and expensive decision and relationship. Making a mistake at this time could mean changing counsel midstream and duplication of expenses.

What can I expect when I come for a consultation?

The consultation is your opportunity, usually brief (45-minutes to an hour), to interview and decide if that lawyer is the one for you. Until you retain a lawyer, there is no obligation on your part, or that of the lawyer, to do business together. An initial consultation is often the only opportunity a client has to ask questions about their concerns and how the lawyer will be handle them. It is often the time to get answers to the questions that are keeping you up at night, questions about possible outcomes for your specific matter and questions about how that lawyer might handle your situation and actions you can take to minimize the emotional, physical, mental and legal damage…and in many cases the possible spiritual damage as well.

What should I bring to the initial consultation?

The most important thing to bring to the initial consultation is your list of questions that are keeping you up at night. Writing out those questions about possible outcomes or other concerns you have will ensure you leave the lawyer’s office with what you need to make informed decisions. The lawyer will fill in the gaps. Many people arrive at a law office and, once there, forget why they came and the very things they are worried about. Only after leaving, do they realize they forgot to ask their most burning question. Because initial consultations are generally brief, it is not possible for the lawyer to review boxes of paperwork. If legal papers have been filed or preliminary agreements have been discussed, bringing these documents to the meeting is very helpful to the lawyer in making sure your questions get answered and for the lawyer to ask questions  you may not have thought about. 

How much will it cost me to get a divorce?

It depends…on you, your spouse, your spouse’s lawyer and the judge. Family law cases and the outcomes by their nature are impossible to predict. Factors include the level of cooperation between the parties, how committed each of the parties are to preserving their assets, the level of cooperation between the lawyers and the complexity of the issues. Most lawyers set an initial retainer based on information the client provides on these issues. The client is required to replenish the retainer when it gets to a certain level. Often lawyers will withdraw from the matter when a client owes money. Some matters which appear to be very simple become complicated and costly when one spouse is not emotionally ready to be divorced. Other very complex matters can be inexpensive when the parties have the same sense of fairness and equity and are ready to be done.

What can I do to facilitate negotiations with my spouse who does not want to separate or divorce?

There are many ways to resolve a dispute and begin negotiations with a reluctant spouse. Often these begin with a therapist or marriage counselor.  We are  huge fans of “Kitchen Irish”.  Where  you pick a day, a time, a location and the topics to be discussed and just begin the conversations.  Other popular methods include mediation and collaborative. This is a great topic to discuss with the lawyer at your consultation to help decide your legal strategy.

The most important thing is to send your spouse or partner a clear message about your position. Any mixed messages confuse partners and result in hurt feelings and expensive legal battles. Keep communicating – it may feel easier to pick up a phone, meet with a lawyer, and pay thousands of dollars than it is to speak with someone you are in conflict with, but not talking directly with your partner is most way to get to an expensive litigated process.   It also is a process where both parties may say one thing one day and something completely different another day.  That is ok….Nothing is agreed, even if signed by both parties, until the Judge signs it.

Does each spouse get 50% of the marital assets in a divorce?

Not necessarily. If the parties do not agree on the division as assets, the judge will rule on the division of assets based on each spouse’s income, financial support,  non-marital assets, and a variety of other factors. The court tries to determine an equitable–not necessarily an equal–division of assets.

What does 50/50 parenting time with the children mean?

Who knows!  Parenting is a combination of decision making and time with the children. Usually parents have shared decision-making over medical, education and religious issues.  The time spent with the children, not the actual percentage of time , is considered when determining support allocation.

How does the “six month waiting period” work for divorce?

Illinois requires a two year waiting period before a couple can get a no-fault divorce. The parties can waive this if they have lived separate and apart for a period of six months. Separate and apart can be the date when the spouses proclaim that they realized their differences were irreconcilable.

How will I be charged by an attorney?

After your initial consultation, an initial retainer is typically required upon commencement of legal services. The amount of the initial retainer is determined based on an hourly rate and the predicted services that will be needed. The legal fees and costs that are incurred will then be credited against the initial retainer.

It is difficult to provide an estimate of total costs because Family Law matters, by their very nature, have a way of becoming more complex and more time consuming than they first appear to you or us. The emotional dynamics between you and your spouse, the sense of cooperation between each two of you, as well as the level of cooperation between the attorneys, have a direct bearing on the amount of time and therefore the cost that will be spent on a case.

If the initial retainer has not been exhausted, the balance remaining will be refunded to you.

What is Collaborative Law?

Collaborative law is a process that gives spouses a different type of control over how their process will proceed. Collaborative law is a way to resolve disputes by removing the disputed matter from the litigious court room setting and treating the process as a way to “trouble shoot and problem solve” rather than to fight and win. It involves two lawyers, the husband and the wife.

As part of the collaborative law method, both parties retain separate attorneys whose job it is to help them settle the dispute. The parties agree that they will not go to court until the matter is settled. If it cannot be settled, the collaborative law process terminates and both attorneys are disqualified from any further involvement in the case, the parties retain new counsel and the process begins anew.

Each party in the Collaborative law process signs a contractual agreement which includes that each party agrees to disclose all documents and information relating the issues, to be respectful and avoid disparaging the other participants, to share and implement outside experts when necessary, and that neither party will seek or threaten court action. 

The primary goal of Collaborative law is to work together to find an amicable solution that creates a win-win situation for all parties.

How is the Collaborative Process different than the Mediation Process?

In mediation, the parties completely control the direction of the negotiations and the outcome of the agreements, with or without their attorneys present. A mediator cannot give legal advice and must remain a neutral facilitator. If a mediated agreement is reached, the parties still hire attorneys to draft the legal documents for presentation to the court. In a collaborative divorce, attorneys assist their clients in reaching a settlement of all legal issues while still looking after the best interest of their clients. The attorneys can and will offer legal advice and opinions to the parties during the negotiation process. Once, the agreement is negotiated, the attorneys can then prepare the legal documents and present them to the court, which a mediator can not.

Clients report the benefits of both mediation and collaborative processes to be:
  • Non-adversarial, cooperative environment conducive to settlement
  • Preserves the integrity of family relationships
  • Team approach where the family is actively involved in the process
  • Reduced costs

Ultimately, the goal of the Law Office of Brigid Duffield, PC  is to work in a cooperative environment to work out the underlying issues of divorce or post decree issues and retain more control over the process and expenses and to ensure that the long term relationship gives the parties the option of going into their futures, though separated as Husband and Wife, still able to partner as Father and Mother.

What is the Divorce Process?

Typically the divorce process includes:

  • Filing a Petition- One person files a Petition of Dissolution, a short, two to three page, document which sets forth the basic facts about you, your spouse and your children. Once a Petition is filed, a case number is assigned and the document becomes public record. Which party files the Petition is irrelevant to the courts.
  • Sheriff’s Service of Process- Once the petition is filed, the process requires that the Respondent, (the spouse who did not file,) either file an appearance in the matter or be served with the Petition by the sheriff or a process server.  The spouse can deliver the document to their partner, the  attorney can send the document to the other party, or a sheriff can serve the petition.
  • The Response- Once the other party has been served with the Petition of Dissolution, they have 30 days to file a Response. Typically at this point, the spouse retains their own counsel.
  • Negotiation- The negotiation process involves the determination of the parents plan and the value of the marital estate. This procedure commonly includes depositions, subpoenas, interrogatories and a review of financial documents. If the distribution of assets and liabilities is already agreed upon by the parties, the formal discovery process may be waived. Once the value of the estate is determined and a proposed agreement is reached, a Marital Settlement Agreement is drafted and presented to both parties for review. If the terms are agreed upon the document is signed and then presented in court.
    If parenting, time and decision making, is an issue, a Parenting Agreement will be proposed. If parties can not agree on issues related to parenting, the Court may order the parties to mediation or even a mental health evaluation.
  • If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the issues may be discussed in a four-way meeting, or submitted in a pre-trial conference to a Judge. Both attorneys present the parties positions to the Judge and the Judge makes “recommendations” not final decisions,  for settlement. A pretrial is often the best motivation for reaching a final settlement without preparing to go to full trial.
    In the event an agreement cannot be reached, the matter is set for trial.

How can I preserve my estate and assets?

In our opinion, most people spend too much money on a divorce. The family is always better served if the marital estate remains with the family, no matter who gets it.  If it can remain with one or both of the parties, ultimately the children, rather than paid out as legal fees the family recovers economically much faster. Separation and divorce are expensive. The family budget, at a time when it is already strained, takes on the added costs of legal fees, attorneys, second households and therapy. It may also require mediation fees and mental health evaluation costs. Taking actions to carefully plan the added layers of cost will preserve the estate. Though not an easy task, being candid about divorce, having those difficult, critical conversations, not keeping things secret and/or hiding assets help to control the time and cost of a divorce. preserves the resources for both parties.

Using conflict resolution techniques such as mediation or collaborative law will preserve  the long term relationships and may reduce the cost of the process. 

Learn and decide what process will work best for your style and that of your spouse and family. Make sure your legal team and your legal strategy meet your objectives. Trust and use your lawyer. Well-intended friends and family members may give you advice, usually based upon someone’s horror story. While they may be trying to protect you, often the situations friends report are completely different facts from your unique fact pattern and may not apply at all.

Who is Brigid’s ideal client?

Our ideal client pays our bill on time. They tell us what they can do and they do it. They tell us what they can’t do before I find out they can’t do something. They plan and schedule time to talk to us or meet with us when they need to. They ask the questions that they have. They provide the information we need when we request it in the way we can get to it quickly. (For example, it takes longer for us to review three years of bank statements that are still in the original envelopes than it takes to review the statements that are open and in chronological order. ) They assess the strengths and weaknesses of the their spouse correctly. When the divorce is over, both our client and their spouse refer their friends to us to handle their divorce.

Our ideal client has the ability to follow our suggestions on how to effectively communicate with their spouse so that we can help them get their best deal, save on legal fees and move the process more efficiently.

They hear the very hard information we have to tell them and get outside help when the reality of their situation is too much to bear emotionally, spiritually, physically, financially, mentally.

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