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How to Prepare for Your Family Court Hearing in DuPage County, IL

Young couple sitting on couch after a fight.

A family court hearing in DuPage County, IL, can be stressful, but adequate preparation helps ensure you are as ready as possible for your case. Family courts can establish paternity, finalize divorces, and determine matters such as parenting time and decision-making (child custody). Your lawyer can explain the particulars of preparation in your case. For example, mediation and parenting classes are often required before a custody hearing. For a custody trial, your lawyer can help you rehearse your testimony.

Young couple sitting on couch after a fight.

How the Family Court System in Illinois Works

Family courts in Illinois are also called domestic relations courts. They handle many types of cases, including child custody and divorce.

How the system works depends on the particulars of each case. For example, to learn how to get a divorce fast, ask your attorney about uncontested divorces. They are generally the fastest route to finalization and require the least court involvement. In these situations, you and the other party could discuss the issues before filing and agree on them. As long as the agreement does not appear to greatly put one party at a disadvantage, a judge should approve it.

For contested divorces (including those with children) or contested child custody cases, the steps typically involve mediation and pretrial hearings in hopes of avoiding a court battle. Child custody cases involve parenting time or decision-making, or both. In general, what happens may go as follows:

  • The petitioner files a petition with the family court
  • The petitioner arranges for the respondent to be served.
  • The respondent has the chance to respond within a certain amount of time. Otherwise, the court might make decisions without this person’s input.
  • One of the parties (or both) might try to get emergency orders if the child’s well-being is at risk. Otherwise, they might try to get temporary orders to determine who makes major decisions for the child and which parent gets child support, among other issues. If this is not a case involving children, the parties might want temporary orders about spousal support or living arrangements, among other issues.
  • Mediation or other types of alternative dispute resolution will probably occur, unless abuse or similar circumstances mean the parties cannot work together in this way.
  • The parents must take a court-approved parenting class.

A status conference in DuPage County, IL, occurs a couple of months after the case is first filed in family court. The conference is also called a review hearing or scheduling conference.

The judge or the commissioner (someone, usually an attorney, hired to help with caseloads) asks about the status of the parties’ negotiations. If both parties agree on the issues, the case might end here. Otherwise, the court might appoint a guardian ad litem to assess the best interests of the child. The GAL interviews the parents and the child and makes a recommendation to the court. The court often takes the recommendation but is not required to do so.

In cases with high levels of conflict, the court may order a custody study or custody evaluation. Professionals such as psychologists and social workers evaluate the parents and child and make recommendations to the court.

The next step involves discovery. The parties exchange pertinent documents and information, such as tax records and medical records. Depositions where witnesses are questioned may occur as well.

Judges usually order pretrial conferences or status conferences before a trial. The hope is that a trial will not be necessary. However, if a trial occurs, it requires even more paperwork and preparation.

In a trial, the parties present their arguments supporting their case for parenting time and decision-making authority. They use evidence and witnesses to bolster their case.

A judge weighs the evidence and arguments to make a final decision. It may favor one parent or both. The parties might be able to appeal or modify custody orders at some point if they disagree with the judge’s ruling.

What Types of Cases Are Heard in Family Court?

Family law courts can handle cases involving marriage dissolution (divorce), legal separation, invalidity of marriage, dissolution of civil union, and parentage and child support.

Parentage and child support cases are usually for parties who are not married, but who share children. One party is asking the court to establish parentage, establish or enforce child support, establish parenting time, or establish decision-making. In the latter case, the parent wants the authority to make decisions about the child’s education, medical treatment, and religion, among other matters.

Steps to Take Before Your Court Hearing

Before you have a family court hearing, certain things may need to happen. They depend on the particulars of your case. For instance, if you are an unmarried father who does not have official paternity of a child, it is unlikely you can have custody hearings until you establish paternity. You can have a hearing for paternity, though.

Common ways for unmarried fathers to establish paternity are through a voluntary paternity order, an administrative paternity order, or a judicial paternity order. Your family court hearing may be to get a judicial paternity order. These situations can have a lot of parts to them. Once paternity is established, the parents or the court can decide matters such as parenting responsibilities, parenting time, and child support.

Signing a birth certificate in DuPage County, IL, does not necessarily by itself establish paternity with legal value. A voluntary paternity order works much better. Many fathers do this at the hospital soon after the child’s birth. A family lawyer can help with the nuances of your case. If paternity has been established already, other ways to prepare for a family court hearing include these:

  • Getting your home ready for the child. You help your case if your home is functionally capable of helping you meet the parenting time obligations you want.
  • Paying child support as required.
  • Creating a proposed parenting plan that shows you have the child’s best interests in mind.
  • Working with the other parent on child-related issues.

If the parents cannot work together, a judge may be the one to allocate responsibilities. Collaborating with the other parent is a way to retain control over the situation.

Research and Gather Information

Knowledge is power. You can help your case by researching and gathering information. Learn about the legal issues in your case and identify the areas that matter most to you. Review any existing court orders in your case. Research statutes, rules, and court procedures. The assistance of a divorce lawyer or family law attorney can be invaluable, too.

Keep documents organized, and create a timeline of important events before the family court hearing. Identify good potential witnesses.

Consult with an Attorney

A divorce attorney can help with many family law cases. Divorce (or establishing paternity or whatever family law issue is at hand) can mean many difficult decisions. An attorney can guide you and advocate for you.

The questions to ask a divorce lawyer depend somewhat on the nuances of your case. For example, you may have a good idea early on about whether your spouse is open to mediation or whether you need a seasoned trial lawyer. Ask lawyers about their experience with specific matters and whether they can handle multiple areas in your divorce, if applicable.

How Your Attorney in DuPage County, IL, Can Help You Prepare

Your attorney helps you get ready for a family law or custody hearing in several ways. For instance, attorneys take a customized approach to your case that accounts for your goals. They assess your case and can help shore up any possibly weak areas.

Attorneys ensure you know what to bring to a child custody hearing and that you have the required paperwork and forms. They conduct legal research and prepare witnesses. They can help with mediation and represent you at a trial if that happens. Another benefit is that they keep you focused and on track during what could be a very difficult time. They can also assist with court order compliance and appeals.

Practice and Rehearse Your Testimony

Your testimony is a chance for you to establish credibility and show the judge why you believe what you do. It can be easy to make mistakes with testimony, but, fortunately, attorneys can help you sidestep errors through practicing and rehearsing.

For instance, your attorney helps to clarify the facts of your case so you can testify clearly about the key points. You can practice answering routine and unexpected questions to boost your confidence levels. Rehearsing can lower your stress and make you feel more in control while you testify. It is also a chance for your attorney to offer feedback on your body language, tone, clarity, and other issues.

Help Prepare Any Witnesses

Just as your attorney can help you prepare to testify in a family court hearing, he or she can do the same with witnesses. Additionally, witnesses are not always clear on what their role is or what information they can offer. Attorneys can educate witnesses on these matters and review statements for clarity and accuracy.

Uncontested divorce lawyer Denise Erlich is passionate about helping divorcing couples in the greater Chicagoland area transition to their new life as seamlessly as possible. Ms. Erlich patiently guides her clients through every step of the divorce process and provides clients with candid advice about their case and legal options, so they can make informed decisions about their future.

Years of Experience: More than 20 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois
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