Frequently Asked Questions*

General

The expression that first impressions count definitely applies to court appearances, where a minimum of "business casual" dress is the norm. This means leaving tank tops, t-shirts, ball caps, ripped or stained clothing, shorts, and flip flops at home. More formal attire is recommended for trial (think "job interview"). Men should wear a dress shirt or suit and tie and women either a professional-looking pants suit or a workplace-appropriate dress. Neatly pressed, clean "casual dress" clothing is fine for traffic court and preliminary appearances (think "meeting the future in-laws for the first time"). If you are unsure whether your clothing is courtroom-appropriate, it is perfectly okay to call your attorney to ask for guidance.

DO bring a pad of paper/notebook and a pen to write down any important details you may need to remember.

DO bring any paperwork (traffic citation, paperwork) you may need for your court appearance.

DO bring your cell phone, but expect to have it set to mute or turned off while court is in session.

DO NOT bring weapons of any kind, including pocket knives and sharp instruments that could be used as a weapon (knitting needles, sewing scissors).

DO NOT chew gum in court.

DO NOT bring your camera, as most judges do not allow them.

Each judge has discretion over what is permitted in his or her courtroom, so be prepared to accommodate these preferences. If you wear a hat, a bailiff (officer of the court) or the judge will order you to remove it in the courtroom. Out of respect for the proceedings, some judges discourage reading books or magazines and texting or gaming while court is in session.

Plan on arriving at least 15 minutes early. Budget extra time to account for traffic or other delays, including the security checkpoint at the courthouse entrance. If you have an attorney, he or she may want to meet a few minutes early to go over the details of your case.

If you have one, call your attorney immediately. There are situations in which an attorney can appear on your behalf, but it is important to check with your counsel to be certain your presence is not required.

Attorney fees can vary widely depending upon practice area, region, and payment structure. There are three basic fee structures attorneys use:

Contingency - Common in personal injury and medical malpractice cases, contingency fees include up to one third of a judgment plus costs, due only if a settlement or judgment is made in your favor.

Flat Fee - Clients pay a fixed amount for a legal service, regardless of the hours your attorney spends on the case. Flat fees tend to be higher and are common for traffic, DUI, and criminal cases.

Hourly - Typical in family law cases, hourly rates can vary widely (the average hourly rate in McHenry County is $300 per hour). Hourly rates do not include additional direct costs, such as copies and filing fees.

Please contact our office for a free consultation about your specific situation.

Family Law

Not in the sense that a specific wrong must be proven, as was once the case. Today, every state--including Illinois--has a “no fault” divorce option, where neither party is required to show that the other is at fault for the end of the marriage. This is also known as filing due to irreconcilable differences.

In Illinois, there are several additional legal reasons, or “grounds,” for a divorce, which include extreme emotional or physical cruelty, adultery, a felony conviction or desertion for more than a year.

Generally, no. Attorneys cannot represent opposing parties in the same case. Even in a simple uncontested divorce, each party is entitled to and should have his or her own legal representation. This does not mean that the divorce will be contentious or adversarial merely because each side is represented by legal counsel.

Divorce covers a number of marital arrangements, including financial and custodial. You should bring any documents related to both marital (shared by you and your spouse) and individual (owned solely by you) assets (your marital home(s), investments, valuables), debts, and expenses. In addition to paperwork, expect to provide personal information such as your address, employer, and contact information during your first meeting with an attorney. Don’t worry if you forget to bring something to your initial meeting with an attorney; he or she will let you know what’s needed and you can always send it along later.

Sometimes circumstances change significantly after a divorce; a spouse loses his or her job or becomes disabled, a parent moves out of state, a need arises for a new custody arrangement, a spouse fails to pay child support or spousal maintenance (alimony), etc. In these cases, a former spouse can petition the court for a post judgment modification, or a change in the original terms of the divorce. In many situations it is possible to obtain an order modifying the original judgment of divorce.

Anyone who believes they are in imminent danger should call 911 immediately and report the situation to the authorities.

In non-emergency situations, it is important to determine whether an Order of Protection or a Stay Away Order is necessary. Under Illinois law, people may petition a court for an Order of Protection or a Stay Away Order against individuals who are abusing or harassing them. Orders can only be sought against people in certain legally defined relationships (including: spouses/former spouses, boyfriends/girlfriends, unmarried individuals who have a child in common, or people living in a shared or common dwelling). The definition of domestic violence in Illinois covers many behaviors, including physical abuse (defined by law as sexual abuse, physical force, confinement or restraint, purposeful sleep deprivation, or behaviors which create an immediate risk of physical harm). Intimidation or harassment may also be grounds for the issuance of a protective order.

An Order of Protection may be civil or criminal in nature and is designed to stop the abusive behavior and protect victims of abuse. There are emergency Orders of Protection available to victims in immediate danger, and other types of orders that provide longer-term prohibitions to abusers and protections for victims. The details of each Order of Protection and the type requested will depend on the facts of each case; a judge can order an abuser to leave a shared home, stop the abusive behavior, and undergo counseling, among several options.

Anyone who believes they are in imminent danger should call 911 immediately and report the situation to the authorities.

After that, it is important to decide whether an Order of Protection is necessary. Under Illinois law, a victim may be entitled to a protective order against someone guilty of harassment. The definition of harassment in Illinois is unnecessary conduct that causes a victim emotional distress. There are several behaviors that constitute harassment, including repeatedly visiting work or school, repeatedly calling a victim, repeatedly following victims in public places, and a few others.

Criminal Law

Driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious offense in Illinois, and it is important to understand your rights and options leading up to your first court appearance. If convicted for DUI, your license will be taken away (revoked) for a set period of time, which varies based on different factors. Full driving privileges may be reinstated only after the terms of the conviction are successfully completed. The terms may include payment of a fine and court costs, completion of counseling, public service, jail time and the inability to drive during the period of revocation. It may then be necessary to schedule a hearing before the Secretary of State.

If you either failed or refused to take a breathalyzer test during the traffic stop, you will receive a notice that your license will automatically be suspended (known as a “statutory summary suspension”). This suspension occurs 46 days after the day you receive a ticket. It is important to seek legal advice to determine your rights and options before this suspension occurs. Legal grounds may exist to rescind the statutory summary suspension.

If you are uncertain whether an attorney can help with your particular situation, contact us for a free consultation.

In Illinois, criminal offenses are divided into two basic categories, felonies and misdemeanors. Felonies carry a possible sentence of at least one year in jail and/or a fine, while misdemeanors (which are less serious but by no means "slap on the wrist" offenses) carry possible jail sentences of up to one year and possible fines as well.

While misdemeanor offenses may seem minor in comparison, a person can be charged with a felony for repeat misdemeanor offenses. In addition to those listed here, other sentences are available for misdemeanors, including court supervision, conditional discharge (non-reporting probation), and probation.

Drug crimes may be categorized as felonies or misdemeanors. The quantity of a controlled substance, type of controlled substance, intent to deliver, location of the crime, ages of the parties and past history are some of the factors that determine the severity of the crime.

Illinois has five classes of felonies that carry different penalties. First degree murder is also a felony offense and carries unique penalties. All felonies may also be punishable by a fine of up to $25,000 and the possibility of an extended prison term, depending on the circumstances of the offense(s).

Types of Felony Illinois State Prison Term
Class X Felony 6-30 years
Class 1 Felony 4-15 years
Class 2 Felony 3-7 years
Class 3 Felony 2-5 years
Class 4 Felony 1-3 years
Class A Misdemeanor Up to 1 year and/or $2,500
Class B Misdemeanor Up to 180 days and/or $1,500
Class C Misdemeanor Up to 30 days and/or $1,500

This depends upon a number of factors, including the reason you were ticketed, whether you are required to appear in court, and in some cases, your personal preference.

If you are not required to appear in court (your ticket will state whether or not you must appear), you have the option of simply paying the fine listed on the ticket by mail. While this seems like a quick and easy solution, you should know that paying the fine may result in a conviction, which remains on your driving record for a set period of time. Depending upon the number of convictions you receive within a given time period, this can result in higher insurance rates and even a license suspension.

In order to avoid a conviction, you can request court supervision. Supervision can result in a fine and court costs, community service, and/or attendance of traffic school. If the period of supervision is satisfactorily completed, the supervision ends without a conviction on your driving record.

If you are required to appear in court, be sure to arrive at least fifteen minutes early and to dress appropriately (see our General FAQs for tips on what to bring and wear to court). Traffic cases that go to trial are often conducted as bench trials, meaning the judge (instead of a jury) listens to the evidence and decides the case based on the facts presented.

Every case is unique and the law can be applied in any number of ways to each situation. If you are uncertain whether an attorney can help resolve your particular situation, contact us for a free consultation.

We strongly recommend that you appear for all court dates. Your appearance may be mandatory. In situations where you received prior permission from a judge excusing your appearance, you do not have to appear. However, if not otherwise excused, you must appear at every court date or risk having a warrant for your arrest based on your failure to appear. You also risk having any bond that you may have posted be forfeited to the court.

A bench trial means a judge (instead of a jury) considers the evidence and decides the case based on the facts presented. Bench trial procedures are similar to those in jury trials: witnesses are called to testify under oath about what happened, and the judge decides the verdict after hearing the testimony of the witnesses and considering all of the evidence presented.

Yes if on a public roadway in a school or construction zone. An Illinois law (IL House Bill 72) enacted in January 2010 prohibits the use of cell phones in construction and school speed zones. So if your child's school pickup area is in a school speed zone, wait to use your cell phone until you have left that zone. Exceptions to this law include calls made during emergencies (to summon police, fire, or ambulance services) and in voice-activated mode (i.e., hands-free). Also keep in mind that texting while driving is illegal statewide (and in many other jurisdictions), and talking on a hand-held cell phone is illegal in the City of Chicago.

This depends upon the type of ordinance violation you received and in which municipality (city, town, village, etc.). Each municipality has its own set of ordinances that citizens and visitors are often unaware of but are still required to follow. Ordinance violations differ from a crime because they are issued by a municipality rather than the state. Examples of common ordinance violations include: disposal of abandoned cars or other waste on private property, noise disturbances (music, barking dogs), burning leaves without a permit, disorderly conduct, and trespassing.

Juvenile Law

Curfew laws are "status offenses," or acts that would not be crimes if committed by an adult. Truancy (skipping school), possession of alcohol or tobacco, and running away are other examples of status offenses. Curfew laws are usually local city or county ordinances that prohibit young people (usually under age 18) from being out in public during certain hours. Each jurisdiction (city/town and/or county) has its own curfew laws, so it is a good idea for all parents to ask local authorities about the hours for curfew and to tell their children about these restrictions too.

Curfew violations and other status offenses are occasionally handled without entering the juvenile court system. Police officers can issue warnings or refer minors to administrative agencies designed to deal with juvenile issues, but sometimes a court appearance is necessary.

The juvenile court system operates separately from both the civil and criminal court systems. Juvenile court addresses delinquency cases and abuse and neglect cases.

Delinquent offenses, or acts committed by minors under age 17 that are considered crimes regardless of the age of the person committing them (possession of illegal drugs, assault, robbery).

Punishments for curfew violations vary by jurisdiction. Common penalties include: fines, mandatory home or community service, driver’s license restrictions, and in some instances even detention in a juvenile correctional facility. Often local police can exercise judgment about whether to ticket or charge a juvenile, but this varies widely by jurisdiction. Judges may also decide to offer leniency to first-time offenders or based on the circumstances of a given case.

While juvenile records remain sealed (inaccessible to the public) until age 18, there are procedures to keep some or all of a minor’s record sealed once they reach legal age. Because every case is unique, it is difficult to say whether or how a conviction for a curfew violation will impact your child’s future educational or employment opportunities. If you are not sure whether an attorney can help resolve your particular situation, contact us for a free consultation.

Ideally, our children will heed our advice not to send revealing or sexually explicit images of themselves or others via text messaging, aka "sexting." But even the best children make mistakes or exercise poor judgment, and before January 1, 2011, a poor decision could have landed your teen in serious trouble.

A new law changes existing laws written before the internet and smart phones became tween and teen playgrounds. Before this loophole was closed, creating nude images of anyone under age 18 (including provocative self-portraits) constituted felony child pornography, and anyone sending these images via text message or posting on the internet could have been charged with felony distribution of child pornography and required to register as sex offenders.

This does not mean teens should not exercise good judgment, however. The new "sexting" law, House Bill 4583, provides more reasonable but still serious penalties, including allowing minors who send explicit images via a computer or electronic communication device (cell phone) can be taken into police custody and found in need of juvenile court supervision, court-ordered counseling and/or community service.

Traditional sex offender laws will still apply to situations where images are taken without a minor’s consent or by repeat offenders. The bottom line: make sure your children know the consequences of "sexting" and advise them to simply not do it. If you do find your child in a situation involving sexting, consult an attorney for advice.

The adoption process can be intimidating, expensive, and long, and there are legal safeguards in place to ensure that both the adoptive and birth parents are in full agreement about this life-changing decision.

Illinois law requires birth mothers to sign an irrevocable consent form that terminates her parental rights. This form can not be signed until 72 hours after the baby is born, allowing time in case the birth mother decides not to place the child for adoption. The consent form must be formally approved by a judge or authorized social service personnel. Attorneys and notaries cannot approve a consent form.

As for the birth father, the birth mother can either name the baby’s father, state that the identity of the baby’s father is unknown and explain why, or refuse to name the father and explain why not (for example, an abusive relationship). This statement must be in the form of an affidavit (a signed, sworn statement). Birth mothers who refuse to identify the father or who identify the wrong man as the father cannot sue to invalidate an adoption later.

A man is legally considered the father of a child if he is married to the birth mother on the day the child is born or up to 300 days before the birth. A court finding of paternity can also establish a man as a legal father. There is an additional law called the Illinois Putative Father Registry Statute. A putative father is not married to the birth mother and has not otherwise tried to establish that he is a child’s father. Under this law, a man has 30 days to register information about his identity, the birth mother and, if already born, the child in order to establish paternity. After that, a court will require further steps for a man seeking any legal rights regarding his child.

Once both birth parents give parental consent to the adoption and the adoption is finalized, the adoptive parents are legally considered the child’s parents. No matter where you are in the adoption process, if you need legal advice, contact our office for a free consultation about your specific situation.

This situation would fall under Illinois child neglect laws, which cover when a parent or caretaker fails to provide adequate supervision, food, clothing, shelter or other basics for a child. This is different from child abuse, which involves physical, sexual, or emotional harm to a child, but child neglect is also taken seriously by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS)

A DCFS visit does not automatically mean a parent will lose custody of his or her children. When someone calls the DCFS Child Abuse Hotline, the staff determines whether a case of abuse or neglect occurred and if so, a formal report is taken. Within 24 hours, a Child Protection Services worker will begin an investigation (much sooner if the child is found to be in immediate risk of harm).

After meeting with both the person who reported the abuse or neglect and the alleged victim, an investigator may determine that either the report was not made in good faith or that abuse or neglect did not occur. If so, the investigation will be closed. However, if evidence of abuse or neglect is found, the investigator will open a formal investigation.

Investigators have 60 days to come to a decision that either the report was “unfounded” or “indicated.” Decisions are based on whether credible evidence exists that abuse or neglect occurred. Every case is different, and if you are unsure whether an attorney can help you during a DCFS investigation, call our offices for a free consultation.

Unfortunately, bullying remains a problem in our schools, and with cell phone and internet use on the rise among students, cyber-bullying is a new form of harassment some students must face. Whether physical or emotional bullying is occurring, it is important to make teachers and administrators aware of the situation so they can first work to resolve it. Ask that your child’s identity be kept from the other student(s) if disciplinary action is taken. If you feel that the school administration is not addressing a bullying problem appropriately, then legal action may be necessary, including seeking a stalking/no contact order from a judge. Contact our office for a consultation about your child’s situation.

While juvenile records remain sealed (inaccessible to the public) until age 18, there are procedures available to keep some or all of a minor’s record sealed once they reach legal age. Because these procedures depend on the situation, contact our office for a free consultation to see whether keeping records sealed is an option

*DISCLAIMER: The questions and answers presented on this website are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice, nor do they establish an attorney-client relationship.