Custody & Visitation
There’s Nothing More High-Stakes Than Your Parental Rights.
Merel Family Law: Compassionate Child Custody Lawyers Committed to Protecting Your Children
Child custody and visitation cases directly impact your child’s quality of life. Poorly executed parenting agreements can create trauma and long-lasting damage. Don’t leave this life-altering process to your run-of-the-mill child custody lawyer.
For over 20 years, our team of respected and experienced lawyers has provided our clients with the best-in-class legal representation they need while ensuring your child feels secure and supported. It is vitally important to have a legal team on your side that clearly communicates and executes your options regarding child custody, visitation and parenting time. Merel Family Law is that team.
We’ll help you protect your children.
Why Trust Merel Family Law to Handle My Child Custody Case?
Our clients are the type of people who demand and deserve world-class legal representation, and they won’t settle for anything less. So, we do our homework, stay on top of changes and emergent issues, prepare for every scenario, collaborate when it makes sense and fight like hell when it doesn’t.
We work just as hard to keep it. Our team of seasoned attorneys has worked diligently to help earn the respect of our Chicago-area colleagues, clients, judges, court systems and community, and we intend to keep it that way. In other words, our reputation speaks for itself.
All child custody cases are unique, and while we prefer to approach our clients’ cases in a spirit of collaboration and negotiation, we are also not afraid to “take the gloves off” when needed. In other words, our clients’ answer to the question, “What does winning look like to you?” informs our strategies, tactics and tone.
You’ll have peace of mind knowing we will never push you into a lengthy, costly and unnecessary court trial. However, we will use all legal remedies to protect your rights.
Unlike other law firms, we know how important it is to manage our client’s expectations and be available to answer their questions and concerns outside of regular business hours. You can contact us by phone, text, or email around the clock.
Schedule an appointment at any one of our four in-person offices in Chicago, Hinsdale, Skokie and Highland Park, or conduct some or all of your divorce proceedings online via Zoom. In some instances, an in-court appearance may be required by the judge. If so, you’ll typically be given at least 30 days advance notice.
"Melissa is personable, knowledgeable and reasonable... I completely trust her"
I contacted Melissa to discuss post-decree custody issues. I wasn’t sure what my options were. My relationship with my ex wasn’t great, but I also wanted to do everything in my power to maintain any respect we could salvage. Melissa recommended a few options and ways to proceed that were very appropriate for our situation. She explained a few angles I hadn’t thought of, and listened to exactly what I wanted to accomplish. Melissa was able to handle my entire case only speaking to me via phone and email, so it was minimally intrusive on my work/home life. We also discussed budget often and she was always very transparent about costs I should expect as the case proceeded.
Melissa successfully navigated a pre-trial conference and settlement negotiations on my behalf. I was able to obtain sole decision making over my minor child, while keeping the current relationship with the child’s father intact – which was a large part of my goal.
Overall, Melissa is personable, knowledgeable and reasonable, but also knew when to push back and when I needed to be encouraged to do so. I completely trust her judgment and ability to fight for me and my family. It’s such a relief to have someone like her on my side, even if I never need to use her again!
Our 4-Step Process
What to Expect from Our Parental Rights Attorneys and the Child Custody Process
Step 1: Contact us by phone (312-408-7000) or email. Our intake coordinator will ask a few simple – and completely confidential – questions to connect you with the right lawyer. Depending on your schedule, your initial consultation could be scheduled as soon as the same day.
Step 2: Consult with your attorney. During your initial conversation with your lawyer, you’ll be asked to share all aspects of your situation, including your child’s current living and educational situation, parentage, ideal parenting schedule, financial support dynamics and relevant information on the other parent.
Step 3: Pay the retainer fee & legal process begins. All child custody cases are different – some are easy and straightforward, others are extremely complex and most are somewhere in between. We will use this type of criteria to assess your retainer fee amount.
Step 4: Your attorney will determine, communicate and execute your case strategy. Initially, this includes filing a petition for the allocation of parental responsibilities and serving the other parent. After receiving a response and possibly temporary orders, mediation or litigation begins. Both parents have 120 days after filing the petition to provide a separate or joint proposed parenting plan.
Merel Family Law By The Numbers
Legal Services To Protect You And Your Children's Rights
Parental rights attorneys offer comprehensive legal services that focus on the best interests of the child. Their knowledge and experience allow them to easily navigate the complex family law system effectively. They will guide you through the entire process, from filing the initial petition to finalizing a parenting plan. Your attorney will advocate on your behalf, ensuring that your interests are well represented while determining custody, visitation, and child support. Attorneys can also provide emotional support during what can often be a stressful and emotionally charged process. They will help maintain objectivity and keep the focus on achieving the best outcome for your child.
The legal recognition of a child’s parentage, known as paternity law, is essential for children born to parents who are not married. For single parents, establishing paternity is key to securing rights such as visitation, custody, and child support. In Illinois, paternity can be confirmed in three ways: being married at the time of the child’s birth, signing a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP), or through a DNA test by filing a Petition to Establish Parentage with the court. Our dedicated team of paternity attorneys will assist you in obtaining rightful financial support and equitable visitation time with your child.
Regardless of marital status or visitation arrangements, parents are legally obligated to provide for their children. The purpose of child support is to maintain the child’s living standards as if the parents were living together. Typically, the non-custodial parent is responsible for paying child support, which is calculated based on both parents’ net incomes, the number of children, and the amount of time spent with them. A child custody lawyer is essential in safeguarding your best interests, such as determining support amounts, evaluating payment capability, altering existing obligations, and representing instances of unpaid child support.
The process of moving a child involved in a custody agreement demands meticulous legal review due to its effects on parental responsibilities and time-sharing arrangements. A move qualifies as a relocation if the new address exceeds the maximum distance stipulated by the current county of residence. The parent intending to relocate must provide at least 60 days’ notice to the other parent before the date of the move. This kind of move is viewed as a significant alteration in circumstances and may prompt a reassessment of existing custody orders. Our team of child custody lawyers is here to clarify your rights and duties related to relocation.
Illinois is an equitable distribution state when it comes to dividing marital property, which means the court will divide your marital assets “equitably” rather than splitting them 50/50. Property distribution is often one of the areas of divorce that generate the most disputes. Make sure you have an experienced divorce attorney on your side to protect your assets and ensure you get your fair share.
Alimony, or spousal maintenance, is generally awarded in situations where one spouse is non-self-supporting financially. At Merel Family Law, we make sure a fair amount of spousal maintenance is determined either amicably or through litigation.
The court will consider these factors when awarding alimony:
- Income, assets, and debts of each party
- Current and future income-earning capacity
- Constraints on earning capacity like lack of education
- Duration of marriage
- Standard of living during the marriage
- Child custody and parenting time arrangements
- Age and health of each party
- Tax consequences of each party
Court orders for spousal support are taken very seriously by the state of Illinois. When a spouse is struggling to receive required alimony payments, it is vital that the law steps in to enforce payment. Penalties against the delinquent spouse can include:
- Being found in contempt of court
- Paying for opposing counsel court costs
- Extending duration of maintenance payments
- Garnishment of wages
- A lien placed on their property
- Criminal prosecution including fees and jail time
The age of the child and where you are in the divorce process will affect how to approach the topic of college expenses. While child support typically ends when the child turns 18, the courts can extend a parent’s child support obligation to include their college expenses. You can also hire a mediator who will act as a neutral third party to help decide who is paying how much for their shared child’s education. Getting on the same page with your child’s other parent can help make the process smoother and help you establish clear expectations.
Understand Your Rights To Custody Of Your Child
Our goal at Merel Family Law is to put your child first and make sure your voice is heard in the child custody process. This all begins with a consultation with our qualified intake coordinators. A child custody attorney will then connect with you to offer support and guide you through the types of custody and your options for legal action.
The Parental Rights Legal Process & Child Custody Lawyers
Frequently Asked Questions
The State of Illinois legally recognizes two types of child custody arrangements: sole custody and joint custody. However, there are many frequently used phrases that describe various custody arrangements that are not legal terms, such as:
- Sole custody
- Joint custody
- Residential custody
- Legal custody
- Full custody
- Split custody
- Shared custody
- Not hiring a child custody attorney: It is crucial to hire an attorney with extensive experience handling child custody cases similar to yours. Lawyers for child custody will understand the best course of action and coach you to avoid impulsive decisions.
- Refusing to cooperate with your spouse: You do not have to be your spouse’s best friend, but you should cooperate during the Illinois divorce process to show you are willing to work together to raise your children.
- Badmouthing your spouse: While you may not have many nice things to say about your spouse at the moment, you should refrain from speaking negatively about them, especially in front of your children. Alienating them from your spouse does not look good to the courts.
- Losing your temper: Although this is an emotional time, losing your temper will be a major red flag during the legal proceedings. Try to remain calm and prove to the court that you have self-control and emotional stability.
- Not being supportive of your spouse’s relationship with the children: It is essential to show that you support your children’s relationship with your spouse, as judges often consider this when making final custody decisions. Your willingness to nurture and maintain the bond between your child and spouse can positively influence the court’s decision.
In Illinois, a child can choose which parent to live with once they reach the age of majority (18 years old) or are otherwise emancipated. The courts will consider the minor child’s preference in a custody case, but only if they deem the child mature enough to voice their opinion. In most cases, custody and parenting time are agreed upon between the parents or, in contested cases, decided by a judge.
The court must decide that sole custody is in your child’s best interests. You and your child custody attorney will need to provide clear evidence to prove that the other parent should not have decision-making rights over the child for their own well-being.
In every case, it takes a village. We have a full-service staff and a large team of attorneys to help with your situation. We use a variety of attorneys, both partners and associates alike, to resolve your case and keep costs down.
Since 2016, Illinois law has shifted from using terms like “custody” and “visitation” to “allocation of parental responsibilities” and “parenting time.” Four major decision-making areas must be resolved before a judge can sign off on a final allocation judgment, and a formal parenting agreement.
- Education: Includes decisions about the type of school (early development, preschool, elementary school, high school, foreign language), choice between public or private schools, use of tutors, and specialized services.
- Healthcare: Involves choices related to the child’s medical, dental, vision, and psychological needs. It includes selection of healthcare providers, decisions about medication and vaccines, as well as treatment options.
- Religion: Covers decisions about the religious beliefs to be taught to the child, the religious gatherings they’ll attend, and their involvement in religious organizations and events.
- Extracurricular Activities: Includes decisions about participation in sports, arts, educational, social, and other activities or events outside their regular education.
- The respective wishes of the parents and the child;
- The history of care-taking functions;
- The child’s adjustment to their current home, school, and community; and
- The willingness of each parent to facilitate and encourage the child’s relationship with the other parent.