AREAS OF PRACTICE
Although his office is located in Belleville, Illinois, and even though the majority of his cases arise from St. Clair County, Illinois, Daniel J. Grueninger has handled cases in the following counties in Illinois:
In addition, he has handled appeals involving Family Law matters in the Fourth and Fifth Judicial Districts in Illinois. He is available for representation in all counties in southern and central Illinois.
Perhaps the most prevalent of Family Law cases, is that of divorce, or dissolution of marriage as referred to under Illinois law. Generally, it is not difficult to establish grounds for a divorce. Historically, proof of fault was required for a divorce, but with the advent of irreconcilable differences as a ground, the need for proof of fault is avoided in the vast majority of cases. Unlike traditional fault grounds, however, irreconcilable differences requires that the parties either be separated in excess of two years pending divorce, or that the parties be separated for over six months accompanied by a waiver by both parties to the reduced period of separation. As a result of the ease for which grounds may be found, the disputes now commonly arise over custody, division of property, etc.
Custody of children encompasses several different forms. Joint; custody is major decision-making with both parents being involved. Sole custody is one parent making the final decision on all major issues, without the requirement that the other parent agree. Shared custody is when the children spend exactly one-half of their time at either parents home over the course of a year, i.e., six months with each parent. Split custody exists when one child primarily resides at one parents home and one or more other children reside primarily at the other parent's home. The over-riding principal in all custody cases, is what arrangement is in the best interest of the minor children, and for purposes of joint custody, whether the parents have the willingness and ability to effectively communicate in order to make decisions for the best interest of the minor children. No one type of custody is preferred over the other, and all the various custody possibilities should all be explored, as the prospects for each depend widely on the individual facts of each case.
Visitation is the time with the children received by the non-custodial parent. In a joint custody; context, it is called secondary custody. The time periods for visitation, and even the terms of visitation, can vary widely from case to case, but is awarded unrestricted unless the custodial parent can prove serious endangerment to the child by the non-custodial parent in the absence of restriction. A visitation schedule must be comprehensive and detailed in order to be useful, not only so that the parties can know what to expect for planning purposes, but so that the police may effectively enforce the schedule of visitation should the need arise for police to get involved. Transportation in order to facilitate visitation is part of the court's overall determination of a reasonable schedule of visitation. Typically, both parties share some involvement in providing transportation for visitation.
Illinois uses a guideline formula to determine the amount of direct child support to be paid by the non-custodial parent under most circumstances. In Illinois, the guideline amounts of child support based on the net income of the payor, are (a) 20% for one child, (b) 28% for two children, (c) 32% for three children, (d) 40% for four children, (e) 45% for five children, and (f) 50% for six or more children. As with any guideline, however, there are various exceptions that may be available to reduce child support below the guideline amount. Support-related issues are direct expenses for the children that are sometimes allocated in addition to the amount of directly paid child support, and may include such items as health care insurance, uncovered healthcare expenses, extracurricular activity expenses, etc. Support-related expenses may be allocated as part of, but more commonly in addition to, direct child support, and become enforceable in the same manner as direct child support.
PROPERTY AND DEBT
The division of marital property and marital debt is closely tied together, since each affects the overall equity that each party is awarded. Neither is allocated in a vacuum, and the starting point for the court is a 50/50 split of all marital property and marital debt, with an eye toward deviating from that point, depending on the ability to replace marital property, ability to pay marital debt by each party following entry of the divorce judgment, and other factors as considered by the court. Non-marital property and non-marital debt is assigned to the party entitled to the non-marital property or responsible for the non-marital debt, as the case may be. The receipt of non-marital property or responsibility for non-marital debt may form part or all of the basis for altering the division of marital property or the allocation of marital debt.
In Illinois, alimony is called maintenance. The award of alimony is also affected by the award of marital property and marital debt, and by the assignment of non-marital property and non-marital debt. Various factors affect the award of alimony in any given case. In addition, having decided to award alimony, the court next considers both the amount and duration of the alimony awarded. Following an award of alimony, the recipient has an affirmative obligation to become gainfully employed. In addition, it is important to note that alimony is generally subject to modification during it's term, both in amount and duration. Moreover, upon a substantial change in circumstances, alimony is generally subject to extension at the end of the term. However, whether during the term or at the end of the term, the timing and nature of the petition to modify alimony, is critical, and failure to file for alimony in a timely manner, can result in summary dismissal of the action.
Children born out-of-wedlock give rise to an action in paternity, called parentage in Illinois. Both parents are entitled to seek custody, visitation, child support, etc., similar to if the child had been born in the course of a marriage. Paternity can be admitted at the time of the child's birth, in the form of a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage (VAOP). However, if you admit parentage, sign the VAOP, don't move to set it aside right away, and later find out another man is the father of a child you thought was yours, you may well be barred from vacating the VAOP and found to be the father, even if you have DNA testing excluding you as the father! Never sign a VAOP unless you are certain AND willing to forever admit, paternity. In addition, as the father of a child born out-of- wedlock in the State of Illinois, it is critical to register with the Putative Father Registry within 30 days or file a petition asserting your parental rights; otherwise, you risk termination of your parental rights at any time upon petition filed by the child's mother. Parentage laws are somewhat complex and can be ruthless in their effect.
NON-MINOR EDUCATION EXPENSES
Illinois is one of the few states that can require parents to contribute toward their child's expenses after the age of 18 years, in the form of college education expenses, called Non-Minor Education Expenses under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA). The first step is to identify the college and degree sought by the child, and whether the parents have the ability to afford the child's desires. The second step is to allocate the annual cost of a college education, similar to the form of a 'pie chart', among the child and both parents, based on each party's respective ability to contribute. Unlike child support, college education expenses more practically take into consideration both parents' household incomes, assets, expenses, and debts. The child has an obligation to contribute toward his own college expenses, and to cut costs. Also unlike child support, there is an accounting for college education expenses. Moreover, it is imperative that the child understand that they must complete a comprehensive financial affidavit and will be required to testify in court in support of their affidavit; in other words, the child is an integral party to any petition for college education expenses.
A legal separation is filed when a husband or wife wants to end the accumulation of marital property or marital debt, but does not want to sever the marital relationship for some purpose, such as to remain on the other spouse's health care insurance, etc. BOTH spouses must agree to a legal separation as opposed to divorce, such that if either spouse wants divorce instead of legal separation, the divorce action will prevail. In addition, to state the obvious, it is important for both spouses to realize that they will remain married to the other spouse following a judgment of legal separation, such that neither can remarry. As such, a separate action, beginning anew, must be initiated all over again in order to get a divorce, adding greatly to the overall cost of an ultimate divorce. Frequently, a common reason for seeking legal separation, is to try to work things out, however, this reason overlooks the fact that actions for divorce can be delayed for periods of time in order to allow the parties to attempt to reconcile in the interim, should the parties desire. Needless to say, as a result, there is rarely a good reason for seeking legal separations, and as such, legal separation actions are extremely infrequent.
Guardianship takes many forms and is awarded for varying purposes. Guardianship is awarded over disabled adults who are incapable of caring for themselves, frequently by agreement, but sometimes, not. More commonly, guardianship is awarded over children left in the care of another, often times, a grandparent. Guardianship is used to (a) enroll the child in school, (b) receive health care for the child, or (c) prevent a long absent or drug-addicted parent from returning and taking the child back. When pursued for a child, it is in the nature of custody, and the non-parent must first demonstrate that they have standing and/or the ability to pursue the guardianship before they are entitled to a hearing on what is in the child's best interest.
Adoption is the acquisition of parentage over a child to which you are not the parent. It involves the termination of parental rights over the natural parent, and provides finality to the natural parents, the adopting parents, and most importantly, to the child. Adoption paperwork must be flawless in order to avoid it being vacated months, or even years, later. The termination of a parent's rights to their own child, is the most drastic action a court can take, and demands great care to ensure the action is done properly, especially if it is done involuntarily. A guardian ad litem (GAL) will be appointed to represent the best interest of the child and make sure the adoption is done for all the right reasons. Adoptions in Family Law have been equated to death penalty cases in Criminal Law, by at least one member of the judiciary.
Name changes are governed by different statutes, depending on the status of the person seeking to change their name. For adults, so long as the change is not to avoid creditors or for some fraudulent purpose, a name change can be completed by the filing of a petition and the publication of notice of the name change in a newspaper for three consecutive weeks. When this type of name change is sought, the adult may change their name to any name so desired, i.e., Elvis Presley. In a divorce context, a spouse who changed their name and wishes to return to their maiden name (or prior name for husband who has changed his name), the process is streamlined and incorporated into the divorce action, such that no special publication is required. Name changes for children are much more complicated. The parent seeking a name change on behalf of a minor child, must serve notice on the other parent, and prove that the name change is in the best interest of the minor child at a hearing. Using the adult name change process is inadequate, and can result in the order granting the name change for the child being held void and vacated at a later date.
An Appeal is taken to a higher court when a party believes the trial judge has made an error in applying the law. An Appeal is not a chance to re-hear the case in front of the appellate court. Appeals are expensive because they are very time-consuming, as each word and each document from the trial is reviewed in detail in the course of preparation of the appellate brief and as before the appellate court. Appeals generally take from 6-9 months, but appeals regarding child custody and custody-related issues are given a preference in being expedited.
Juvenile Law matters range from abuse or neglect, to dependency and delinquency cases. Abuse and neglect matters are generally initiated by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), and are noted for retaining DCFS involvement throughout the entire process. The office of the State's Attorney represents DCFSs position, usually without any deviation. The first step in a Juvenile Abuse or Neglect action may be the taking of the child into Shelter Care. If DCFS has done so, it is critical (a) you do not agree to a safety plan, (b) you do not sign any paperwork agreeing to place the child into the guardianship of DCFS, and (c) you appear at the Shelter Care hearing with your attorney; otherwise, you may very well waive your right to object permanently. School disciplinary actions involve suspensions and expulsions. In order to pursue review of school suspensions and expulsions, students must first exhaust their administrative remedies by appealing through the school principal, superintendent, and ultimately the school board, before filing their petition before the court. Longer suspensions, and expulsions require the school to provide greater due process to the student, than short-term suspensions and lesser forms of school discipline, i.e., detentions, etc. In any event, it is imperative that the student demonstrate an effect on his scholastic record. The key for purposes of successfully appealing school disciplinary cases, is that action be taken immediately in order to preserve the student's right to object and demand a hearing that includes the student's full due process rights to which he is entitled.
Occasionally, I have handled Family Law matters that are extremely rare and unusual, typically as referred from other attorneys. For example, I reopened an Adoption from 1930 when necessary to discover hereditary blood disorders that may have been present among his relatives. In another matter, I represented a client whose children were taken away and DFCS sought expenses for the children's care. On yet another occasion, I sought conjugal visits for a prisoner who wanted to see his bride from a prison marriage. And currently, I am seeking a birth certificate for parents who had the child born at home five years ago.
Family Law and Juvenile Law cases frequently involve discretion, sometimes wide discretion, on the part of the judge. In the past 15 years, Family Law and Juvenile Law have become much more complex, and both require an attorney intimately familiar with Family Law issues, Juvenile Law issues, the statutes, and the caselaw. The days are over when attorneys concentrating in other areas could handle a divorce on the side, in any effective manner. For this reason, I handle no areas other than Family and Juvenile Law, as these two areas are intimately tied together. It is critical to call early in the process, to prevent loss of claims and rights which might affect the final outcome in a case.
St. Clair County