Brigitte Schmidt Bell, P.C. is one of the only “fully Collaborative” law firms in the Chicago area.
Our firm’s work consists of supporting families and individuals during times of transition, uncertainty, and crisis, and helping them plan for future changes.
Our firm has been a leader for more than twenty-five years among family law firms managing divorce cases, and we are especially known for pioneering Collaborative Law Divorce in Illinois as well as for mediation and other consensual methods of family dispute resolution. We help our clients problem solve, identify issues, and fashion effective solutions.
The problems we address come at all times in a family’s life cycle: planning for adoption, creating agreements about children, creating premarital (“prenuptial”) plans and agreements, addressing post-marriage (“post-nuptial”) problems, negotiating temporary separation, entering into legal separation or divorce, resolving post-decree matters, and helping families address issues involving elder and parent care.
Divorce, called “dissolution of marriage” in Illinois, is a reality for about half of all marriages and civil unions nationwide. Even when both parties agree that divorce is a necessary transition for them, it is still often a painful process fraught with difficult decisions about many details that couples don’t anticipate when they decide to end their marital relationship. When divorce is unavoidable, our firm has the expertise to help you deal respectfully with parenting issues, child support, maintenance and spousal support, and the experience of analyzing and allocating of all types of simple to complex property holdings and financial assets including real estate, stocks, businesses, retirement plans, and valued personal possessions. We help clients think and act responsibly when deciding about these issues, whether simple or complex, and we help them craft solutions that work while preserving their assets to the greatest extent possible.
In some cases legal separation can be an alternative to divorce that is primarily used in cases where a couple wishes to remain married while they separate their finances and live apart. This legal status is distinguishable from “temporary separation,” and it does not refer to the period of separation required to establish “living separate and apart” needed to get a divorce in Illinois. Legal separation requires a court order, which includes terms for maintenance, support, and division of property, and it stops the accrual of marital debts and assets. Our firm helps you determine whether this is the appropriate remedy to meet your particular needs and concerns, and then helps you navigate and finalize the process.
The creation of a prenuptial agreement can provide an opportunity for a couple contemplating marriage to discuss financial issues and make a plan for how to use their assets and resources during a marriage to avoid the kind of financial difficulties or disagreements that, in fact, sometimes can lead to divorce. The main purpose of a prenuptial agreement (also known as a premarital agreement or simply a prenup) is to protect and/or preserve certain assets as the separate, non-marital property of either one or both of them, individually. We help our clients anticipate the issues that are likely to create difficulties and help them discuss those issues and develop a plan to avert them as part of the prenuptial agreements.
Similar in concept to prenuptial agreements, a postnuptial agreement (sometimes called post-marital agreement or a postnup) applies when an already-married couple wants to clarify certain financial positions, holdings, or agreements into a binding legal document. The need for a postnuptial agreement occurs especially in cases where either one or both spouses recognize that the legal defaults of marriage do not suit how they want to deal with issues in their own marriage or they want to clarify how those terms will apply to them.
People who are not married to each other sometimes have children together, and the law provides a framework for dealing with the financial and parenting implications of such relationships. We help clients navigate the legal issues and determine whether and how to share both the responsibilities and the joys of raising such children together or separately as co-parents. We work with unmarried couples to establish paternity and to develop child support and parenting plans that make sense for their unique situations.
POST DECREE ISSUES
When a divorce is granted, the terms that the judgment contains are based on the circumstances that existed at that time. Even when a divorce agreement tries thoughtfully to anticipate the most likely future events and how they will be dealt with, no single document can ever fully or effectively address all the changes that will occur in the lives of the formerly married persons and their children after their divorce, or post-decree. Our firm members provide assistance to divorced individuals through one of two distinct roles: as mediators, we help both participants work out the changes in support or parenting caused by such life changes; or as attorneys, we help one client recognize his or her legal position and work with the others involved to reconcile their individual needs and circumstances. Our goal in either role is to help divorced parties revise parenting plans, review or modify maintenance, adjust child support, meet children’s expenses, and set the allocation of responsibility for college expenses.
ELDER LAW AND ELDER MEDIATION
Planning for retirement and long-term care often involves aging parents and partners wanting to avoid burdening their loved ones while retaining their independence, or families trying to plan for and deal with their parents’ care needs. Psychologists, social workers, care givers, geriatricians, financial advisors, family members, and clergy have all come to understand that these transitions are particularly hard for families because they involve multiple and complex relationships and issues that may have existed for years or have been taboo topics for discussion. We focus our efforts in this area by helping facilitate family discussions around important safety, health, financial, and quality-of-life issues to gain consensus and create solutions that all family members find effective.
We have handled all types of adoptions involving newborns, related children, and adults. We have also been involved in the “finding” and reconnecting process for adopted children who want to meet their biological parent(s), both in helping make the connections and then conducting the actual meeting, if everyone agrees that there should be one, between biological parents and children. We use our mediation expertise to ensure that these meetings, which are often highly emotional, are handled with privacy and respect for all concerned.
All members of our firm are committed to teaching, lecturing, and sharing our knowledge and experience with other professionals, clients, and potential clients. Thus, we have taught and lectured at Loyola University School of Law and DePaul University. We have provided many hours of training, feedback, and peer review to new and experienced mediators and Collaborative attorneys, serving as mentors to developing practitioners We speak at national and local conferences on topics including Collaborative Law, mediation, ethics, best interests of children, financial issues, and high-conflict consensual dispute resolution. We have presented to audiences including judges, lawyers, mediators, mental health professionals and interested lay persons. And we support organizations such as the Lilac Tree, the Center for Conflict Resolution, the Family Defense Center, the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois, and the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and other organizations that are committed to consensual conflict resolution.