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What Does An Evanston Divorce Look Like?

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By Joshua E. Stern

It’s an interesting question: What does a typical Evanston divorce look like?  I think the answer is important for at least two reasons.  

First, I am frequently asked whether a particular case is common.  I’ve worked with many clients who are the first in their family or social circle to get a divorce.  Occasionally, these clients fear that there is something wrong with them or their life decisions.  They feel uniquely alone.  It’s important for those clients to understand that they are not alone and that some relationships don’t work, regardless of fault or marital status.  To that extent, knowing what a common divorce looks like may provide some relief.

Second, I think understanding what a typical Evanston divorce looks like tells us a lot about Evanston as a community, in the same way as knowing the mean and median of any social statistic provides insight. 

The Statistics

According to the 2010 US Census, Evanston had a population of 74,486 in 2010.  68.5% of the population was between 18 and 65 years of age, with the median age being about 34 years. 

The 2006-2010 American Community Survey (“2010 ACS”) found that the median value of an owner-occupied house was $395,000.00 and that 75.3% of those owner-occupied houses were encumbered by a mortgage.  The homeownership rate in Evanston was 58.5%. 

The 2010 ACS also tells us that 43.3% of all households in Evanston were comprised of a married couple.  Additionally, 20% of households in Evanston were comprised of a married couple and children under the age of 18.  46% of married couples had children under the age of 18. The average family household size was 3.

Again, the 2010 ACS found that 65.5% of Evanston’s population has a bachelor’s degree or higher.  The average Evanston resident is likely employed in either “professional, scientific, and management, and administrative and waste management services” or “education services, and health care and social assistance.”  Those two industries account for nearly 53% of the employed population.  Additionally, 65.1% of parents with children age 6-17 were a part of the labor force.

What Does The Typical Divorcing Family In Evanston Look Like?

As a family law attorney, those facts that were described in the 2010 Census and the 2010 ACS tell me a lot about a typical case.  I would expect the average Evanston divorce to involve a married couple between the age of 30 and 55.  While the median age in Evanston is about 34 years, that is likely not the median age for a couple seeking a divorce.  For instance, the 2010 ACS found Skokie’s median age to be just shy of 43 years.  Evanston, unlike Skokie, is home to a university, which surely skews the census data.

I would also expect the couple to have one child and own a home with a mortgage.  It is somewhat likely that both parents are employed, but that is far from an absolute rule.  In Evanston, roughly 2/3rds of parents with minor children are a part of the workforce.  Therefore, there will be a good number of stay-at-home moms and dads.  I would expect that at least one parent is employed through Northwestern University in some capacity.  That would mean, in many instances, employer-provided retirement plans.  

What Will Does An Evanston Divorce Look Like?

The case, like nearly all divorce cases, will begin with a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.  This petition is a request to the court to dissolve the parties’ marriage.  Remember, marriage is, amongst other things, a legal status conferred upon a couple by the State of Illinois.  A court of this State must also dissolve that marriage.

Custody and Child Support. This typical Evanston divorce will also involve a Custody Judgment.  A Custody Judgment is a judgment that addresses all non-financial issues associated with the couple’s child.  This includes parenting time (sometimes called visitation), discipline, religion, travel, and communication.  Most divorce attorneys have frameworks for what a Custody Judgment should include.  This means that divorcing couples should not be worried if they have not considered all issues to be addressed in the Custody Judgment.  Their divorce attorney will be able to help.

Judges like to resolve custody issues expeditiously.  If a case is going to involve lengthy negotiations and even some trial work, expect a judge to emphasize any outstanding custody issues. 

The typical Evanston divorce may also require a child support payment from one spouse to the other.  Typically, the residential parent receives child support from the non-residential parent.  There are a variety of situations in which this rule does not apply, but by-and-large, the rule stands.  Since this couple only has one child, child support would likely be set at the statutory rate of 20% of the payor’s net income.  Child support issues are also often resolved early on, although they do not receive the same attention as matters of custody.

Marital Settlement Agreement.  Divorces can really end in three ways.  The first is that the couple reconciles.  This is uncommon, but it certainly does happen.  The second is that the case goes to trial and a judgment is issued at the end of that trial.  The judgment, called a Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage, will address and resolve all outstanding issues.  The third way, and the way in which most divorces end, is with a settlement.  A divorce settlement, technically called a Marital Settlement Agreement, is an agreement that addresses all outstanding issues between a married couple.  Those issues that cannot be resolved are typically reserved for a decision at a later date.  This couples’ marital settlement agreement will need to cover the following issues:

  1. Maintenance. Maintenance, formerly known as alimony, is money paid from one spouse to the other for a set period of time following the divorce.  Maintenance is paid in order to equalize the finances of the parties and allow the less-advantaged party to enjoy a standard of living he or she would have enjoyed had the marriage not dissolved.  The idea is simple: if a marriage really is the product of two people working together to create a sum greater than its parts, then both parties should leave that marriage with an equal, or somewhat equal, share of its proceeds.  Maintenance is especially common in longer marriages and in marriages in which one spouse gives up his or her career to care for the couple’s home and children.  In this typical Evanston divorce, it is certainly possible that one of the parties did not work, at least for a period of time.  Accordingly, maintenance may be awarded. 
  2. Marital Home.  Most households in Evanston own a home.  A large percentage of them are owned by married couples.  A married couple owns a home as “tenants by the entirety.”  Here’s what you need to know about tenants by the entirety: each person owns an equal stake in the entirety of the home, with the right of survivorship, and only married couples can own homes as tenants by the entirety.  That means that the home the couple bought after they were married must be addressed in some way, and its ownership must be restructured.  Typically, one party keeps the home or the parties sell it.  Marital homes are often sold if the associated mortgage is too large, or if the monthly payments are too sizeable for one person to pay alone. 
  3. Retirement Accounts.  Assuming that at least one of the spouses works at Northwestern University, he or she will likely have at least one work-related retirement account.  This retirement account will likely be divided between the parties, but not necessarily in equal proportions.  A court will likely award the non-employee spouse roughly 50% of the marital share of the retirement account.  A court will also consider each party’s respective savings and individual retirement accounts.

This post is not intended to be comprehensive.  There are a large variety of other issues the parties, and their respective family law attorneys, will need to address throughout the divorce process.  Additionally, a typical Evanston divorce does not necessarily mean it’s the most common, only that it’s based on averages and medians.  As always, I am happy to discuss your case with you.  

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