Diversity Thoughts

News + Insights

Diversity Thoughts

By: Jason Pica, Law Clerk / February 23, 2021

 

 

The political ascendancy of Vice President Kamala Harris has released hope in women across professions in which women and women of color are often underrepresented. While all Americans and women in particular are still assessing the meaning of a woman in the White House, Feinberg Sharma, P.C. celebrates the promotion and recognition of women in all professions, especially in the legal field.

 

At Feinberg Sharma, P.C. – a firm founded by two distinguished international leaders in divorce and family law – we understand the importance of advancement and continued education of women in law. Likewise, we recognize the paramount importance of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.

 

Before her rise to the White House, Vice President Harris was a District Attorney, Attorney General, and a United States Senator. Similar to Vice President Harris – the first woman and the first Black and Indian American to be elected vice president – our esteemed partner, Molly A. Sharma, has quickly risen to the top ranks of divorce and family law practitioners.

 

Recognized as a Crain’s Chicago Notable Minority Lawyer, Notable Women Lawyer, and Leading Lawyer, Molly is a savvy, accessible, aggressive, and sensitive advocate for her clients facing the challenges of divorce. Molly represents business owners, doctors, lawyers, athletes, and other individuals of high net worth who are grappling with the complex financial implications of ending their marriage.

 

Molly has a special expertise in international child jurisdiction disputes, known as Hague convention cases and is recognized as an expert in these complex matters. Often, she lectures at international conferences on subjects about these Hague disputes. In these cases, Molly acknowledges and employs her Indian culture for the amelioration of the attorney-client relationship and the advancement of the case.

 

We also acknowledge Mr. Cholleti Vinay Reedy, who became the first Indian American presidential speechwriter for President Biden’s inauguration. With roots in Telangana, India, Mr. Reedy was also recently appointed as the Director of Speechwriting for President Biden.

 

Whether in the spotlight like Vice President Harris or thriving behind the scenes like Director Reedy, both acclaimed professionals hold historic significance as the first Indian Americans in their respective positions. While we are all masters at our profession and leaders in our chosen field, Feinberg Sharma, P.C. takes this moment in history to honor all women, women of color, and profusely applaud Molly’s contributions to divorce and family law.

 

With a standing ovation to all deserving accolades, we look forward to helping you during your time of need.

 

- Feinberg Sharma, P.C.

Why We Mentor Our Associates

News + Insights

Why We Mentor Our Associates

By: Joy M. Feinberg and Gia M. Conti / January 28, 2021

 

 

In a world where everything is going digital, mentorship in the law remains relevant and continues to evolve. Mentoring is more than just teaching someone how to be a “good lawyer.” Feinberg Sharma mentors the attorneys in our firm so that they take pride in themselves, their work product, and our firm.

 

Beginning with our younger associates and law clerks, we mentor internally and encourage associates to seek additional guidance outside of our firm. Internally, we train our associates on how to think critically – which involves learning the law from the bottom up, not just reading the statute. We want our attorneys to understand how laws are crafted such that they will eventually want to take part in bar associations in order to provide valuable input regarding the legislation that governs our day-to-day practice.

 

Mentored Associates Become Respected Members of the Family Law Community
Being a well-respected member of the family law community is just as important as understanding the law. We guide our associates on how to mingle with their peers and the judiciary. Our associates learn the importance of knowing their colleagues in a collegial setting and how it may ultimately enhance their ability to foster creative and unique resolution.

 

We want our lawyers involved in educational endeavors: from attending programs to writing and speaking. We also support our attorneys to become involved in non-legal organizations, including local and national charities. The firm pays for our lawyers to attend full-day seminars and lengthier programs that focus on specialized issues such as negotiation or trial skills. All of the firm’s lawyers write blog posts on topics they are passionate about or that are assigned to them so that our website has fresh, salient content.

 

Mentoring Helps to Turn Individuals into a Team
Together, the sum is greater than any individual part. We have an open-door policy so that all lawyers in the firm are available to learn from each other. Our senior lawyers routinely advise other lawyers about what worked, what did not work, what they discovered about certain issues, and what they heard or learned on a case or from a judge.

 

We foster an environment where everyone is part of a team or “firm family.” No matter how busy our schedules, we all check in on one another from time to time. If one attorney is in the weeds, we all come together to pitch in. There is an unwritten understanding that the relationship is mutual and reciprocal.

 

Part of being a well-respected and talented family law attorney includes learning from lawyers outside your own firm. Joy had such a relationship with a very senior lawyer who is just now embarking upon retirement. He remains one of the best trial lawyers in our industry. She has tried cases against him and can say they each bear the scars of their encounters.

 

During a recent trial in Federal Court, opposing counsel – with no notice – advised that they would be producing their overseas expert within one hour for examination. Joy had seen his report four days prior and made a series of notes covering four categories of cross-examination. As her questioning began, Joy realized she had taken on the style of her former opposing counsel. “I was channeling him,” she says. “As I progressively took apart the opposing expert, I said in my head, ‘We’re doing this together.’ I could hear him doing this!”

 

After the remote witness dejectedly left the witness chair in Europe, our team was beaming. At the conclusion of the trial, Joy called her colleague and told him the story. “He said it was the best gift he had ever been given: to know that I felt he had been a mentor to me,” says Joy. “The feeling was mutual. I was grateful for lessons learned from this master of the courtroom because he had elevated my practice.”

 

Mentoring is Emotionally and Financially Rewarding
Once associates and partners take pride in themselves, their sense of business development comes somewhat naturally. Our attorneys understand that their behavior reflects on our firm – whether in a pre-trial or shopping at their local grocery store. Our firm conducts quarterly “lunch and learns” that involve questionnaires and check-ins to promote business development among our associates. Encouraging business development among younger attorneys creates an invaluable sense of empowerment that is of little cost to a firm but pays big dividends – both immediately and into the future.

 

There is nothing more rewarding than asking a senior lawyer for help. Similarly, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing how their help has impacted another attorney.

 

Mentorship is a win-win for everyone – including our family law clients! – and a true learning experience for all involved. We have so many talented colleagues. It is important that we all learn from one another’s diverse backgrounds and continue to teach and support one another.

 

READ FULL ARTICLE

Molshree “Molly” Sharma Named to Crain’s Chicago’s 2020 Notable Women in Law

Molly Headshot

News + Insights

Molshree "Molly" Sharma Named to Crain's Chicago's 2020 Notable Women in Law

By: Feinberg Sharma / Setpember 14, 2020

 

 

Congratulations to Molshree Sharma, of Feinberg Sharma, who was chosen for the 2020 Notable Women in Law list by Crain’s Chicago Business. It was a competitive field, with over 200 nominations received.

 

For more information about Crain's Chicago's 2020 Notable Women in Law, visit https://www.chicagobusiness.com/awards/crains-2020-notable-women-law.

Gia M. Conti joins FS as newest partner

Ghia Headshot

News + Insights

Gia M. Conti joins FS as newest partner

By: Feinberg Sharma / June 1, 2020

 


 

Feinberg Sharma is pleased to announce the addition of Gia Conti as our newest partner. Her focus began in general civil litigation and has transitioned over the years to the complexities of high net worth asset divisions, business valuations, maintenance, as well as the intricacies of parental decision making (custodial issues) and parenting time disputes.

 

Gia Conti’s edge comes from her unparalleled understanding of the recently overhauled Illinois domestic relations laws. Her strong litigation skills give her an advantage over other practitioners, especially those in family law. She has successfully tried and settled issues in multi-million dollar estates as well as those holding top management positions. She is comfortable representing those in the “C” suite or their spouses. Gia has a robust record of success in domestic and international child custody issues. Gia has noteworthy expertise in maintenance disputes, valuation work and income imputation.

 

Although she is a skilled litigator, Gia believes in the value of resolution before trial. She is a certified mediator who wraps her dispute resolution skillfulness into her panoply of solution-oriented techniques.

 

Gia’s analytical skills and creativity allow her to think outside the box, providing clients with the tools necessary to settle the toughest issues collaboratively—or, alternatively, to strategically litigate the most complex estates. She takes pride in working closely with her clients. She continues to be recognized as an impressive advocate by opposing counsel. Gia’s success stems largely from her steadfast devotion to her clients and their cause.

 

Read Gia's Full Bio

Social media and divorce can be a messy combination

Social Media and Divorce

News + Insights

Social media and divorce can be a messy combination

 


Chicago residents who are facing an impending divorce should approach social media with caution for the duration of the proceedings.

 

Getting a divorce is never an easy proposition. Even when both spouses agree on how to divvy up their assets and liabilities, there are still many emotional aspects of a divorce to deal with. The addition of kids in a divorce further complicates a divorce. In today’s online world, Chicago spouses actually have yet another thing with which to contend and that is social media.

 

What goes online stays online
It is very easy to post something to a social media site. Removing it, however, is a different thing. Simply deleting a post from a primary view does not really ensure that it is gone. Deleted posts may still be detectable by some means. In addition, posts could have been shared and seen by many people even before they were deleted. This should always be kept in people’s minds.

 

Opening doors for suspicion
Forbes explains that online posts may open up questions that spur an opposing spouse to investigate things that may otherwise have been left alone. This can include certain bank accounts being reviewed in great depth if one spouse believes that assets may be hidden. For example, photos of extravagant trips can give the impression that one person has access to funds that might surpass what have been disclosed.

 

Protecting kids
Social posts can be seen by a variety of people and eventually be shown to children of the divorcing parents or to the children’s friends or even teachers and coaches. Depending upon the nature of the posts, this may be embarrassing or hurtful to kids who are already struggling with their parents’ divorce. The Huffington Post notes that this is just one more reason to be cautious with social media during a divorce.

 

Messaging another concern
In addition to public posts, many social platforms allow private messaging between connected users. These are another avenue via which information can be misinterpreted or seen by the wrong people. Fox Business adds that text messages are another form of communication that should be used with care by divorcing spouses.

 

What spouses should know
CNBC reports that many couples today are creating social media prenuptial agreements to protect them if they ever get divorced. People already married without such agreements should discuss their situations with an attorney. Learning what type of information can be used against them in a divorce is an important part of making it successfully through a divorce in Illinois.

Collaborative law can take some of the “sting” out of divorce

Collaborative Law

News + Insights

Collaborative law can take some of the “sting” out of divorce

By: Feinberg Sharma

 


Splitting couples who can agree to respectfully resolve differences may benefit from the collaborative divorce process.
Divorce can sometimes be ugly. It can be bitter. It could last for years, with a couple appearing in court dozens of times to accomplish very little. There could be tens of thousands of dollars of legal fees while the parties fight back and forth, and their ability to co-parent their children moving forward could be significantly impacted by all the animosity. It could, at the very end, come down to an Illinois family court judge having to make virtually every decision on behalf of the couple, because they simply cannot set aside their anger long enough to accomplish anything.

 

Thankfully, divorce doesn’t have to be that way. Believe it or not, it actually is possible to end your marriage without getting trapped in the cycle of bitterness and bickering. How, you may ask? Through the process of collaborative divorce.

 

What is collaborative divorce?
Collaborative divorce is, in short, a non-adversarial way to dissolve a marriage. It involves parties who, together with their attorneys, commit to finding solutions and reaching settlement in an open and honest environment. The parties resolve to work together in a respectful way to address their issues and reach resolution without resorting to litigation. The process has a high success rate in part because both spouses must agree beforehand that, if they fail to reach a settlement and must proceed to court, they will hire new counsel and must start from scratch; this gives everyone involved a real stake in the outcome and a determination to make it work.

 

The guidance of experts
The collaborative process involves not only the spouses and their individual attorneys, but also a panel of experts there to facilitate agreement. The experts engaged can vary from case to case, but may include:

 

  • Financial specialists/experts there to analyze the couple’s economic situation, determine whether property is marital or separate in nature and propose various property division options
  • Divorce coaches who not only facilitate the process, but help the couple develop emotional skills necessary to move forward with their lives afterward
  • Child custody and parenting time specialists who make recommendations based upon what would be in the children’s best interests and propose methods that will guide the parents toward respectful co-parenting in the future
  • Religious advisors to ensure that, if necessary, dictates are followed with regard to the religious aspects of divorce

 

Other benefits
In addition to being less contentious than traditional divorce, the collaborative method is typically more cost-effective and quicker. You also remain in charge of the decision-making at all times, without ceding control to a judge who, though impartial, doesn’t know your family and how his or her decisions will impact you.

 

All other benefits aside, of most import to some couples, however, is the fact that the process is private in nature. Your family’s proverbial “dirty laundry” won’t be aired in public court, and information you disclose throughout won’t be part of the public record.

 

Interested in learning more?

Are you thinking of ending your Illinois marriage? Do you want to remain in control of the decisions involved? Can you commit to working with your spouse to find creative solutions? If so, contact Feinberg Sharma today.

Divorce is experiencing a boom among Baby Boomers

Divorce is Experiencing

News + Insights

Divorce is experiencing a boom among Baby Boomers


More Americans are getting divorced later in life, which comes with unique financial and emotional challenges.
Divorce can be challenging at any age. However, for many couples, Illinois residents included, the longer they are married the more assets and property they acquire. This can make the division of the marital estate particularly complicated for those who have been married for several decades, especially in high-asset divorces.

 

More Americans are getting divorced at a later age than ever before. National Public Radio states that married people over the age of 50 are twice as likely to split as those of the same age were two decades ago. For example, about 10% of people over 50 got a divorce in 1990, as opposed to 25% today.

 

Common reasons for gray divorce
Divorce among older couples has been termed “gray divorce.” Numerous reasons, alone or combined, may result in more seniors getting divorced today. These can include:

 

  • Longer life spans contributing to the desire to have a more fulfilling life at a later age;
  • More women enjoying economic independence and not needing to rely on a husband’s income; and
  • Growing apart after the kids are raised and out of the house.

 

Despite the heartbreak and setbacks of getting a divorce, it can also be liberating to start one’s life over, even at an older age. The Washington Times notes that certain factors need to be even more carefully considered in a gray divorce. These include dividing retirement accounts and pension plans that have accumulated over the years, as well as any business assets from a joint or individual business. The professionals at Feinberg Sharma have extensive knowledge about valuing and dividing these retirement interests, for qualified plans through the use of a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (“QDRO”), without triggering tax consequences as well as dividing non-qualified plans by using a Domestic Relations Order (“DRO”). We also understand how to value and divide stocks, options, units, phantom stock and the multitude of types of deferred compensation forms being paid to executives today.

 

Speaking with an attorney
Older couples in Illinois have had a lifetime to build up assets. When you are considering a divorce later in life, you often have more things to worry about than those who are younger. A gray divorce presents unique emotional challenges. Still, many of those divorcing later in life are able to go on to live full, happy lives.

 

If you’ve been married for many years and are considering a divorce, contact Feinberg Sharma today, as we are experienced family law attorneys who will protect your rights.

Chicago-area couple’s divorce leads to dispute over family pet

dog

News + Insights

Chicago-area couple’s divorce leads to dispute over family pet

A Chicago-area couple is involved in a lengthy divorce dispute largely centered on custody of the family dog.

 

Divorce law sometimes struggles to keep up with how families view pets
While child custody and visitation disputes are not uncommon in divorce cases, custody disputes surrounding pets are an area of family law that is relatively new. One Carol Stream couple is learning the hard way how Illinois law can sometimes feel out of step with how pet owners relate to their furry friends. The couple has been involved in a highly contested divorce surrounding who will get custody of the couple’s dog, according to Fox 32 News.

 

Husband seeks pet custody
The dispute in this case revolves around a 5-year-old Labrador retriever named Pepper. Both the husband and wife each claim that they are best able to care for the dog. The wife currently enjoys custody of Pepper, although the husband claims that it is in the dog’s best interest for custody to either be split between the two or be awarded to him.

 

The husband had asked the judge to let a pet mediator intervene in the case, but the judge would not allow it. The wife has taken out an order of protection against the husband and she claims that he is simply using the pet as a way to harass her and drag out their divorce. The issue is expected to be decided by a judge in early August.

 

Pet custody disputes rising
The Carol Stream couple is hardly alone in their plight. According to the Chicago Tribune, a recent survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers in Chicago found that 25 percent of respondents had seen an increase in the last five years of pets being mentioned in divorce cases. One Illinois firm even claims it has seen a 60 percent rise in the number of pet custody disputes.

 

The main problem surrounding such disputes is that Illinois law, like most other states, treats pets largely as property rather than members of the family. In many cases, whether or not the pet’s best interests are taken into account will depend on how sympathetic a judge is to pet owners. Additionally, as the above case shows, custody of a pet can also sometimes be used as a bargaining chip by a disgruntled spouse in order to get a more favorable divorce agreement out of the other spouse.

 

Contested divorces
A divorce is one of the most emotionally fraught experiences that many people will ever go through. It is no surprise, then, that with emotions running so high that some divorcing couples end up getting drawn into long, disputed divorce cases.

 

While some divorce disputes are unavoidable, it is usually in a person’s best interests to consult an experienced family law attorney before taking any drastic steps in a divorce. A qualified attorney can use his or her legal expertise to make sure an ex-spouse handles a divorce in the most prudent and responsible way possible.

Experts disagree on the merits of Parental Alienation Syndrome

Parental Alienation

News + Insights

Experts disagree on the merits of Parental Alienation Syndrome

 

Parental alienation syndrome first appeared back in the 1980s. The discovery of PAS is attributed solely to Dr. Richard Gardner, a professor of psychiatry. According to Dr. Gardner, PAS describes when a child is essentially brainwashed by one parent to turn the child against the other parent. Not surprisingly, PAS generally arises in the context of highly contested child custody cases.

 

The conduct that gives rise to PAS can result in a situation where the child is being forced to choose sides in custody proceedings in order to guarantee to one parent a highly favorable custody arrangement. Conduct conducive to PAS, says Psychology Today, consists of acts such as the following:

 

  • Bad mouthing the other parent
  • Seeking to limit contact with the other parent
  • Attempting to erase the other parent from the life of the child
  • Suggesting that the other parent may be bad or poses a risk of danger

 

Despite the undeniable fact that PAS testimony is often given by experts both in Illinois and throughout the nation, many in both the psychiatric and legal communities have taken issue with PAS. Some deny its existence and roundly criticize the methodology which is said to support the syndrome. As a result, these naysayers have argued that PAS cannot be the basis of expert testimony in court proceedings since it simply does not exist as a proven psychological condition. Undoubtedly, the debate will continue.

 

PAS testimony in Illinois
Illinois cases exist where PAS testimony was given during trial court proceedings. However, Illinois’s highest court has not yet directly addressed the issue of whether or not evidence in the form of expert testimony on PAS is admissible as possessing evidentiary merit. In 2004, the Illinois Supreme Court decided In re Marriage of Bates. Bates involved a case where expert testimony on PAS had been admitted in the context of an attempt by a father to modify a custody decision. The mother’s attorney had argued that the expert’s testimony was based on nothing more than “junk science.”

 

In its discussion in Bates, the Supreme Court of Illinois made two observations. First, the court noted the harsh criticism of Dr. Gardner and PAS. The court further acknowledged awareness of the fact that “critics have pointed to many flaws in the [PSA] theory.” Unfortunately, the court refused to say whether or not the PAS testimony was properly admitted into evidence since the testimony was not actually a basis for the trial court’s decision. Thus, the verdict is still out on how our highest court would rule on the admissibility of PAS testimony.

 

Illinois child custody proceedings
If you feel that you will soon be embroiled in a custody proceeding that could be charged with emotion, you should talk to an attorney experienced in family law. Keep in mind that, as to child custody matters, the gold standard for making determinations is simply what is in the “best interest of the child.”

 

The “best interest of the child” standard is broad and includes what the child may want and how well the child gets along with each parent. Accordingly, it would be a serious matter if you have reason to believe that your spouse is attempting to turn your child against you. A family law attorney can advise you as to what steps he or she believes are appropriate under Illinois law.

Protecting your future in a divorce

Protecting Your Future

News + Insights

Protecting your future in a divorce

 

Ask any Illinois resident who has been through a divorce what the process is like and you are bound to hear stories about how difficult it is. The incredibly wide range of topics to be discussed and agreements to be made can be overwhelming.

 

Concerns for one’s immediate situation often feel so dramatic that giving thought to protecting the future can be even harder. However, the need to stay focused on how to preserve retirement assets through a divorce is critical.

 

Take care to avoid the loss of your future income
Retirement accounts, pension funds and other long-term investments are common assets that are often split in modern divorces. There are some ways that this can be done but there are also some all-too-simple ways that undue penalties and taxes can be assessed on these accounts, essentially wiping away a large part of a person’s investment.

 

Caution is urged in these situations and the following are some ways that you can help protect yourself:

  • Always use the QDRO: The Qualified Domestic Relations Order is your best bet for ensuring that all tax entities and other important agencies or companies identify your financial transaction as a part of your divorce settlement. If you receive money from a retirement account as stated in your divorce decree but the IRS views it as an early distribution, you will see a large portion of your money paid out to taxes and other penalties. The QDRO prevents this unfortunate situation and lets you keep your money as planned.
  •  

  • Only move money when allowed : Even with the use of a QDRO and clear divisions noted in your settlement agreement, the laws allow for the distribution or transfer of retirement money only within a certain time period. Make sure that your transaction happens at the right times or, once again, you could be facing big tax and penalty bills.
  •  

  • Divide assets by percentages, never dollars : Let’s imagine for a moment that you and your spouse have a retirement account that is valued today at $100,000 and you both agree to receive $50,000 when your divorce is final. Now let us look ahead to the date that your disbursement is to take place. The market may have dropped and your retirement account is now valued at only $80,000. If your original agreement indicated that each of you were to receive 50 percent, each person would then be owed $40,000. However, since your agreement indicated each person would receive $50,000, one party may be eligible to receive that amount leaving the other person with only $30,000. Citing divisions in percentages maintains the intended equitable sharing or distribution that was originally intended, even if ultimate dollar values change.
  •  

Sometimes it is a simple matter that can make a big difference and this is truly the case in the above situations. When you work with a legal professional who has the right experience, you can be assured that your current and future assets will receive the right care and protection when navigating your way through a divorce.