Today we interviewed Colleen Breems, family law attorney at Lavelle Law. Since we know that COVID has brought up some of the more difficult aspects of spending more time together, we thought it would be a good idea to hear from an expert about all things related to co-parenting, separation, and ways to get through this time.
So, let's dive into getting to know her and hearing more about her tips for getting through this time.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What drew you in to practicing family law?
My name is Colleen Breems (nee Hurley), and I grew up in Geneva, IL, and presently live in Western Springs, IL. I went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for undergrad, and there, earned a B.S. with Honors in Human Development and Family Studies. I then went on from there to DePaul University College Of Law, and there, earned a J.D. with a Certificate in Family Law.
Growing up, every single job I had involved working with children—I did everything from nannying to swim coaching, and I absolutely loved getting to work with children. I knew I wanted to always work with children, and help to make their lives better. I was drawn to family law because it is one of the only areas of law that allows you to work with children. When I am not representing adults in family law matters, the Court can appoint me to serve as a Guardian ad Litem of Child Representative to advocate for the best interests of the child or children in the case. They are my favorite clients!
When you're not working, what do you like to do for fun?
When I’m not working, I love to spend time with my husband and our families. I also love to be with friends, travel, go to concerts, cook, read, and run marathons. I am anxious for life after COVID-19, because a lot of those fun activities are temporarily on hold, but right now, I have lots of extra time to perfect my cooking skills!
What types of things are you seeing more often this year due to COVID-19?
I am seeing a rise in divorce and Order of Protection cases. Order of Protection cases are cases in which I can help a victim of domestic violence get the protection he or she may need from the court, so the violence doesn’t continue. I think a lot of this can be attributed to how difficult quarantine has been on couples, or exes who are stuck living together. On a happier note, I am also seeing a rise in prenuptial agreement work. Some couples seem to have started living together in quarantine, perhaps sooner than originally planned, but it has gone so well that they end up engaged! Those types of matters are very fun.
What are the specific things that families are contemplating now more than ever before?
I think, more than ever, families are taking stock of what is working, or not working, in their family units. That can be as simple as how to reallocate chores and childcare between working parents, or, as difficult as deciding whether a divorce is the best thing for the family. I am also seeing families working through differences when it comes to how to be safe during COVID-19, including reevaluating daycare, in-person school, and parenting time schedules.
What do parents do when they're struggling with their relationships and are contemplating separation or divorce?
By and large, I find that parents in these difficult situations are very good at putting the best interests of their children at the forefront. The bigger struggle seems to be deciding how to move forward in their co-parenting relationship: figuring out what parenting time schedules make sense, how they might make child-related decisions together, and how to approach the legal process.
Can you speak to the fear parents have when they're considering separation or divorce when kids are involved?
I would want parents to know that the family law process does not have to be an ugly one. There are plenty of parents who, although they are broken up, are able to find a way to work amicably and well together as co-parents. Some even find that they are better friends, post-break up, than they were when they were married. I like to tell clients that my goal is to get them to a place, eventually, where they can one day dance together at the child’s wedding. My goal is to get families to a place where they can find harmony as separated co-parents, as that always benefits the child.
What are some things parents can do to ease the discussion with their kids about a choice to separate or divorce?
It is always important to make sure the children know that the divorce is not their fault, and that the parents will never stop being there for their children, loving them. It is important that the children know that they will keep seeing, and keep having a relationship, with both parents. The children should know that they can always talk about their feelings, and ask questions, of both parents. It is also important that neither parent speak badly about the other parent to their children, as children take this type of discussion to heart, internalizing it—children often believe that if one parent is “bad,” the children might be partly “bad,” too, by virtue of being children of that parent. Always try to discuss the other parent in only a complimentary way, wherever possible (which, sometimes, is easier said than done)!
Since we like to see things in a positive light, what is something you can tell us about what you do that isn't so sad, scary, or depressing?
I like to think that I am meeting people in a stressful situation, and working with them such, that by the end the case, I have put them in a better position than when I found them. This is true in divorce, custody disputes, and Orders of Protection, to name a few instances. Also, on a lighter side, family law attorneys also work on happy matters, too, including helping engaged couples plan for their marriage with a prenuptial agreements, and helping parents grow their family with adoptions. Those are wonderful!
For fun, if you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Great question! If I could have one superpower, it would be the power to heal—physical health, mental health, and relationships.
Thank you, Colleen for the wonderful wisdom. It's clearly super relevant during this unprecedented time.
We're here to help guide our clients in relationships by being a listening ear, teach tools and communication tips to try at home, and to partner and collaborate with attorneys when our clients need additional support. Reach out to us to schedule your free phone consult.