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Beth McCormack

Beth McCormack is a Family Law Attorney and Partner at Beermann LLP, a firm renowned for its advocacy in divorce and family law matters. With an extensive background in family law, she covers complex litigation, mediation, and collaborative law. Her practice philosophy is built on compassion and empathy, recognizing each client’s unique needs. Beth has experience representing children when appointed by the court, allowing her to navigate complex parenting issues.

Beth has received numerous accolades and recognition, including Leading Lawyer and Best Lawyer and has been named Top 100 Super Lawyers and Top 50 Women Super Lawyers. Beyond the courtroom, Beth contributes to the legal community through her monthly column in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin and other publications, sharing best practices and insights on family law.

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 Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • The various roles attorneys play in representing children
  • What is a guardian ad litem (GAL)?
  • Understanding the differences between litigation, mediation, arbitration, and collaborative law
  • How parents should discuss divorce with their children
  • The negative impacts of parental alienation
  • Common pitfalls and best practices during divorce proceedings
  • Beth McCormack provides co-parenting advice

In this episode…

Co-parenting after a divorce can feel like navigating a minefield. But even with court proceedings and custody battles, you must put your kids’ needs first and minimize conflict between you and your ex-partner. If you’re in the thick of it or just wondering how to prepare, today’s guest shares how to reduce the stress of even the most complex divorce cases. 

Beth McCormack, a family law expert, explains a compassionate approach to divorce can make all the difference for your family. She emphasizes that divorce doesn’t have to be a battlefield. With thoughtful planning, active communication, and supportive resources, it can be a transition that respects everyone involved — especially the kids.

In this episode of The Coping Podcast, host Dr. Leigh Weisz chats with Beth McCormack, Family Law Attorney and Partner at Beermann LLP, about turning a challenging divorce into successful co-parenting. They cover the importance of avoiding court battles, how to manage the emotional aspects of a divorce, and some incredibly useful resources for parents and kids alike. Tune in for expert advice on making this life transition as smooth as possible for your family.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Coping Partners.

Coping Partners is a mental health practice dedicated to helping children, adolescents, and adults manage various challenges including anxiety, divorce, behavioral issues, relationship problems and much more in the Chicago suburbs.

Our practitioners are devoted to building on our clients’ strengths and bolstering weaknesses.

To gain insight and tools for getting unstuck check out our website at CopingPartners.com, email us at support@copingpartners.com.


Episode Transcript

Intro 0:01

Welcome to The Coping Podcast where we share strategies for coping with the stressors of life, especially the difficulties of parenting. And here is your host, Dr. Leigh Weisz.

Dr. Leigh Weisz 0:15

This is Dr. Leigh Weisz. I am the host of The Coping Podcast where I feature top experts on topics like raising healthy children and parenting and so much more. Past guests include therapists, Dr. Aryn Froum and Ben Kessler, confidence coach Leslie Randolph, dietitian Lara Field, and many more. Just a quick disclaimer, the information provided is for educational and informational purposes only. This is not intended to provide mental health treatment and does not constitute a client therapist relationship. The information provided is not a replacement for being assessed and evaluated by a licensed professional and is not intended to replace mental health or medical advice. Before we dive into today’s topic, I wanted to introduce today’s guest, who is a family law attorney and partner at the esteemed family law firm Beermann. Beth does both litigation and alternative dispute resolution. In litigation, she represents children. She helps her clients determine whether litigation, mediation, or collaborative law is the most appropriate process for their family. The guiding philosophy under which Beth practices is founded on compassion and empathy. When going through a divorce that understands that people are often scared and vulnerable. She believes some battles should be fought in court and others should not. Her email if you’d like to speak with her directly, is bethmccormack@beermannlaw.com. So thank you so much, Beth, for taking the time to be here with us today. You know, I’ve learned so much from you, when you hosted a collaborative meeting, a monthly meeting for both family lawyers and therapists, you’ve always been so helpful and spend inordinate time to make sure you’re doing right for your clients and also sharing your lot your knowledge of the family law with me and other clinicians to make sure we’re doing the best that we can. So for our audience, I would say often we get clients who are starting the divorce process. And I’m wondering if you can educate us a little bit about the different roles that attorneys might have in representing children?

Beth McCormack 2:34

Oh, sure. Thanks for having me, Leigh. The term GAL is the most common that people may have heard of it’s the Latin phrase guardian ad litem. And what we’re doing in that role in locally, in the Chicagoland area is acting as the advocate for the child looking out for the child’s best interest to be specific. So this is a somewhat confusing role that many lawyers don’t understand much less the public. But it’s very important that people have a basic understanding that a GAL is only looking out for the child’s best interest. The GAL is a witness to the court. So they’ll be called to testify, just like the litigants, the parties, the people who are getting divorced, and any other witnesses, they’re subject to cross examination by the lawyers, etc. And that role is very distinct from the role of child representative, where you act as an attorney. So as an attorney, you’re calling witnesses yourself, you’re acting as an advocate, which is very, very different than just looking at the child’s best interests. So if you think of it from the standpoint of a teenager, I always like to use that as the example. A teenager has a voice. But a child’s representative is balancing the law, the role of being a lawyer, and advocating for what the child wants, and what’s in the child’s best interest. And you can see when that’s a teenager, how challenging that can be, because the teenager might say I want to live with mom. And the rationale for it might not be in their best interest. And I’m not picking on moms the example I often give us, you know, the offer of the shiny red car if you go live with dad, so we try to be really careful to look at their best interests while also advocating for what they want. I have stories of you know, meeting with children who, their children, but they’re, let’s say 15, 16 or maybe pre adolescent where they say I have a lawyer and they try to use that against their parents for things that are the As they aren’t related to the divorce, you know, like, curfews and screen time. And you know, it’s just kind of funny how children become empowered with the notion. So inevitably clients come and say, you know, how do I even tell them that this person exists much less what their role is. So it’s super important for them to educate themselves on the exact role that the attorney has, whether it’s GAL or child’s representative, and wanted to make sure you know, from a listener standpoint, that this is an Illinois practice. And I said, the collar counties in Chicagoland because it’s very different all around the globe. I’m on the international board for AFCC. And it’s been great learning to see what other countries much less states are doing. So it’s very important that people know that the current practice here, is very, very different than even downstate, Illinois. There’s love as it relates to each of these roles. But the practice is very different. In a lot of jurisdictions, jails are not lawyers. So you just have to be super careful on on that person’s role. And there are differences as it relates to confidentiality. Right, right. And we, you and I talked about having a whole podcast on this topic. And in either role, the therapists are often interviewed by this person, and trying to get any collateral witness information, because everybody in the divorce is, of course going to be reporting is self serving, right, like so. You know, obviously, the parents, the grandparents, the siblings, the aunts, the uncles, everybody has their agenda has, so a lot of times we interview therapists, coaches, teachers, often it’s important to hear from them, because, in theory, they’re supposed to be objective. I’m in a case right now, where I’m a GAL. And I’m helping, the term we often use is were the eyes and ears of the court. So in that case, I’m helping this family on a relocation matter, that’s when people have to ask for permission to move out of state with the child.

Dr. Leigh Weisz 7:30

It’s so tricky when you have two parents in one, you know, they have to be able to somehow visith both.

Beth McCormack 7:37

Yes, so all of those witnesses in those interviews, it’s been fascinating to hear. They’re not supposed to align, but they’re aligning with one parent or the other. And it’s been really interesting to hear. And then I have to kind of weigh whether I trust their opinions or, you know, assess credibility. And what what is their role in this? Are they being objective? So it’s a an interesting role. A lot of people think the judge does whatever the GAL wants, or the child’s representative, and that’s just not the case.

Dr. Leigh Weisz 8:15

Right. Right. And just to clarify that it’s not like every person who’s going through a divorce will even have a GAL or a child representative. Right. So what kinds of situations would would merit it that?

Beth McCormack 8:28

No, that’s a great question. It’s actually pretty rare. God willing, yeah. That it gets to the place where GAL or a child’s representative is needed, even if a case is in litigation, meaning in the court system, probably a good 80% of them do not involve the GAL, maybe higher. There’s no real numbers. By the way, one will say there’s numbers, there’s not because there’s no way to say.

Dr. Leigh Weisz 8:57

So in thinking about right, the different ways that parents can divorce again, if they’re just starting to contemplate this for themselves. Can you kind of, again, give a cliff notes version of of mediation, collaborative law litigation, and just some some quick pros and cons about each? I know, there’s not a one size fits all.

Beth McCormack 9:17

Right. So the other approach other than litigation, ADR is short for alternative dispute resolution, and under that falls, mediation, collaborative law, and arbitration. Again, I’ll talk from a local practice standpoint, we aren’t using arbitration that much, so I’ll go with that one first. Just very quickly. It’s basically a private trial, where you your arbitrator is named by agreement by the couple. And that person is the decision maker rather than a judge. There’s very distinct roles, defined roles. And, again, it’s not often used locally. Next up is mediation. And in mediation, you have an independent third party be acting as a facilitator not giving any recommendations in theory, and not at advising as to the law, they’re simply hearing each person and kind of keeping them in the rails and guiding them along to resolution as it relates to parenting issues. You know, I asked, and I’m very thoughtful in what role the mediator might have there are mediators who are lawyers, mental health professionals, financial professionals. So in parenting issues, of course, ideally, in my mind, it would be a therapist mediator. If not, it would be a lawyer mediator whose child centered and trained as a GAL or child’s representative, right. But under mediation, though, there is mediation with just a couple, and then there’s mediation that’s attorney assisted. Again, locally, in practice, we have a lot of attorney assisted mediation, on parenting issues, sometimes it’s not as crucial because they’re so emotionally fraught, that, you know, usually the couple has a lot of things to talk through. And they should probably not be having lawyers, they don’t need that. But then there are people who don’t feel that there’s a balance of power in the decision making, and that they need to have their lawyer there as an advocate. Right. I could see, I could see all the pros and cons. Yeah, exactly. And then the last role is a processes Collaborative Law. And I finished with that, because every professional team member in a collaborative law case is a trained mediator. So remember, we talked about all the different roles you can fill. There are two lawyers, every person has a lawyer, so there’s one for the husband, one for the wife. And then there’s a financial neutral, and they’re trained as a CPA, CFA, there’s a lot of designations. And then there’s a coach or coaches. There’s a one coach model and a two coach model. lawyers tend to defer to the coaches as to whether they think it’s appropriate for one or two coaches. In practice, we tend to use one coach, for obvious reasons, you don’t want the the us against them kind of mentality that coach, staying neutral can be helpful. There are instances where you just simply can’t do that it’s too much for the coach to handle. Certainly, if there’s mental health issues, sometimes if there’s a betrayal, sometimes if there’s addiction issues, there’s just too much information to hold neutrally. And the people need to have their place to give the information to the most important distinction as it relates to collaborative law, one of which is legal, the other is emotional, the emotional difference that can be challenging for some people. When Collaborative Law is done, right. The people are doing all the talking. The lawyers are not advocating because we are signing what’s called a participation agreement. And in that role, we have a unique ability to reach across the aisle and think of the other person. That’s again, most lawyers don’t understand it. But in that role, I’m not just the advocate for my client, I’m the advocate for the family and holding the family redefined, and holding space for them to find the solution. Yeah, it’s most again, most lawyers don’t understand that. We have to have what’s called limited scope representation. So that we are able to do that without betraying that concept of advocacy for our client. Oh, the biggest legal difference is, if they don’t reach terms in collaborative, they have to start over with all new lawyers. And inevitably, clients just turn it away and say they can’t for that reason, until the lawyer God willing properly helps them understand the value of it, is that we all have skin in the game we all they have the answer between themselves, they need to come up with the answer. There’s no judge on the planet who knows more about this family than they do. So the more you help them understand that keeping control over the outcome.

Dr. Leigh Weisz 14:55

I was just gonna say they gain some sort of control versus letting letting a judge decide their fate. 

Beth McCormack 15:00

They have complete control in any form of ADR. People often say, Well, the judge might not approve it. Judges approve the certainly if you have lawyers who know what they’re doing, the judges will approve it. Right. Right. That’s its way out of bounds. I’ll give an example there the couple of things. On the financial side, I have cases where we had a case where 100% of the assets went to one side, and in exchange for what’s called a maintenance waiver alimony. So it seems ridiculous. How could that ever happen? Well, once the parties were able to speak about each of their goals, and each of their concerns, in this case, the wife got all the assets, which were ginormous, but the husband made an income well in excess of $5 million. So he could recoup the assets, and never have to share it. And he was basically betting on himself. You know, again, ridiculous. On its face, the judge had a lot of questions, and the financial neutral, was there to backup all the decisions and everything had been fully vetted by a team. So it really does help to have a team concept. Definitely on the parenting side. You know, a lot of people think it’s the default to 50/50 parenting. Well, that’s not necessarily true. A judge needs to know what’s in the child’s best interest. So you can try on different parenting schedules in a collaborative process, without anybody posturing on, oh, well, that’s going to be the way it is if we did 50/50. Well, if you tried to 50/50 and the kids are thriving, and both people agree, there’s an answer. Right? But if that if it is too challenging, and it’s hard on the kids to go back and forth, right, that is maybe not the answer, then the big challenge is, what do we do? What do we try on another schedule? How does it how do we decide if it’s slanted one way or the other, and that’s where the coach comes in. There’s a last role called parenting specialists, that as a last resort, we often use where that person actually interviews the children and maybe looks like and feels like a GAL in litigation. But in this role, it is always a mental health professional. And they’re very soft and trained to just hear what the child thinks. This is an important distinction that most people don’t understand. And training as a GAL. As a child’s representative a child specialists in the collaborative role. We never asked kids what they want, specifically, as it relates to do you want to live with mom, do you want to live with dad? You know that Leigh. But the public kind of thinks we just go and we ask the kid.

Dr. Leigh Weisz 18:00

Well, and unfortunately, some of the parents are trying to prepare the kids for this very, you know, question that they think is going to be asked, and these poor kids are rehearsing. And, you know, can you imagine the guilt if later they think they’re responsible for some decision that would not be appropriate for a child to make.

Beth McCormack 18:19

And the stories I could tell you of. It’s so obvious parents think they’re going to be the ones who get away with it. Well, kids are great because they, you know, we do talk about the importance of telling the truth, etcetera. But, you know, I have a great story of going to a playground, a good GAL that goes and meets kids where they’re comfortable, right? So we, I walk on the playground, and I take took my daughter with me when she was younger, because again, I just want it to feel like a playdate kind of thing where a hanging out. All I want to know is who they are what you know. And this little girl climbs up to the top of the jungle gym, and her mom introduces me and she says, I want to live with my mom, I never want to see my dad again. That before she said hello. And that was a perfect tone for me to be like, Okay, so this is what this might be. And of course, it had played out that ultimately, Mom Mom was the greater challenge. So yeah.

Dr. Leigh Weisz 19:18

Oh, my goodness. Absolutely. Absolutely. So I’m kind of switching gears a little bit. Again, if you had, you know, parents listening who are you know, they’re going to start the process. They haven’t yet. What would you coach them in terms of having that very important initial conversation with their own kids just explaining that they are going to get divorced?

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