Attorney specialized in matrimonial law
February 19, 2013|By Graydon Megan, Special to the Chicago Tribune
Orphaned as a young boy, Joseph DuCanto overcame a difficult childhood to fight as a Marine in the South Pacific during World War II and achieve national recognition for his work as an attorney in the field of matrimonial law.
Mr. DuCanto was a founder of Chicago law firm Schiller DuCanto & Fleck, where his expertise was in tax matters affecting divorcing couples.
"I really believe that Joe DuCanto was one of the giants of matrimonial law," said Cook County Judge Grace Dickler, presiding judge of the Domestic Relations Division. "He elevated the status of the practice by underscoring the importance of tax law in matrimonial cases."
Mr. DuCanto was a teacher, lecturer and mentor to many, Dickler said. "He definitely was a big proponent of paying it forward," she said.
Mr. DuCanto, 85, died Friday, Feb. 8, 2013, in Rush University Medical Center in Chicago after a brief illness, according to his wife, Patricia. He was a longtime resident of River Forest.
Mr. DuCanto was born and raised in upstate New York. His father died soon after he was born, and his mother died when he was about 2. By that time, he was already in an orphanage. He later moved to a foster home.
When he was 16, he quit high school, lied about his age and joined the Marine Corps, his family said.
"The Marine Corps gave him a sense of family, purpose and duty," said his son James. Mr. DuCanto turned 18 on Iwo Jima, the site of a famous battle, his son said.
Mr. DuCanto hadn't finished high school but made his way into Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, after the war. He received a bachelor's degree and secured a scholarship to the University of Chicago Law School.
After getting a law degree at the U. of C. he went into tax law and family law, and began to be called in by divorce lawyers for help with complex cases.
"They would bring him in to consult," said one of his partners, Donald Schiller. "He enjoyed those cases, liked the people-to-people contact and liked the feeling that he was doing good for people."
Schiller and Mr. DuCanto, who met as opposing lawyers, decided to go into practice together in 1981. The firm, now Schiller DuCanto & Fleck, continues to specialize in matrimonial law.
That work "gave him a great sense of satisfaction," Schiller said, "helping people get through one of the most difficult times of their lives."
Schiller said Mr. DuCanto was a pioneer in developing tax strategies for divorcing couples.
"He handled a lot of high net-worth divorce cases," Schiller said. "He came up with a number of ideas that have saved people a great deal of money."
Mr. DuCanto was also generous with his own resources. He was on the national board of the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, funded several scholarships for children of Marines and was honored with the Semper Fidelis Award in 2005, his family said.
"He was an incredible guy who started with nothing and was very successful," Schiller said. "But he never lost touch with caring about people who were disadvantaged."
James DuCanto said his father was grateful for the many people who mentored him along the way.
"He tried to give back by mentoring many young people, right down to coaching his sons' peewee and bantam hockey teams in the mid-1970s."
Mr. DuCanto is also survived by two other sons, Anthony and Bill Heiman-DuCanto; and four grandchildren.
A service will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday in First Unitarian Church, 5650 S. Woodlawn Ave., Chicago.