Articles Posted in Child Custody

In many custody disputes, allegations of abuse against children are thrown around.  Sometimes, people use this simply as a means of mudslinging to gain an upper hand in the court’s eyes against the opposing party.  However, other times, even the slightest indication of abuse can reveal a Pandora’s Box, leading to a full blow investigation to ensure a child’s safety.  In DuPage County, allegations of abuse against children are taken very seriously, and the County specifically set up an investigative body to handle such allegations.

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In 1987, Illinois’ first (and the country’s fifth) Children’s Center was opened in DuPage County.  In 2001, it was incorporated into the DuPage County Office of the State’s Attorney.  The DuPage Children’s Center is distinct from schools and local police departments, and it aims to uncover and collect evidence regarding abuse of children to find the truth.  Once the DuPage Children’s Center has corroborating evidence, it will present a case to the Assistant State’s Attorney for review and possible charges.

 

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Divorce litigation affects children, especially if they are living in a contentious atmosphere.  In an effort to minimize the impact of the legal process on children, counties in Illinois have implemented programs and procedures to keep children out of the courtroom, and facilitate resolution of parenting issues in domestic relations cases.  A handful of these programs are summarized here.

 

Mediation

 

Counties in Illinois are required to offer mediation programs for divorcing parents.  If parents are unable to reach an agreement regarding parenting time and the allocation of parental responsibilities, and so long as there are no extenuating circumstances (such as domestic violence), the court will send parents to mediation to try to resolve these issues outside the courtroom.  Judges will often remind parties in a divorce that parents know their family situations and needs best.  As parents, they should take advantage of the opportunity to reach a resolution that is in the best interests of the family, rather than delegating that decision a third party outsider.

 

The mediator does not represent either party and does not give legal advice.  Rather, the mediator’s job is to facilitate conversation between the parties, and hopefully aid them in resolving the matters related to their children.  The mediator will the issue a report stating whether the parties reached a full resolution, partial agreement, or were unable to reach an agreement.


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Under Illinois law, child support may be modified upon a substantial change in circumstances.  Normally, a job loss is considered a substantial change in circumstances which would warrant a modification of child support, but sometimes it isn’t.  This post discusses two cases, and the reasons why the courts reached different outcomes.

unemployment application child support

Scenario #1:  Father is working full-time and bringing in most of the family’s income.  He and mother decide they are going to get a divorce, and she is awarded the majority of allocated parenting time with the children.  Mother is seeking child support from father, who is an engineer.  Due to a combination of his unreliability and misconduct at work, he is fired from his job during the pendency of the divorce.  He was paying child support of $2,500 per month on a temporary basis during the pendency of the case.  Now, after a few months, he is unable to find new employment and is living with his parents.  Mother is seeking child support from father, but his position is that he should not be ordered to pay child support because he is not working.

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Fertility treatments and agreements for the purposes of preserving fertility down the road have become more commonplace in recent years.  When disputes arise regarding who has control of the embryos, Illinois courts will look to contract law to resolve them.

Embryo

In the case of Szafranski v. Dunston, the parties, Jacob and Karla, began dating in 2009. By mid-March 2010, Karla was diagnosed with cancer and learned that her chemotherapy treatments would most likely lead to infertility. In an effort to create pre-embryos (fertilized eggs which have yet to be implanted into the uterus) with Karla’s eggs and Jacob’s sperm, Jacob and Karla entered into a verbal agreement to undergo in vitro fertilization (IVF) together.  As a result, 3 pre-embryos were created and frozen.

 

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Most people know a neighbor, friend, or family member who provides full-time care for a grandchild.  In fact, grandparents raising grandchildren is a growing trend among families in the US.  According to the AARP, nationwide nearly 5.8 million grandchildren live with their grandparents, and it is estimated that over 2.5 million grandparents are raising their grandchildren.  Almost 1 million children live in a home where a grandparent and neither of the child’s parents are in the residence.

grandparent holding child's hand

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 99,783 grandparents in Illinois are householders who are responsible for the grandchildren that live with them.  7.8 percent of children in Illinois reside with their grandparents in situations where the grandparents are the householders. 109,939 children in Illinois reside in such households where the grandparents are responsible for the children.  Of those, 35,583 Illinois children have no parents in the home at all.

In some circumstances, grandparents are obtaining custody or adopting their grandchildren.  However, the more common scenario is that grandparents are being appointed as legal guardians over their minor grandchildren.

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Circumstances can arise when, for various reasons, a child is not in the possession of one or both of his or her parents and certain non-parents might seek to obtain an allocation of parental responsibilities (formerly known as “custody”) and parenting time (formerly known as “visitation”).  In Illinois, non-parents can have a difficult time attaining their goals, unless certain specific conditions are met.  Generally speaking, section 601.2 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act provides that proceedings related an allocation of parental responsibilities (custody) are allowed:

  1. By a parent filing a petition for divorce or legal separation;
  2. By a parent filing a petition for allocation of parental responsibilities;
  3. By a person other than a parent, only if the child is not in the physical custody of one of his or her parents;
  4. By a step-parent, if certain circumstances are met; or
  5. When one of the parents is deceased, by a grandparent who is a parent or step-parent of a deceased parent, if certain conditions existed at the time of the parent’s death.

This post focuses only on situations that arise under number 3 above, when a non-parent seeks an allocation because the child is not in the physical custody of one of his or her parents.

Imagine that Kourtney and Scott are never married and have three children together.  Five years ago, Scott was thrown in jail for crashing his Lamborghini while highly intoxicated, and eventually convicted.  While Scott was in prison, Kourtney and the children moved in with Kourtney’s mother, Kris.  Kourtney and the kids lived at Kris’ house on and off for the next year or so.

scott

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An issue that often arises during or after a divorce or parentage case is the relocation of the children.  The parents have separated, and each has their own home and parenting time with the kids.  Then, the parent with whom the children reside most of the time (the residential parent) decides that he or she would like to relocate with the kids. Is it permissible?  What duties are owed to the other parent?  What if the other parent objects?

relocation

The law used to distinguish between relocating the children within Illinois and moving out of state.  Those distinctions have been eliminated.  The term “relocation” is now defined in Section 600 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act as:

 

  1. A change in residence from the child’s current primary residence located in the county of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, or Will to a new residence within this State that is more than 25 miles from the child’s current residence;

 

  1. A change of residence from the child’s current primary residence located in a county not listed in paragraph (1) to a new residence within this State that is more than 50 miles from his or her current residence.

 

  1. A change of residence from the child’s current primary residence to a residence outside the borders of the State that is more than 25 miles from the current primary residence.

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Until January 1, 2016, Illinois law addressed disputes regarding child-related issues in divorce and parentage cases in terms of “custody” and “visitation.”  The term “custody” referred to both decision-making authority regarding the children (called legal custody), and where the children lived the majority of the time (called residential custody).  The term “visitation” referred to the time the parent who did not have residential custody had with the children.

custody and visitation

If parents were required to consult with one another before making decisions regarding a child’s education, religious upbringing, extracurricular activities, and healthcare, they were said to have “joint legal custody.”  If, however, one parent had decision-making authority over these areas, he or she was said to have “sole custody.”

 

If the children resided with one parent a majority of the time, that parent was said to have “residential custody” of the children.  The other “non-custodial” parent had “visitation” rights.  However, if the parents had reached an arrangement wherein both had time with the children exactly 50% of the time, then the parents were said to have “split custody” or “shared custody.”

 

As of January 1, 2016, that terminology has changed.  Illinois no longer recognizes the terms custody or visitation whatsoever when referring to a parent’s rights. Those legal concepts no longer exist, though the term “visitation” does survive in the context of third-parties, such as with regard to “grandparent visitation.” Having said that, those words have been commonly used for so long that many people, attorneys and judges among them, will have a hard time eliminating those words from their vocabulary.

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Divorces in Illinois have been governed by the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, originally enacted in 1979.  Since then, changes in family dynamics, including recent developments in Illinois law related to same-sex marriage, parentage, adoption, and in areas of embryo preservation and rights, rendered the law outdated and in need of an update.  For years, Illinois legislators, judges, and prominent practitioners in the field have pushed for a revised version of the Act, but only recently has this been accomplished.

 

The revised law, which will become effective on January 1, 2016, has been updated in several significant ways that impact how divorces and related issues will be addressed.  The law will apply to new and pending cases and will change the way that divorcing parties navigate the process of divorce.

divorce word cluster

The following is a brief summary of some of the important changes to the Act:

 

Grounds:

 

Presently, a person seeking a divorce must allege “grounds” for the divorce.  Most commonly, people cite “irreconcilable differences” as the reason for a divorce.  To prove irreconcilable differences have arisen to cause a marriage to fail, the party filing for divorce must prove that the parties have lived separate and apart for a continuous period of in excess of two years, or agree with the other party to waive the separation period if they have lived apart for six months.  The must also prove that the marriage is over and not salvageable.  The other fault-based reasons include: impotency, adultery, desertion, habitual drunkenness, excessive use of addictive drugs, poisoning, extreme  and repeated physical or mental cruelty, one party being convicted of a felony or other infamous crime, or infecting the other spouse with a sexually transmitted disease.

 

The revised law eliminates all of the fault-based grounds for getting divorced, leaving the only grounds of irreconcilable differences.  Further, instead of having to prove a statutory period of separation, the new law eliminates the separation period as well. These changes shift the focus away from having the parties blame one another for the divorce in order to allow them to proceed as amicably and quickly as possible.

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In most child custody, adoption, and foster care placement cases, Illinois state law governs.  However, Congress passed a federal law in 1978 called the Indian Child Welfare Act, also known as “ICWA,” which creates a different burden of proof and set of standards for Native American children in child custody, adoption, and foster care placement cases.  ICWA sets forth the guidelines for removal of an “Indian child” from his or her Indian family, which imposes a significantly higher burden.

 

indianchildwelfareact

ICWA guidelines are not necessarily focused on the best interests of the child. Rather, ICWA was passed “to protect Indian tribes and families by the establishment of minimum Federal standards for the removal of Indian children from their families and the placement of such children in foster or adoptive homes which will reflect the unique values of Indian culture, and by providing for assistance to Indian tribes in the operation of child and family service programs.”

 

The federal government recognized the large-scale break-up of Native American families, as Native American children were systematically being removed from their homes and placed with families who had no connection to the particular Native American culture.  Essentially, Congress passed this law to protect the culture and family unit of Native Americans, setting a higher burden for removal of Native American children from their families.  ICWA also has a jurisdictional component such that if ICWA applies to a case, it may be transferred out of the state court and into tribal courts.  The tribal courts are perceived as a preferable venue for Indian families determined to combat the removal of children.  Finally, ICWA allows for the appointment of an attorney for the Native American parent, something not typically provided for in custody cases, aside from juvenile abuse and neglect proceedings.

 

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