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Cook County Custody & Visitation Law Blog

Protecting fathers' rights in Illinois

In Illinois, a putative father is a man who believes that he has fathered a child but who was not married to the child's mother when it was born. To preserve his parental rights in this situation, a man who believes that he is the legal father of a child must first register with the Illinois Putative Father Registry. This must be done within 30 days of the child's birth and may be done prior to the child being born.

In addition to registering, a father must also begin legal proceedings to establish paternity within 30 days of the child's birth. This may be done by signing a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity form or by asking a judge to make a ruling. Assistance in taking such action may be available for free under certain circumstances.

Illinois statute guides judges in setting support payments

The determination of the amount of child support depends, in Illinois, on the number of children involved and the income of the parent. Payment amounts are determined on a case-by-case basis, largely at the discretion of the judge. Typically, though, judges look to the statutory guidelines.

Depending on the terms of the court order, the non-custodial parent must pay child support until the child turns 18 or until the child is emancipated. Emancipation may occur if the child becomes a member of the military or otherwise gains employment and thus no longer requires financial support, or if the child is married or moves out on his or her own and desires independence. Until the occurrence of one of these events, the child has the legal right to support from both parents. The Illinois support guidelines call for an increasing percentage of the parent's net income as the number of children involved increases. For example, the guidelines call for a parent to pay 20 percent of net income in support of one child and 28 percent of the parent's net income for two. For six or more children, the suggested amount is 50 percent of the parent's net income.

Is collaborative divorce worth looking into?

Some readers from the Chicago area may be interested in learning more about collaborative divorce. About one out of every two marriages ends in divorce, and the ratio may increase with each subsequent marriage after the first. Though many divorces tend to be emotional and highly contentious affairs, it is possible for clients to achieve legal separation without the need for adversarial litigation.

Collaborative divorces seek to bring together specialists from diverse sectors such as child services, mental health and finance to bring about a more amicable solution for both parties. The idea is to provide divorcing parties with guidance toward handling their disputes without a courtroom and thereby emphasize an outcome that may be emotionally healthier for them and any children they may have.

Overview of paternity and why it is important

When a child is conceived and born while a woman is married, Illinois law presumes that her spouse is the paternal father. However, if the woman is not married, the man is the alleged father and has to legally establish paternity. This can be done in three ways in Illinois. The woman and man can sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity, Child Support Services can enter an administrative order or a judge can submit an Order of Paternity.

When Child Support Services uses the administrative process to determine paternity, the Department of Healthcare and Family Services interviews the mother to have her sign paternity-related documents. HFS also interviews the man believed to be the father with the goal of seeing whether he will acknowledge paternity voluntarily or if a paternity test is needed.

How does collaborative divorce work?

As many Illinois residents may already know, when a couple brings their divorce before a judge, the outcome will be based on standard formulas and may not accurately reflect an individual family's needs and wishes. In rare cases, couples may be able to agree on all the terms of their divorce and may only require help with their paperwork. In others, couples cannot agree on a single issue and will need to have the case litigated to settle their divorce.

However, many couples will fall into a middle ground in which they can agree on most things, but will need guidance to settle the remaining issues. These couples may be ideal candidates for collaborative divorce. Some of the benefits of collaborative divorce are that they may be less expensive than litigation and couples have the opportunity to create a divorce agreement that suits their unique needs.

Illinois county gets more money to enforce child support orders

St. Clair County is receiving an increase in funds to help with child support compliance for the first time in seven years. The Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services is increasing the amount that it is giving the county to $667,000 a year from the $617,000 that it had been receiving in previous years.

The money is expected to go toward funding support staff, investigators and new technology that will attempt to reduce waste incurred during the child support collection process. A total of 3.5 prosecutors will also be added with the extra funding from the state. With the increase in funds, the county expects to be able to help more custodial parents sent their kids to school and attempt to "break the cycle of poverty" in the area, according to the state's attorney, who had argued for funding for St. Clair County on the grounds that it was the most in need of it.

Collaboration may make divorce easier

Illinois residents who may be contemplating divorce know that this process is not always smooth. The transition from marriage to separation requires making many important and often difficult decisions. Sometimes the divorce process is amicable, with both spouses working toward a fair dissolution, and other times the process is anything but friendly.

If both spouses are able to agree on the important issues, then it is possible to reach a workable settlement outside the courtroom. With a collaborative divorce, each party has their own attorney to assist them, and the final decision about any issue is a mutual one. A divorce that relies on mediation, on the other hand, builds on this collaborative model, but a mediator works with both parties and their attorneys to find a solution that is acceptable. However, the mediator is not able to legally force acceptance of any decision. If neither of these processes seem to work, soon-to-be divorced couples may turn to arbitration as a third option. This format resembles mediation, but the decision the arbitrator makes is legal and binding.

Determining visitation rights in Illinois

One of the most common issues that comes up in a divorce proceeding is who gets custody of minor children. There are many different ways that the court can rule when it comes to deciding the rights of each parent moving forward. The court could decide to grant sole custody to one parent, joint custody, or sole custody to one parent with visitation rights to the other parent.

A judge will look to see if granting visitation rights will endanger the child in a physical, emotional or moral way. A parent seeking visitation rights will also need to show that his or her home or apartment is suitable for hosting a child. If not, an alternate location for visitation may need to be found. It may be determined that visitation will occur through electronic means such as through instant messaging, videoconferencing or through email.

The implications of social media use for child support

In Illinois and nationwide, many custodial parents are left without the child support that they should be receiving from their children's noncustodial parents. In most situations, this is because the parents who should be paying child support simply cannot afford to do so because of employment or other issues. However, others do make enough money but refuse to aid their children financially.

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, one father is facing felony charges after post on the social networking site Facebook how much money he makes and that he had tickets to a Green Bay Packers game, and the father's social media postings have brought it to the court's attention that he can afford to pay what he had been ordered to. He had paid $189 to his son in child support in more than three years. The boy's mother says that the small amount of money was paid simply to keep the father out of jail.

A simple way to handle a divorce

Divorce cases can use collaborative law in many instances. The Uniform Collaborative Law Act was adopted in 2009 by the Uniform Law Commission and is available to be practiced in any state, including Illinois. Collaborative law is simply the idea that couples work out their own settlement, often with the help of an attorney, and avoid a court proceeding that may well not work out in a fashion that makes either party happy.

It is a process that is similar to mediation, but it does require that both parties enter voluntarily and sign a participation agreement. Also, the attorneys in the case are generally prohibited from representing either party in any future family law cases. The attorneys only negotiate and try to solve problems by addressing the major components of a divorce, which include financial, legal and mental issues, and they are not bipartisan.

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