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Changes may be coming to Illinois child custody and parentage law

Changes may be coming to Illinois child custody and parentage law

Last week, we discussed a bill before the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee that would clarify and codify the collaborative law process for resolving divorce and family law disputes. That bill isn't the only family law reform proposal before the legislature this year, however. Two other bills, the proposed Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act and Illinois Parentage Act would make substantial, although commonsense changes to the divorce process, child custody and parenting time, parental decision-making and child support.

The bills were developed by the bipartisan Family Law Study Committee, which spent the last four years examining the issues and gathering input from judges, family law attorneys, child advocates and the public about needed reforms to Illinois divorce and family law. The last time the laws were updated was more than 35 years ago, and many believe they are in dire need of an update.

Between the two proposals, a number of changes would be made to current practice in and surrounding the family courts. For example, the proposals would prohibit the practice of filing "home-wrecker" lawsuits against third parties who allegedly cause marital breakups.

Grounds would no longer be required in Illinois in order to get a divorce. Although Illinois does have no-fault divorce, Illinois law currently requires a two-year separation in no-fault cases, although that waiting period can be reduced to six months if both parties agree. To further ease the divorce process, judges would be expected to issue divorce decrees within 60 days of the final hearing, except in special circumstances.

The proposal would update the Illinois Statutory Guidelines for child support so they would take into account the amount of time each parent spends with the children. Current law considers only the parents' incomes and the number of children they are supporting.

In the child custody area, the proposal would expand the right of non-custodial parents to make decisions about health care, education, religious instruction and other issues for their children, as long as they share legal custody.

Under the new law, courts would be allowed but not required to set up parenting plans in which kids spend at least 35 percent of their time with the noncustodial parent. It also gives more leeway in scheduling by allowing, for example, children to spend long weekends with the non-custodial parent instead of being required to return to the custodial home on Sunday regardless of need.

Both bills are currently hung up in the House Rules Committee. Hopefully, however, whatever conflicts there may be can be resolved so these important bills can be debated before the full House and Senate so that needed reforms can be passed into law.

Source: Alton Daily News, "Divorce Law Examined," Nick Gale, April 16, 2013

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