House Bill 4113 amends provisions within the laws for Allocation of Parental Responsibility, which was previously known as custody. It is based on the idea that in family court actions such as ending a marriage, equal parenting time is generally preferred and gives the child proper exposure to both parents. Illinois recently made significant changes to the laws associated with the Marriage & Dissolution of Marriage Act in 2016. Many of the changes involved the terminology, such as using “parental responsibilities” and “parenting time” instead of “custody” and “visitation;” however, there were also some more functional changes.
Current Court Considerations
Courts have maintained that the most critical aspect of determining matters involving children is what is in the child's best interest. The proposed changes to the statutes include the following considerations.
- Increasingly consider the child's school experience and adjustments to the local community in addition to their home life.
- More emphasis on the physical and mental health of the child and parents.
- What the parents feel is the best arrangement.
- Whether the parents are capable of amicably allocating parental duties and areas of responsibility in a written agreement.
Courts will retain the ability to modify parental arrangements when necessary. The changes focus heavily on what the court will consider when the parents are not able to reach an agreement on the parental arrangements on their own.
Bill 4113 Legislative Summary
The fundamental theme of the legislation is that equal parenting time is the preferred arrangement. This applies when both parents are deemed as physically, emotionally, and mentally fit for parental responsibilities. Evidence to the contrary must be “clear and convincing,” rather than according to the standard of the “preponderance of the evidence.” The court would be required under certain circumstances to outline their findings specifically in a written evaluation.
Often parents find that because of their inability to cordially reach solutions, unequal parenting time is often the result. Studies suggest that children who spend time with both parents tend to have better academic and social outcomes. Many spouses like the idea of starting from a position where equal parenting time is the expectation, thinking it will lead to more equitable results.
Changing the Standard of Evidence
The change of the evidence standard from “preponderance of evidence,” the norm in civil actions, to a “clear and convincing” standard is significant. It still remains a lesser standard than “beyond a reasonable doubt” that applies in criminal matters. The Springfield Daily described the change as one from “more likely than not” to “substantially more likely than not.”
Impact on Abused Spouses
Carrie Boyd, policy director with the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence, says that the equal time mandate may unfairly hurt those victimized by domestic violence or sexual abuse. She feels that victimized parents would need to have their attorney overcome the belief that equal time with both parents is in the child's best interest, when it may not be. She says the measure creates a potentially “dangerous framework.” Many victims of family violence and their children are subjected to manipulation from their abuser. She fears the court environment may allow the abuser to use the child as a way to adversely impact the victim.
Increasing Litigation & Financial Concerns
Many feel the bill runs contrary to the 2016 changes that sought to decrease potential litigation and promote greater cooperation. Those from the domestic violence side feel that many individuals will be unable to afford legal counsel and that free legal counsel is in short supply. One key point of contention involves how it may impact the ability for either parent to qualify for much needed financial assistance programs. Often public aid requires that a parent have the majority of the responsibility for caring for the child in order to be eligible.
Peoria Attorneys for Family Law Matters
The attorneys at Benassi & Benassi, P.C., maintain a compassionate and caring approach to matters of family law. We understand that family transitions can be difficult for all those involved and strive to clearly explain all the options and focus on your family's long-term future. Please contact our office today at (309) 674-3556 for a consultation.