Illinois’ Proposed Equal Parenting Bill
Law Would Automatically Divide Parenting Time Equally
Illinois lawmakers are considering a bill that would dramatically impact families in the state who are involved in shared parenting situations. House Bill 4113 is a proposed amendment to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, and it changes the way courts approach the allocation of parenting time.
In its legal definition, the bill proposes that equal parenting time is “presumptively in the best interests of the children,” and that if a court diverges from that assumption, it shall issue a “written decision stating its specific findings of fact and conclusions of law in support of the deviation from the presumption.”
In practical terms, if the bill becomes law it will instruct family courts to presume that it is in a child’s best interest to spend equal time with each of his or her parents. A judge could still decide to deviate from the equal time presumption to give one parent more time with the child. However, setting a fairly high standard, the proposed law would require a judge to specifically outline what facts and legal basis support deviating from an “equal time” decision.
Equal Parenting Time: OK for Some, Not All
House Bill 4113 concludes it is in all children’s best interest to spend equal time with each parent. Based on the families we’ve assisted throughout Will, DuPage and Cook counties, we find that while equal parenting time can work, it can be difficult in many situations. While there are cases in which parents come together to successfully implement an equal parenting schedule, disputes often arise over issues of time.
This bill’s assertion of 50/50 parenting time appears to shift the focus away from the needs of children and onto a requirement to make parents “equal.” Changing the tenor of “custodial” or “parenting” determinations to that which seeks to make parents equal may takes the emphasis off the best needs of the children. A child’s upbringing is based on feelings of safety, consistency and intimate connections with their parents, and divisions of time are matters to be handled with great delicacy and thoughtfulness.
Why the Issue of Time is so Important
In some situations, either mother or father primarily raised the child during the parents’ relationship. Regardless of a parent’s competence or connection with their child, we know that routines and consistency make kids feel safe. A sudden shift in parenting time can cause an upheaval in a child’s life, causing confusion and feelings of rejection and resentment.
Even children who adapt emotionally struggle with the inconsistency of constantly switching between households. Tracking two separate sets of household procedures, rules and relationships can be taxing for anyone, especially a child. Only those families who establish a solid co-parenting plan successfully maneuver through this complex arrangement.
‘Equal Time’ can Present Difficult Logistics
When people divorce, one or both parties often move out of a shared home and into a new place, sometimes in a different town or even another state. Especially for families with school-age children, a physical distance between parents can make it burdensome or even prohibitive to work out an effective co-parenting schedule based on equal time.
Likewise, an equal time decision can be unrealistic in light of parents’ work situations. Schedules that overlap, run overnight, push into overtime, take parents out of state or constantly change — all these things can run counter to the logic that equal time automatically works best for all families.
Bill 4113 Could Pit Parents Against One Another
From a legal perspective, the new law would change the very standard used to determine the allocation of parenting time and parental responsibilities.
If passed into law, House Bill 4113 would shift the burden from the judge to the parents, who would have to “fight it out” to prove who is more deserving of time. This could incite increased litigation and ugly mudslinging between parents. In large part, this change would affect those parents who are responsible for the majority of parenting time. The burden would be on them to prove why the other parent shouldn’t have equal time.
This change could make legal procedures even more difficult for families experiencing domestic violence. A victim of domestic violence who does the majority of parenting may not want to risk going against their abuser in court to argue against equal time. Although they know it may be in the child’s best interest, a victim may still be afraid to speak up because they fear retaliation against them or their children.
Other Potential Family Disruptions
For parties who are responsible for the majority of parenting time, the proposed law could threaten their financial stability. A presumption of equal parenting time may cause a reduction or even elimination of child support payments for a parent who may genuinely need financial assistance with the rearing of the parties’ mutual children.
Within the state’s new child support guidelines, an automatic presumption of equal parenting time would put the parties into the “shared parenting” calculation. Effectively, this would decrease the amount of child support a parent receives.
This can be an issue for parents who were primarily not working outside the home during the course of the marriage and raising the children, while the other parent worked on a full-time basis to support the household. In those cases, the former primary custodians would be awarded lower amounts of child support, making it unlikely that they will be able to earn enough to care for themselves and children.
While House Bill 4113 appears to seek a standard of equity within parenting hearings, it could create difficult issues for families in which an equal division of time simply isn’t safe or practical. The outcomes may be known if and when the Illinois legislature passes the bill.
With our office in Orland Park, Sterk Family Law Group serves clients in Cook County, Will County and DuPage County. Our professional family law group is ready to serve you today. Schedule your free, no-obligation consultation to see how our legal team and experienced family law attorneys can assist you with your family law needs. Call us at 815-600-8950 or contact us online today.