Though they lived in two different eras, two brave individuals who were willing to make extreme sacrifices for their children largely shaped today’s family laws in the Prairie State.
In 19th century England, Caroline Norton married a prominent British politician. He was physically abusive to the point that household staff often had to separate the two or he might have killed his wife. Ms. Norton left her husband twice, but came back each time for the sake of the children. Back then, married women had absolutely no legal or property rights, so divorce meant permanent separation between mothers and children. In 1858, largely thanks to her tireless efforts, Parliament passed the Divorce Act. This law laid the groundwork for modern family laws in England, the United States, and other common law countries.
Ms. Norton never would have dreamt it possible, but a hundred years later, the tables would turn. For much of the 20th century, divorcing women almost always received full custody of the children, often with no questions asked. In those days, “full custody” meant just that. Divorced fathers could only visit their children if their ex-wives allowed it; courts never intervened in these disputes. Men who challenged the system were almost literally laughed out of court, until Californian James Cook pressured the legislature to pass a joint custody law in 1980.
Child Custody in Illinois
For a number of years, child psychologists and other professionals believed that joint custody was the best thing since sliced bread. However, over the past few decades, their zeal for such laws has diminished in the face of new evidence that many children, especially youngsters, need to “live” with one parent and “visit” another one. Now, joint custody in Illinois is little more than a rather weak legal presumption. Many families are searching for a better way.
One alternative began in California. In the “empty nest” visitation arrangement, the children always stay in the same place, which is usually the family residence. Mother and father rotate between addresses, perhaps between the family home and a nearby one-bedroom apartment.
Empty nest arrangements work well in many cases, but there are some big “ifs.” The parents must live close to each other and the children must have a good relationship with each parent. Mom and Dad do not have to be friends, but they do have to be civil towards one another at almost all times. Most significantly, both parents must want to spend extended time with the children. That is not true in all cases.
Modifying Child Custody or Visitation in Illinois
The Prairie State has a “no-fault” modification procedure that is much like the no-fault divorce process. If the parents agree in writing, most judges approve changes without asking too many questions. In contested cases, a Chicago judge will alter parenting time provisions based on changed circumstances. That could include:
- Remarriage: The remarriage must affect the children in some way. If Dad simply does not like Mom’s new husband, a judge will probably do nothing, but if Mom’s new husband has a domestic violence criminal record, then Dad may have a case.
- Job Change: These changes often involve different hours and longer or shorter commutes. Frequently, such changes also mean income adjustments, and that means child support modification.
- Disability: If Mom quits drinking, she can petition the court for more parenting time with her children. Likewise, if Dad starts drinking, his ex-wife can ask a judge to reduce his parenting time.
As a rule of thumb, most Illinois divorce decrees need to be modified once every three or four years to keep up with changes in the family unit.
Team Up with Experienced Lawyers
Child custody arrangements must always put the best interests of the children at the forefront. For a confidential consultation with an experienced family law attorney in Schaumburg, contact Glasgow & Olsson.
(image courtesy of Kevin Gent)