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Illinois Senate considers change to child custody law

A bill is making its way through the Illinois Senate that could significantly change the state's approach to child custody determinations. There hasn't been much media coverage of the proposal, though a similar proposal in another state has garnered a good deal of attention.

The proposal would amend the Best Interest of the Child section of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (750 ILCS 5/602). This is the statute that lists the factors a family court judge will consider when making a custody decision. The court must consider, for example, the wishes of the parent or parents, the wishes of the child and the relationship of child and parents. The statute lists 10 factors, but the list isn't exclusive. The court has some discretion in these decisions.

Under current law, the court is asked to approach each custody decision with an open mind. The statute specifically states that there will be no presumption that joint custody is the best option.

The proposed legislation would change that. The presumption at the beginning of every case would be that joint custody is the best choice. If one or both parents believe joint custody is not in the best interest of the child, they must convince the court.

The bill doesn't stop with a presumption of joint custody -- rather, the bill says that joint custody means equal custody. The bill adds a presumption that, absent written agreements to the contrary, it's in the best interest of the child "to reside with each parent for an equal period of time."

Finally, the bill would add a presumption that each parent is fit and, therefore, acts in the best interest of the child.

We'll continue this discussion in our next post.

Source: State of Illinois, 97th General Assembly, Senate Bill 2197 as introduced

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