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Court finds 'undocumented' does not mean 'unfit' in custody case

In Illinois and every other state, child custody issues are governed by the "best interest of the child" doctrine. And, just as every family is unique, every custody decision is decided on a unique set of facts. Statutes and case law provide some guidance on what factors a court should consider, but there is no such thing as a "rubber stamp" custody decision. Each family court must weigh the evidence in each case to determine what will be the best situation for that child.

A court outside of Illinois was asked to make a custody determination in a very unusual case. The family court's decision was recently overturned by the state's appellate court. While there may be an appeal to the state's Supreme Court as well, for now, at least, the child's mother will have custody, regardless of the fact that the mother is an undocumented immigrant.

The three-judge panel said that the mother's immigration status has no bearing on her fitness as a parent. Immigration rights advocates see the decision as a victory, but even the mother's attorney warns that the decision is based on a unique set of facts that may not be similar enough to persuade other judges in other cases.

The story started three years ago, when the mother was 17-years-old and an undocumented immigrant. Her boyfriend was 15 when their daughter was born. They did not marry, but the three of them lived with the boyfriend's parents. He and his mother are U.S. citizens; his father is a legal resident.

When their daughter was about 2, the household split up. Mother and daughter left; the baby's father stayed with his parents. That was when the real trouble started.

We'll continue this in our next post.

Source: Star Tribune, "Immigration status not a factor in custody battle, Minnesota court says," Abby Simons, April 8, 2013

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