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Illinois and child support: When is 58 percent good enough? p5

Getting through a divorce requires solid negotiation skills. Spouses must negotiate about property, custody, spousal maintenance and child support. It can be tough work when the stakes are so high -- deciding who will have custody is not the same as deciding where to go for dinner.

One of the reasons couples hire attorneys or attorney/mediators is to keep the proceedings focused and on track. In especially contentious divorces, it can be hard for parents to remember that their children's welfare depends on both child support and custody/visitation. An attorney, especially one with collaborative law experience, can help with that. As a Lake County Child Support Enforcement Division official says, children should not be in the middle; visitation and support are two separate things that should be addressed separately.

That is especially true after the divorce is final. When it comes to collecting or paying child support payments, visitation should not be used as a bargaining chip. It's important for both parents to remember that.

For example, a Lake County woman has argued with her ex-husband for years about child support. He just stopped paying. He moved to Colorado and then to Alaska, where he leads a fairly carefree lifestyle. The county court may have a warrant out for his arrest, but he has not set foot in Illinois for years, so he is not in much danger of arrest. He flatly refuses to cooperate with the legal system.

His explanation? All the system wants from him, he says, is his money. He believes his ex-wife has poisoned his children against him; they've stopped accepting his calls, he said, and the court seems more interested in the support payments than in his relationship with his children. He and his ex-wife are at an impasse.

Talk to one of their kids and you'll get a different story. His daughter says she stopped calling not because her mother was bad-mouthing her father, but because her father did not care enough about her and her siblings to keep up with the child support payments.

It is hard to know how the court system or the state can help families get past this kind of disagreement. When making decisions about custody and support, the courts focus on the "best interests of the child," but how do courts ensure that the parents also place their children's needs at the top of the list?

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Child support challenges courts in Illinois," Lisa Black, Oct. 25, 2013

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