In our last post, we discussed the provisions of a bill currently in the Senate Assignments Committee of the Illinois General Assembly. The bill seeks to add a presumption that joint custody is in the best interest of the child, and that joint custody should be taken to mean equal custody. Current law requires the court not to consider joint custody as the best alternative. The bill also creates a presumption that both parents are fit parents.
All of these presumptions are rebuttable. That is, a parent who believes the other parent is not fit can present proof of that to the court. Or, the parent who believes joint custody is not in the best interest of the child can try to prove otherwise.
The bill lists no specific burden of proof, leading us to believe that the parent must convince the court by a preponderance of the evidence, the so-called 51 percent level.
News outlets don't seem to have picked up on the bill. A similar bill in Alabama, though, has generated a good deal of press and public debate.
The author of that bill says the current joint custody system isn't working. Joint custody doesn't mean equal custody, he adds, and research has shown that children of separated parents are more likely to have an 80/20 visitation split than a "true" joint split of 50/50.
He adds that the main purpose of his bill is to require the parents to make the parenting decisions, rather than allowing a court to do it for them.
Again, where that bill has generated discussion, if not controversy, the Illinois bill has moved through the General Assembly without comment from the press. Nor does the Illinois legislative record include notes or reports that would shed light on the author's reasons for proposing the change to the statute.
We will monitor this bill and other proposed laws that affect families' parenting and support decisions, as well as divorce and division of property agreements.
State of Illinois, 97th General Assembly, Senate Bill 2197 as introduced
The Cullman Times (Alabama), "Bussman details child custody bill," Sam Rolley, 04/22/11