A new year brings sweeping changes to Illinois divorce and parentage laws

Spouses divorcing in Illinois in 2016 should be aware of changes to state laws that affect fault grounds, child custody decisions and parental relocations.

The start of a new year is often a popular time for individuals in Lake Zurich to consider untying the knot or asserting their parental rights. According to CNN, national data shows that divorce fillings increase sharply in January, and rise to a high mark in March. It is essential for divorcing individuals or parents who have never married to be aware of sweeping changes in Illinois that became effective at the start of 2016. Three big changes in particular are highlighted.

Fault grounds abolished

One of these laws eliminates "fault-based" grounds and establishes "irreconcilable differences" as the sole ground for divorce, according to The Northwest Herald. Previously, spouses could choose between seeking fault-based or no-fault divorces, with fault-based grounds including adultery, mental cruelty and substance addiction. Spouses pursuing no-fault divorces had to live apart for at least two years before proceedings could commence unless the other spouse agree to waive the waiting period. Spouses requesting fault-based divorces were only required to live separate and apart in excess of six months.

Supporters believe the new law will make the divorce process more efficient and less contentious. Before, due to the discrepancies in waiting periods, many people may have sought fault-based divorces, leading to acrimony and conflict between spouses, and increasing the length and cost of the divorce. Now, individuals can only reference irreconcilable differences as the basis for the divorce, and must plead they have lived separate and apart for at least six months.

Parenting terms revised

The terms that parents and family law judges use when deciding parenting time and decision-making authority have also changed. Previously, state law referred to "custody," which represented decision-making authority, and "visitation," which represented time spent with the child. Now, the law allows parents or judges to determine "allocation of parental duties" and "parenting time." Instead of a "Joint Parenting Agreement" or "Custody Judgment," the law refers to "Parental Allocation Judgment" or "Parenting Plan." These changes affect all cases involving children, regardless of whether the parents are or were married, or whether they never married.

One practical effect of this change is that judges have liberal discretion in the allocation of decision-making authority over all aspects of a child's life, with preference to shared responsibilities between the parents. Parents or judges can decide which parent will make decisions about specific issues, including:

  • The child's religious upbringing
  • The child's education
  • The child's medical care
  • The child's recreational activities

The Chicago Tribune notes that these semantic changes may also offer other benefits for parents. Some parents found the term "visitation" offensive, and others suffered from misconceptions about the meaning of "custody." Now, the meaning and intent of each term is less ambiguous.

Relocation rules adjusted

The laws that affect the relocation of parents also have been revised, according to The Chicago Tribune. Previously, parents could move within Illinois without obtaining the approval of the other parent or a family law court, unless the parenting agreement provided otherwise, but they could not move across state lines. The new law provides specific guidance on when approval of the other parent or the court is necessary, depending upon the county you live in, the county or state to which you wish to relocate, and the distance from the child's current residence. This change could reduce child custody disputes over relatively minor relocation and eliminate the need for formal post-decree modifications, which can be lengthy and costly.

Benefits of legal advice

The evolving nature of Illinois divorce and parentage laws, along with the complexity of these laws, underscores the importance of consulting with an attorney. An attorney can make sure that a person is familiar with current laws and knows what to expect over the course of divorce or paternity case. An attorney can also help an individual pursue a settlement that is reasonable and appropriate, given his or her unique situation.