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Illinois considers adding an equal parenting presumption


Article authored by Jeffery M. Leving

Numerous studies have shown that children tend to do much better behaviorally and emotionally when both of their parents play a meaningful role in their lives. As the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports, those studies have shown that children who are raised in sole custody households are more likely to develop behavioral problems than those who spend time with both parents. Yet, despite so much evidence showing the importance of having both parents play a meaningful role in their children’s lives, courts still often tend to go along with outdated gender stereotypes by awarding most parenting time to just one parent, usually the mother. Now, a bill being debated by Illinois state lawmakers is seeking to change that dynamic.

Making shared parenting the presumption

As Fox Illinois reports, House Bill 4113 would amend the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act to add a presumption that equal parenting time is in the child’s best interests. In effect, that would mean that courts would start from the default position that each parent should be awarded equal parenting time unless there is evidence that awarding parenting time to one parent would jeopardize the child’s mental, physical, moral, or emotional health.

While Illinois law currently doesn’t presume that one parent is more fit to take care of a child than another, prejudices about gender norms still persist, even in family law courts. As a result, despite the fact that there is plenty of scientific research backing up the notion that both parents should play a meaningful role in a child’s life after a divorce, more often than not one parent is granted far more parenting time than the other.

Putting the child’s interests first

Opponents of equal parenting bills like HB 4113 often argue that forcing a child to live with two parents is overly disruptive. Thus, awarding sole physical custody, they claim, is in fact in the child’s best interests. However, as mentioned above, studies show that children can adapt well to living in two different households; what they don’t adapt well to is losing their ability to form a meaningful relationship with one parent.

Opponents of such bills also argue that shared parenting laws put the rights of parents ahead of those of children because they hinder judicial discretion. However, as mentioned, the presumption that both parents should receive equal parenting time is in the child’s best interests. Furthermore, shared parenting laws do not hinder judicial discretion since it is ultimately up to the judge to decide if one parent would create a risky environment for the child and to adjust a child custody arrangement order accordingly.

Family law help

The above bill is still in its early stages and there is no guarantee that it will ultimately become law. However, the issue is a reminder that those involved in a divorce should seek legal help as soon as possible. Especially when it comes to child custody issues, it’s important to have an experienced family law attorney on one’s side to help advocate for an arrangement that will protect not just the client’s rights, but the client’s children’s rights.