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Should Illinois Mandate At Least 35% of Custody to Each Parent?

As part of its family law overhaul bill, the State of Illinois is considering some very interesting amendments to the current family law statutes. Including one that would mandate that each parent get at least 35% custody of their children, with the remaining parenting time to be divided as the parties see fit or can agree on.

So what does that mean for child custody and mediation in Illinois? Will it be the disaster that some are predicting? Or will it simply be another "non-event" simply whipped up by media hysteria.

The answer in my opinion?

(E) - not enough information.

Custody Minimums: Pros and Cons

As anyone who has discussed how they were going to share parenting time can tell you, it is a gut-wrenching conversation. No matter how amicable the two parties are.

No matter how terrific a job the mediator did or how fairly you tried to treat the other side, both parents go from seeing the children 100% of the time to being part-time parents. No matter how much custody you have, you never see them as much as you want to.

And that stinks.

But on the flip side, there are some positives to be gained from a shared custody plan.

Some say children become more adaptable as they must navigate two different home environments. They may become more responsible as they need to make sure they have what they need as they go from house to house. And they will also benefit from being exposed to different parenting styles (provided they're not too far off from each other) and grow up understanding there's more than one way to look at an issue.

But is a Minimum Necessary?

Those of us in the mediation community believe in the power of "self-determination." Meaning we like to empower the parties (our clients) to make the decisions that are in their mutual best interest. And give them the opportunity to do what works for them. Not the courts, not a judge but their family and their children.

So if it's a good idea that children spend more time with both parents, why would a minimum be necessary?

There are some instances when one party takes on the role as the primary caregiver. In these cases, Party A feels they are MY children and I'll let Party B see them when I think it's acceptable. In this case, Party B, even though they'd like to spend more time with the kids, gets locked out. The children get shortchanged as (a) they think Parent B doesn't want to spend time with them and (b) Parent B feels they are not fulfilling their parental duties.

Then there are the cases whereby one parent is the primary caregiver and the other parent acts as if they don't have children. Not appreciating how difficult it is to raise kids as a married couple, let alone as a single parent. In this case a minimum may serve as a "wake-up call" to the parent who in the past may not have actively participated in the children's upbringing. Another benefit of this is that Party A (the primary caregiver) can now establish their own individual identity instead of being dismissed simply as a caregiver.

A Word About Domestic Violence

My main concern with this bill lies in cases where it may not be appropriate for a child to spend a minimum of 35% of their time with each parent.

Perhaps one party has an addiction problem? Or there were instances of domestic violence. What if one party got a great job and wanted to move the children out of state? How would that be handled?

Excellent questions

So even if Illinois does pass this part of the family law overhaul, I would hope there would still be instances in which an exception would be made.

At the End of the Day - Mediate!

Of course the best way to get a parenting plan and child custody arrangement that you both think is fair and works best for your children is to mediate.

You don't need the State of Illinois to tell you how to be good parents, do you? Of course not. So mediate. Don't litigate!

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