New Year Brings End of “Custody”

As of January 1, 2016, there are some significant changes to the body of Illinois law that governs custody and divorce, the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (“IMDMA”). 

Among the changes is the end of using the terms “custody” and “visitation.”  In its place, the court must now make determinations of “parental responsibility and parenting time.”

The statute requires parental responsibility to be allocated regarding decisions about 4 areas: the child’s education, health, religion, and extra-curricular activities.

Determination of decision-making responsibilities is to be based on the best interests of the child and the court is required to consider relevant factors, including those outlined by the statute:

  • The wishes of the child;
  • The child’s adjustment to his or her home, school and community;
  • The mental and physical health of all individuals involved;
  • The ability of the parents to cooperate;
  • Any prior agreement or conduct between the parents with regard to decision-making;
  • The parents’ wishes;
  • The child’s needs;
  • The distance between the parents’ homes;
  • The ability of each parent to support the child’s continued close relationship with the other parent;
  • Physical violence against the child;
  • Abuse in the home;
  • Whether or not one parent is a sex offender; and
  • Any other relevant factor.

Parenting time replaces the idea of “visitation.” To make a determination in regard to parenting time, the court must again consider the child’s best interests and number of other factors the court deems relevant and that are enumerated in the statute.

For attorneys, the changes to the statute do not mark  a significant substantive difference since we have long worked with clients to determine which parent should make decisions related to education, health, religion, and extra-curricular activities. We have also long helped parents mediate and construct parenting schedules.

However, the new law marks a definitive shift in the language and belief systems where the parent who lives with the child is the “custodian”, the other parent is “visiting”. Inflammatory language that has long divided warring spouses has been softened, of not removed.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes for these new terms to be used in everyday vernacular among the public and not just among domestic relations professionals.

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