COMMON QUESTION: I have never been married to my child’s other parent. We were together for a few years but have ended our relationship, and now my ex is not allowing me to see my child. What are my rights and what can I expect to happen?
It is more common than ever for a child to be born to unwed parents. Oftentimes a couple will remain together after the baby is born and will not encounter any issues as it relates to the child until they decide to end their personal relationship. Many parents of unwed children do not realize that they are able to petition for child support, custody and parenting time (visitation), until some time has passed after the birth of the child. This information is not usually obtained until the relationship with the other parent becomes unstable.
As parents of a child born outside of a marriage, one is entitled to petition for the following: paternity, (including DNA testing in some circumstances) custody, child support, parenting time (visitation), holiday parenting time, and more, under the Illinois Parentage Act of 1984. How your case will begin varies based upon whether or not a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity (or a “VAP”) was signed when the child was born. Once paternity is established, the residential parent can petition for support and the non-residential parent can petition for parenting time. Both parties may be able to petition for custody once parentage is established.
Generally, custody and parenting time issues are sent out for mediation prior to the Court hearing them, and this is true in cases where the parties were not married as well as in divorce cases. This is because two parties are likely better able to make a decision that is within the best interests of their child better than a Judge can. The parties know the child, their lifestyles, their schedules and the child’s schedule. They know the details of the situation that a Judge does not always have available to them at a hearing. The Courts and Illinois lawmakers believe that two parties that disagree on almost everything else usually can still make a decision that will benefit their children because they both presumably want what is best for their children, and this is the theory that utilizing mediation is built on. There are very narrow exceptions under Illinois Supreme Court rules when mediation won’t be utilized, but generally, mediation will be the first step in resolving these issues. Mediation involves both of the parties and a third party neutral mediator. Attorneys are not present at mediation; however, the parties can consult with their attorneys after a mediation session to see if the results agreed upon are feasible and advisable in the given situation. The attorneys at our firm are experienced in advising clients that are going through mediation and in trying to use mediation to obtain an optimal, cost effective result in any given case.
In the event that mediation is not successful, or if the given case is not ripe for mediation, the Court will hold a hearing to resolve custody and parenting time issues. Financial issues are never mediated by the Court’s mediators and unless agreed, support issues will be set for hearing. Our attorneys are experienced in cases involving parties that were never married and are able to advise on paternity, custody, parenting time and child support. Feel free to contact us if you are having an issue with your child’s other parent to find out how we can be of assistance to you.