I was watching a television show over the weekend that depicted a family where the parties, who were divorcing, had two minor children. The mother told the father that she was going to “sue him for sole custody” and that he would “never see his children again” because he had come into some hard times financially and lied to his wife about their financial circumstances. The depiction in the television show of custody, as a whole, couldn’t be further from accurate. First of all, when the Court determines whether parties should be awarded joint versus sole custody, they look at what is in the best interests of the children and weigh specific factors in making that determination. Typically, incidents involving the parents that do not have a direct impact on the children are not considered. Certainly the parties’ financial shortcomings and dishonesty towards each other would not be something that would be considered when a custody determination was made. Additionally, the television show mistakenly represents that if one party has “sole custody” that the other party won’t have visitation with the minor children. This also couldn’t be further from accurate.
These mischaracterizations and misuses of family law in television and movies lead potential clients to believe that they can ask for something that they really are not likely to obtain, in most circumstances. “Supervised” or “restricted” visitations are some of these things that are often misrepresented on television or in movies. Additionally, suspension of visitation is often misrepresented. In the state of Illinois, in order to stop visitation between a parent and a child, the party requesting the suspension has the high burden of proving that “visitation would endanger seriously the child’s physical, mental, moral or emotional health.” This is a very high burden to prove and is not successfully proven except in extreme circumstances. It is not likely to be the case, as in the television show, that the father wouldn’t see his children again due to his lying to his wife about their financials…at least in the state of Illinois. The take away here is that people say a lot of things when they are angry at each other and are contemplating divorce, and the media has mis-educated the American public about a lot of these issues and how they play out in real life. It is best that parties consult with an attorney prior to making blanket statements about custody and visitation to their spouse, and our office is experienced in custody and visitation issues. We are happy to set up a consultation.