Illinois family law to change in 2016: What you need to know

Changes to family law in Illinois are in the future. Senate Bill 57 was introduced in January of 2015 and signed into law in July. It is scheduled to go into effect in January of 2016. As reported in Illinois Times the bill, also known as the "modern family law," is an attempt to update the state's laws regarding custody and other family law issues.

More on the impact of the new law on child custody

The law is designed to remove the concept of "custody," attempting to shift the focus away from joint versus sole custody towards "parental responsibilities." Instead of receiving a custody determination, each parent has responsibilities; instead of visitation each has parenting time.

The law defines "parental responsibilities" as parenting time and significant decision-making responsibilities with respect to a child. Parenting time is defined as the time during which the parent is responsible for exercising caretaking functions and non-significant decision-making responsibilities.

When making its determination, the court is to allocate decision-making responsibilities based on the best interest of the child standard. Examples of significant decision-making responsibilities include:

  • Education. This includes the choice of schools and tutors.
  • Health. Medical, dental and psychological needs of the child and any treatments connected to these needs.
  • Religion. The decision on religious affiliation was subject to a number of provisions. For example, if the court is involved in this decision it is to review past conduct and the presence of any express or implied agreement between the parents when making this decision.

It is important to note that even those parents that are not awarded significant decision-making responsibilities remain entitled to reasonable parenting time with the child. When determining the actual allocation of parental time, the court shall look to the best interests of the child. This can include a review of the wishes of the parents, wishes of the child depending on the child's maturity, past allocations of parenting time as well as the mental and physical health of all involved.

Additional impact of this bill

The bill also changes the following:

  • Divorce. The change provides for irreconcilable differences as a ground for divorce. There is an "irrebuttable presumption" that the grounds of irreconcilable differences are met if the parties live separate and apart for at least six months at the time the judgment is entered.
  • Visitation rights. This bill also provides provisions for visitation rights of nonparents, like grandparents, siblings and other relatives.
  • Parental rights. The bill also makes it difficult to terminate parental rights, requiring a "preponderance of the evidence standard."

These are just a few of the changes resulting from this law. It is important to note that the law is fluid, and changes can occur at anytime. Additional changes will be addressed in the future. In the meantime, those who are considering or have recently filed for a divorce are wise to seek the counsel of an experienced divorce attorney to discuss how these changes may impact their divorce.