The newest updates to Illinois Law have changed the terms visitation and custody to “parenting time.” While these terms have changed recently, the concepts are essentially the same.

The newest update to the Law in Illinois, Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act and the Illinois Parentage Act, now use the terms “parenting time” and “decision making” in lieu of the older term “custody.” But for the purposes of our pages and articles, we use the more widely understood terms “custody” and “visitation.”

Child Custody and Visitation are often the most important topics in Family Law Courts. The first priority in a case involving children is ensuring the best interests of the children are served in the allocation of parenting rights, responsibilities, and time. Parenting rights, responsibilities, and time can be broken down into a number of different specific subjects. These subjects most often include the following:

  • Residential Custody
  • Regular Parenting Schedules
  • Vacation Parenting Time
  • Summer and Holiday Parenting Schedules
  • Babysitting / Right of First Refusal
  • Parenting Exchange Location
  • Parenting Exchange Times
  • Parenting Time Supervisors
  • Decision Making Authority for Health Care
  • Decision Making Authority for Extracurricular Activities
  • Decision Making Authority for Education
  • Decision Making Authority for Religious Purposes
  • Child Tax Credits

These subjects are relevant in both Divorce cases and Paternity cases. The final Court Order determining the answers to these subjects most often considers the Parenting Factors we have highlighted and elaborated on throughout this website. While all of these subjects will be hashed out during the course of your case, there are differences between a Divorce case involving children and a Paternity case.

Divorce vs. Paternity

In a Divorce case involving children, Illinois Courts assume that the husband is the legal and biological father of the children, so long as the children were born during the course of the marriage. There are certainly some exceptions here, but at the onset of the Divorce, this is the assumption.

In a Paternity case, there is an additional step needed before determining how these subjects will end up at the conclusion of your case. Before a Court will look at the subjects listed above in a Paternity case, that Court must first establish who the legal and biological father of the children is. The biological father of the children is determined in a number of different ways such as:

  • Voluntary parental acknowledgement (VAP)
  • Establishment of paternity through DNA testing
  • Establishment of paternity through agreement between the parties

It is often misunderstood that a father’s signature on a Birth Certificate is proof that the father who signed the Birth Certificate is the legal and biological father of the child. This is not necessarily the case. When a child is born to an unmarried couple, the father is given an opportunity to voluntarily take responsibility for the child and to acknowledge that he is the legal and biological father of the child. This is accomplished through signing what is known to the state of Illinois as a Voluntary Parental Acknowledgement (VAP). Signing this document at the time of birth will indicate that the father has taken legal responsibility for the child. This document is often presented to the alleged father at the same time as the Birth Certificate.

In the event that a VAP has not been signed at the time of birth, the establishment of Paternity must be done through a different legal process. If both parties agree as to who the legal and biological father is, they can agree not to contest the issue and have a Court Order entered establishing this fact. If Paternity is contested by the parties, it is likely that the Court will enter an order requiring the father to submit to a DNA test. This will require the father and the child to provide a DNA sample to a laboratory to be compared. When the results of this test come back, a Court Order will be entered establishing this fact legally. As you may know, DNA tests can be very expensive. We always advise our clients to voluntarily agree to Paternity if at all possible.

Custody and Visitation Subjects

Whether your case is a Divorce or a Paternity case, the subjects mentioned above, along with Child Support and Child Expenses will be the primary focus of the Courts. These subjects can be broken down to Parenting Time and Decision Making. At the end of your case, the Court will have issued an order determining the Parenting Time and the Decision Making Authority for each parent. In Illinois, there is no guarantee that Parenting Time and Decision Making Authority will be joint and equally split between the parents. To determine the exact terms of the final order, the Courts will evaluate the Parenting Factors we established. Each of those factors matter when arguing your case, but some may weigh heavier with the Courts than others. For example: In a Divorce case, when determining which parent should have Decision Making Authority for Extracurricular Activities, the Court may weigh heavily which parent has been most involved in the child’s extracurricular activities in the past. This is what we refer to as Past Care.

To learn more about each of these Custody and Visitation Subjects, click this link.

Day to Day Decision Making

Throughout our website we refer to decision making. It is important to note that decision making, as a Court determination, refers to specific types of decision making. Those specific types include:

  • Health Care
  • Religious
  • Academic
  • Extracurricular

Beyond these specific types of decision making, most decisions made in a child’s life will fall within what are called “day to day” decisions. This term does not require a lot of explanation, these are the decisions made for a child day-to-day rather than larger, potentially life changing decisions as those listed above. For these day-to-day decisions, it is important to understand that each parent, while exercising their parenting time, has the authority to make decisions for their children. Some of these decisions may include those topics above, such as taking your children to the doctor on a routine basis or taking your children to a particular religious event. But when it comes to which doctor should be their primary doctor, an elective surgery, or a particular religion to be raised in, those decisions are determined by the parent with decision making authority for that particular issue – which may well be both parents, if they are ordered “joint decision making.”

If you or someone you know is in need of a family law attorney, call us today. Our highly skilled team works with our clients to provide the knowledge and experience needed to build a successful winning legal strategy. Schedule your free initial consultation with a Rockford Divorce Law Attorney today to learn more about the services our team can provide you.

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Helpful questions about family law

How to choose the right divorce lawyer?

Choosing the right divorce lawyer, in our mind, comes down to three factors. First, is this lawyer going to be an aggressive advocate for me? Second, is this lawyer a person I can get along with personally? Third, do I trust this lawyer to communicate with me effectively? If you walk away from an initial consultation with a lawyer answering yes to those three questions, you have likely found the lawyer who is right for you.

Legal work can be extremely time consuming. Your expectations should not necessarily be that your lawyer is someone you can vent to about your personal life, as that would likely result in an unreasonably high bill. But you should expect your lawyer to keep you informed as to the status of your case. You should also expect your lawyer to listen to your wishes and concerns and use those thoughts as a basis for your case. You don’t need to talk to your lawyer everyday, but you should hear from them every other week or so.

Expect the unexpected when it comes to the Court dates. The Court system is based on a first-come-first-serve calendar, when the case is not filed as an emergency. All initial Court dates are determined by the Clerk of the Court, not of the lawyer or client. If you have a lawyer, expect the Judges to want your lawyer to do the talking, unless the Judge asks the client a question directly. You should also expect the Judge to keep the Courtroom as orderly as possible. Judges very much look down on people who speak out of turn. As for dress, the Court does not require a strict dress code, but it is always a good idea to dress professionally to show the Judge that you take the system and their Courtroom seriously.

There is a process in the law referred to as “discovery” that allows a party to a legal proceeding to discover information about the opposing party. In the context of a divorce, “discovery” is primarily used in the form of written questions and written requests for the opposing party to provide documents to the party that is doing the requesting. These are called “interrogatories” and “requests to produce.” During the process, the party answering the questions or requests must provide a written testimony, under oath, that the documents and answers are true and accurate. It is through this process of “discovery” that we are able to learn what assets a party possesses.

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