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Oak Park family law attorney child custody

In today’s world, families come in all shapes and sizes, including parents who are not married. As an unmarried father, you may be wondering what your rights are with regard to your child. Historically, mothers have taken on the role of primary parent and caregiver. Illinois courts, however, often favor having both parents involved in the child’s life, so long as this is what is best for the child. If you are not married to your child’s mother, and do not intend to be, there are a few steps that you should take to be sure that your rights as a father are protected.

Establishing Paternity

Before any custody decisions are made, you have to legally establish yourself as the child’s father. For fathers who are married, this is accomplished by signing a “Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity” (“VAP”) form. The law assumes that a mother’s husband is the father of her child, and both parties recognize that this is true by signing a “VAP”. For parents who are not married, proving paternity requires a few additional steps. It is often advisable for unmarried fathers to obtain proof of their biological connection to their child. This involves taking a DNA paternity test to provide the court with proof of your connection to your child, and to ensure that your rights as the child’s father are upheld.

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Oak Park, IL parenting plan lawyerIn 2016, the way in which Illinois courts determine child custody was changed substantially. The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA ) now calls child custody “the allocation of parental responsibilities,” and visitation is now referred to as “parenting time.” Divorcing parents must fill out a “parenting plan” document which states each parent’s parenting time and parenting responsibilities, as well as certain child-related rights and requirements. Reaching decisions about these issues can be challenging – especially in the midst of a contentious divorce. In some cases, the court will make decisions about parental responsibilities and parenting time for the parents.

Resolving Parenting Plan Disputes

Illinois parenting plans must contain a number of provisions, including provisions that address the following:

  • How significant decisions about the child will be made;
  • A parenting time schedule that explains when the child will live with each parent;
  • How any future modifications to the parenting plan will be handled;
  • Transportation arrangements;
  • Each parent’s right to access information about the child, such as medical records and school reports; and
  • Several other child-related concerns.

Understandably, many divorcing parents have strong feelings about the provisions of the parenting plan. This can make it difficult for many parents to reach an agreement. Before the case is heard in an Illinois court, the parents are typically required to participate in family law mediation. During mediation, the parents work with a neutral mediator who helps them discuss the disputed issues in a constructive, non-adversarial way.  A skilled divorce lawyer may also help parents negotiate a parenting plan, without the need for court intervention.

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Oak Park divorce attorney parental alienation

Rarely are divorces completely amicable, without any disagreements throughout the divorce proceedings. Divorce often can be an emotional, life-altering process that can be difficult for some people to deal with in a healthy manner. When children are involved, many times the disagreements can increase. Unfortunately, some divorcing parents wrongfully involve their children in their disputes with their soon-to-be-former spouse, and some parents even deliberately attempt to turn their children against their other parent. These kinds of attempts are known as “parental alienation syndrome.” If you suspect that this is occurring in your divorce, you should contact a skilled family lawyer to help protect your rights with regard to your children throughout the case.

Is Parental Alienation Diagnosable?

The term “parental alienation syndrome” (PAS) was coined in 1985 by a child psychiatrist who noticed certain symptoms in children who were exposed to parental alienation attempts. This kind of alienation can occur when one parent attempts to negatively influence his or her children’s relationship with their other parent, sometimes out of jealousy for that parent-child relationship, or sometimes as a way to supposedly hurt his or her former spouse. Whether or not the negative effects of parental alienation are actually a “syndrome” is questioned by some mental health professionals. The American Psychiatric and Psychological Associations do not recognize PAS as a mental health condition, nor can it be diagnosed by a professional; however, the damaging effects of parental alienation on children can many times be apparent.

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Oak Park, IL child custody attorney for parental relocationA parent’s worst fear is waking up one day and finding their child is gone. The only way that most parents can foresee this happening is if their child is abducted by a stranger. However, kidnapping can also be done by someone you know, including your child’s other parent. If one parent decides to move to a new location with the child without the other parent’s permission, they are kidnapping their own child. In some cases, parents may choose to move with their child without realizing that this could pose an issue, but it is important to understand that a distinct legal process must be followed in parental relocation cases.

What Is Parental Relocation?

The state of Illinois does not restrict parents from moving down the street or across town with their child, and many recently divorced parents will move from their previous residence to pursue a fresh start as a single parent. However, if a parent who has primary custody of their child, or who shares custody with the other parent, plans to move a certain distance, they must receive permission from either the other parent or from the court to ensure that both parents can continue to share in parental responsibilities and parenting time. The following situations are considered parental relocation under Illinois law:

  1. The child lives in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry or Will County, and their new home will be more than 25 miles from their previous residence;
  2. The child lives in a different county than those listed above, and their new home will be more than 50 miles from their previous residence; or,
  3. The parent is moving outside of Illinois, and their new residence will be more than 25 miles from their previous residence.

How Can a Relocation Get Legally Approved?

There are multiple ways to have a parental relocation request approved, not all of which require going to court. Every intended relocation that falls into one of the 3 categories described above requires that an official request be filed with the court and sent to the child’s other parent. This notice must be provided 60 days before the intended move, and it should include the relocation date, the new address, and the intended length of stay if the move will not be permanent. 

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Hillside divorce lawyer fathers' rightsEvery year, thousands of American couples make the difficult decision to pursue a divorce. A divorce can represent an opportunity to start a new and independent life. However, when children are involved, the divorce process can be incredibly tense. For fathers, a divorce can be frightening, considering the overwhelming statistical evidence that the majority of sole-custody parents are mothers. If you are looking to secure significant parental responsibilities as a father, you need quality legal assistance. 

Securing Parenting Time and Parental Responsibilities 

Due to recent changes in Illinois’ state law, child custody is now referred to as the “allocation of parental responsibilities.” While both parents will typically receive some amount of “parenting time” (as long as there are no issues regarding domestic abuse or other criminal activity), one parent may still be the primary residential parent. As a father, it is important to understand the steps you need to take in order to remain a primary figure in your child’s life, including: 

Be Engaged: Under the new state law, the courts in Illinois can grant a parent decision-making rights regarding four primary subjects: religion, education, health, and extracurricular activities. In order to have an opportunity to either reach an agreement with your former spouse or be awarded the rights in these areas, it is important for you to be highly engaged in your children’s lives. 

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