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High Point Plaza, 4415 West Harrison Street, Suite 213
Hillside, IL 60162

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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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Hillside parenting planNow into its eighth month of significant impact in the U.S., COVID-19 continues to be a daily concern in all areas of life. In public, masks and social distancing are required. In the workplace, many are continuing to work remotely to avoid infection. And in schools, each district has its own arrangements for how students are completing their assignments. Illinois is now in its fourth phase of the reopening process, with stay-at-home orders now ended but group gatherings continuing to be restricted. 

Since the start of the COVID-19 restrictions, divorced parents have still had to continue abiding by their existing court-mandated parenting plans. This includes each parent’s scheduled parenting time as well as their child’s dual living arrangements. Due to the unpredictability of COVID-19 and the vulnerability of particular populations, at the present time, some families may be unsure of how to navigate these unprecedented circumstances.

Key Considerations for Two-Household Families

Most children with divorced parents split their time between two households. Even if your arrangement typically works well for your family, you may feel that you now need to adjust the situation based on your health circumstances with regard to COVID-19. If you believe that adjustments need to be made in the interests of your child’s health and your health as a parent, you should consider the following questions:

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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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Hillside child support attorneyChild support in Illinois is determined using what is known as the “Income Shares” model. This calculation method takes into account each parent’s net income, and, in cases involving shared parenting, it also takes into account the amount of parenting time assigned to each parent. A parent’s child support obligation is intended to be reasonably affordable, while still providing the financial support the other parent needs to cover child-related expenses. However, if circumstances change, the amount of child support a parent pays may no longer be appropriate, and a child support modification may be necessary.

Changing Your Illinois Child Support Order

Child support orders are legally-enforceable court orders that must be closely adhered to. If a parent does not pay his or her child support in full and on-time, he or she may face serious consequences. If you need to decrease your child support obligation, or if you are the recipient parent, and you need to increase the amount of child support you receive, you will need to petition the court for a child support modification. Illinois courts may modify an existing child support order if:

  • There has been a “substantial change in circumstances” (defined in the next paragraph); or,
  • A modification is needed to provide for the child’s healthcare needs; or,
  • There is a considerable difference between the current child support obligation and the guidelines established by the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA), and the deviation from the guidelines was not an intentional decision by the court.

Defining “Substantial Change in Circumstances”

Typically, a child support order is eligible for modification if a parent’s financial resources or the child’s financial needs have changed significantly. For example, if the paying parent (also known as the “obligor parent”) experiences a considerable increase in net income, his or her child support obligation may increase. Conversely, if the obligor parent loses his or her job, experiences a significant reduction in income, or experiences a significant increase in expenses, his or her child support obligation may decrease. However, the change in employment situation must have occurred in good faith - so if the parent voluntarily quit his or her job or took a position making less money to intentionally reduce his or her child support obligation, the court in these circumstances will most likely deny a modification request. An Illinois child support order may also be modified if the financial resources of the parent receiving support significantly increase or decrease. A substantial change in the allocation of parental responsibilities or parenting time may also necessitate a child support modification.

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Oak Park, IL legal guardianship attorneySeeing your parents age and develop limitations which make it seem like they may be incapable of fully caring for themselves can be a difficult stage to reach as a child. Maybe you have children of your own, or perhaps you live far away from your parents, making it difficult to care for them or to determine if legal action should be taken to protect them. For adults who become incapable of living on their own and making well-reasoned decisions, the need for guardianship often becomes a reality. Before taking action and deciding that guardianship is the correct path for your family member, it is important to recognize the signs of a loved one in need of help, and to fully understand what legal guardianship involves.

Assessing Your Loved One’s Needs

Illinois law states that anyone age 18 or older is assumed to be capable of handling their own affairs, recognizing them as legal adults. However, certain circumstances can cause a person to become incapable of making their own decisions. A legal guardian may be appointed if a person is disabled because of mental deterioration, mental illness, physical incapacity, and/or developmental disabilities. The purpose of a guardian is to help the individual make decisions, knowing that a sound mind is behind the decisions being made.

A person having a mental disability does not always mean that a legal guardian is necessary. If the individual is still capable of making decisions and communicating their decisions, they likely do not need a guardian. However, this statement can leave some gray area needing to be interpreted. A person making a decision that their loved ones do not agree with, as opposed to being unable to make a decision, are two very different things. If you are unsure of whether or not your loved one really needs a guardian, the following four questions can help you determine their level of need:

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