Governor Rauner signed Senate Bill 57 into law on July 21, 2016. It takes effect on January 1, 2016 and applies to all Petitions for Dissolution of Marriage, unresolved issues in pending Dissolution proceedings and Post-decree Petitions for Modification filed on or after that date.
A prior blog post discussed the changes in the law as it relates to the grounds for divorce in Illinois. There are also significant changes in the way parents and children rights and responsibilities are defined. The word "custody" has been eliminated from the statute entirely as has the difference between "joint" and "sole" custody.
Instead, each parent is assigned responsibilities. If the parties do not agree, the Court will look at a number of factors including the best interest of the child and the past 24 months of parenting to determine how to allocate the parental responsibilities. These include parental responsibility to manage a child's routine, (bedtimes etc) and ensuring participation and attendance at extracurricular activities. When parents divorce, conflict over a child's routine, such how homework is handled can often escalate. One parent may end up taking the other to court to force the parent to manage the children differently. Even if a court order is entered requiring a parent to adhere to a child's schedule, the enforcement of that Order is next to impossible since some routines, such as mealtime and bathing occur daily. In listing specific parental responsibilities, the parties will now have a baseline of what is expected of them when they have parenting time with their children. Another goal of the Legislature is to reduce the the amount of post-decree petitions involving family management issues.
Unless the parties agree, the Court will also determine allocation of significant decision making. The statute sets forth areas that are considered significant and include education (choice of school and tutors), health (dental and psychological needs) and religion. As for choice of religion, the court will look at the child's past religious upbringing, if any, and any express or implied agreement between the parents to raise a child in one religion or another.
The new statute states the factors that a Court will examine in order to assign parental responsibilities to each parent. While the best interest of the child is the number one consideration, other factors such as the desires of the child, the distance of the parents from each other and past course of conduct between the parents are also considered. Significantly, the Court will specifically not consider the conduct of a parent that does not affect the parent's relationship to the child in making its' determination. So attempting to prove that one parent is unfit because they are dating will not be considered by the Court unless dating interferes with the parent's relationship with the child. Again, it is reinforcing that "fault" divorces do not exist in Illinois and that a parent will not be punished for conduct that might have been used as grounds for divorce in the past.