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Illinois’ divorce laws could be up for debate next week when lawmakers are scheduled to hear a bill supporters say would throw out the existing system of parenting time.
A number of states are either considering or enacting divorce laws that would move away from one-parent guardianship to a kind of co-parenting model with more flexibility. Kentucky enacted a law last year allowing a court to give both parents equal footing during the divorce proceedings. Supporters of equal parenting laws say the flexibility creates a better opportunity for both parents to be present in a child’s life.
State Rep. Lashawn Ford, D-Chicago, is the sponsor of a bipartisan bill scheduled for a hearing when lawmakers return to Springfield next week that would create a co-parenting model in Illinois’ divorce proceedings. His bill changes divorce law to recognize that “the involvement of each parent for equal time is presumptively in the children's best interests.”
Ford said the state’s existing laws that favor one parent over another don’t have the child’s best interests at heart.
“What we have now is almost a default system that puts children with one parent on Wednesdays and every other weekend,” he said. “It’s a cookie-cutter law that’s not in the best interest of the family.”
Among supporters of Ford’s bill is Illinois Fathers for Equality. The group's website says “children who are raised in a 50/50 co-parenting environment are leaps and bounds better off in all aspects of life then those children raised in single-parent homes who only see their other parent minimally or not at all.”
The bill has just as many opponents as supporters.
Vickie Smith with the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence said the legislation would actually set the state back in terms of fair parenting laws and court flexibility.
“If parents cannot decide on their own what was in the best interest of the child then the courts would help them, but we think this bill throws that all back out,” she said, adding that the anti-violence community largely opposes this type of law because it takes away protections against a controlling or potentially abusive spouse.
The Illinois State Bar Association, representing lawyers who would work the cases, opposes the changes.
Ford said he thinks it’s inappropriate for trial lawyers to be interjecting in a matter where they would have a financial interest. The association could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Illinois had 29,000 divorces or annulments in 2013, according to the state Department of Public Health. Nationally, divorce rates have declined more than 25 percent since 1980. Fewer than a third of marriages result in divorce, according to a Bowling Green State University study.