Changes to Illinois Divorce Law for the New Year

DuPage County Divorce Lawyers

DivorceThe Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act governs the legal processes for separation, divorce, and child custody matters in the State of Illinois. Legislation passed in July 2015 promises big changes to the Act beginning January 1, 2016. Among other things, the biggest changes involve the permissible grounds and time constraints involved when filing for divorce, as well as new guidelines for allocating parental responsibilities. Understanding how these new laws may affect you if you are in the middle of or thinking of filing for divorce requires hiring an experienced Illinois divorce attorney to guide you through the process.

Grounds and Time Frame for Divorce

Most jurisdictions throughout the country require there to be some "fault" attributed to the breakdown of the marriage before a marriage dissolution will be granted by the court. In Illinois, these grounds were previously things such as abandonment, drunkenness, impotence, use of drugs, and other related things that may have led to the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Now, the only finding required regarding "fault" is that the court determines that "irreconcilable differences have caused the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage and . . . that efforts at reconciliation have failed or that future attempts at reconciliation would be impracticable and not in the best interests of the family."

Proving irreconcilable differences to the court may be based on demonstrating the futility of reconciliation or showing the court the ways in which you have tried and failed to rekindle the relationship. Previously, the "magic" number for desertion or fault-based grounds for divorce was two years. Now, if the couple has lived separately (and continuously apart) for at least six months, this creates an irrebuttable presumption that the requirement of irreconcilable differences has been met, significantly lessening the amount of time that must pass before divorce can be finalized.

Allowing this shorter time period to pass is a substantial win for divorcing couples for several reasons; first, quicker proceedings mean less time in court, leading to less time away from work and family obligations. Second, less litigation means a smaller financial burden on the parties—even when divorce litigation expenses are part of the divorce settlement (as they often are), years of unnecessary divorce litigation can be costly even for a reasonably amicable divorce settlement resolution. Finally, these abbreviated divorce settlement schedules allow families to move forward with their respective parenting plans and allocation of parenting responsibilities.

Parental Responsibilities

"Custody" and "visitation" are no longer the operative terms in the Act, and instead are replaced by "parenting plans." These parenting plans, or collaborative efforts made by the parents to divide the parenting time according to the best interests of the child, are mandatory unless an underlying mediation is taking place or a mutually agreed parenting plan is presented and approved by the court. Otherwise, the court will weigh in on any number of factors to determine the best interest of the child.

The "best interest of the child" approach has always been, and will likely always be, the yardstick to measure appropriate parenting allocation. The court will consider, among any other factors deemed relevant:

  • The wishes of the child;
  • The wishes of the parents;
  • Unique educational, financial, physical, medical, religious, or financial considerations;
  • Possibility of physical or sexual abuse;
  • Willingness of each parent to facilitate a relationship between the child and other parent;
  • Amount of time each parent currently allocates toward taking care of children;
  • Responsibilities of parents to non-marital children; and
  • Geographical proximity of the parents' respective new homes.

This new approach to child "custody" will still allow one parent to be considered a "primary" or in this case, "residential" caretaker. This is the parent with whom the child will spend the most time. In almost every instance, the ideal situation will be to allow the parents nearly equal access to visit with their child, with the assumption that this is in the best interest of the child. Parenting plans, whether approved or wholly determined by the court, will aim to ensure the best interests of the child are recognized and that any unique circumstances are taken into consideration before the divorce is finalized.

DuPage County Family Law Firm

Whether you and your spouse are considering or in the middle of divorce proceedings, it is important to understand the impact that these 2016 divorce laws may have on your divorce settlement and parenting responsibilities. At The Stogsdill Law Firm, P.C., our team of DuPage County divorce lawyers understands the changes this new law will bring and how to use the law to act in your best interest. We will seek to protect your legal rights as a parent, and ensure that you receive the divorce settlement that you are entitled to. Contact us today at 630-462-9500 to protect your legal rights and learn more about your responsibilities under Illinois law.