THANKS RICHARD FOR SPEAKING UP FOR ILLINOIS CHILDREN AND THEIR BEST INTRESTS NOT THE LAIRS.

June 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

LINK:http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-custody-disputes-met-0601-20140601,0,5590033.story

 

Illinois joins debate over child custody disputes

http://www.trbimg.com/img-53893513/turbine/ct-met-aj-custody-fathers-0601-jpg-20140530/600Richard Thomas, who gained custody of his three children after a three-year court battle, has been involved in drafting legislation to require shared parenting after a divorce. (Stacey Wescott, Chicago Tribune / May 25, 2014)

http://www.trbimg.com/img-53893513/turbine/ct-met-aj-custody-fathers-0601-jpg-20140530/600Bonnie Miller Rubin, Tribune reporter
June 1, 2014

It has been a decade since Richard Thomas was locked in a contentious divorce battle. But the years have not dimmed the emotional toll of ending a marriage and having limited access to his three children.

“It’s winner take all,” he said of custody arrangements. “You go from being a parent to a visitor … and it’s insulting.”

Thomas, a nurse who lives near Rockford, said he is determined to use his “life experiences” to benefit others mired in similar circumstances. It’s why he has been involved in drafting a shared-parenting proposal in Springfield, although that proposal hasn’t gained traction. Thomas considers another version of the bill moving through the legislature to be watered-down, but others have touted it as a significant overhaul of Illinois family law.

Advocates like Thomas argue that children are better served when they can spend equal time with both parents. They oppose laws that award custody to one parent over another, unless a parent is deemed unfit, and would like the law to mandate that both parties get a minimum percentage of time with their kids.

But opponents — such as the Illinois State Bar Association and the Cook County public guardian’s office — say that if judges are to put children first, they need flexibility, not a one-size-fits-all solution.

It’s a debate that is happening nationwide, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Illinois is one of seven states to grapple with legislation about how best to ensure that both parents have a continuing relationship with their kids after a divorce.

For years, family courts would automatically grant custody of offspring to mothers, requiring little of fathers other than the standard arrangement: Every-other-weekend visits, one or two evenings during the week and paying child support, said David Kerpel, a Deerfield-based family law attorney.

In the 1980s, the domestic landscape changed. As more women went to work outside the home, more men became engaged and nurturing caregivers, forging strong ties that benefited their children.

Numerous research studies also supported the notion that youngsters fare better when they are raised by both parents, providing that neither has disorders such as addiction or a history of violence, experts say.

Too often, though, judges still rule as if we’re living in the 1950s, said Dr. Ned Holstein, head of the Boston-based National Parents Organization, formerly called Fathers and Families. The same bias that women encountered in the corporate world is routinely faced by men in the legal system, he said.

“That breakdown of gender roles has been very slow to come to family courts. They are just now being pressured to catch up with the rest of society,” Holstein said.

While about 2 million women nationwide are noncustodial parents, the debate is often framed as a battle of the sexes, with men’s rights groups on one side and feminist groups on the other.

In Illinois, the issue has been on the radar screen for years, reflecting the often adversarial nature of divorce itself. In 2008, the Family Law Study Committee — which included lawyers, legislators, judges and other stakeholders — was formed to bring reform to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act.

Over the years, the committee has put in hundreds of hours and heard poignant testimony from noncustodial parents shut out of their children’s lives, said state Rep. Kelly Burke, D-Evergreen Park. But earlier proposals have stalled, especially when it came to hammering out specifics, such as the time awarded the noncustodial parent.

The latest legislation in Springfield would urge, but not require, judges to consider equal time for both parents and also force custody disputes to end in 90 days rather than languish for years.

“Judges should be guided by a child’s best interest, not a number,” countered Danielle Gomez, an attorney for the Cook County public guardian’s office. “There is nothing that prevents parents from agreeing to more time … and coming up with a plan that works for them.”

The current measure was approved by the House in April and is now in the Senate. Burke has been working on custody reform for years and believes lawmakers will vote on the proposal by year’s end.

“Sometimes, it’s just very hard to move a judge from the standard scenario,” Burke said. “But we think this will be a big step forward for the majority of cases.”

However, some experts are skeptical about how a law without teeth will play out on a day-to-day basis.

“When one parent is blinded by their feelings toward the other, they can have a very difficult time focusing on raising healthy, well-adjusted kids,” according to Aaron Cooper, a psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University.

“When even the best child experts differ on what a child most needs, how can we expect embattled parents to agree? Too many parents let the emotional brain override the logical brain in their misguided wrestling match over custody.”

After Thomas’ marriage ended in 2003, he was granted only limited time with his kids — then 12, 14 and 16 years old. The court battle went on for another three years, and Thomas ended up getting custody, he said.

But there were no winners. The divorce cost him about $50,000, and his kids left home as quickly as they could, he said.

Thomas was involved in drafting a different bill that would have required judges to give each parent custody of their children at least 35 percent of every week. It was never called for a vote.

Kerpel, the family law attorney, is skeptical that any law will be a perfect piece of legislation. Even with a specific allocation of parenting time, conflict is inevitable, he said.

“When it comes to dissolving a marriage, the toxic atmosphere means there is always something to argue about,” Kerpel said. “The lawyers play a part, the judges get blamed, but the parties themselves need to step back and get a better perspective. They need to realize the damage that they are causing not just to themselves but to their children.”

brubin@tribune.com

Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC
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