Child Custody and Working Moms

For a long time, there was a general presumption in society that mothers tend to be awarded physical custody of their children because they tend to be the ones who stayed at home to raise the kids during the marriage. However, times have changed, and it is important to think about how issues of child custody and working mothers can come into play in a Chicago area courtroom. According to an article in the Huffington Post, more than 70 percent of mothers are currently in the workforce, and about 30 percent of working wives earn more than their husbands. Does this shift play a role in child custody decisions made by Illinois courts?

Allocation of Parental Responsibilities

To better understand whether the shift in the number of working mothers might have an impact on child custody, we should take a closer look at how courts determine “custody” arrangements. As many Chicago area residents know, an overhaul to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act that took effect on January 1, 2016 moved away from the term “child custody” in favor of the term “parental responsibilities.” Hoping to suggest a closer, more natural relationship between parents and children (as opposed to one defined entirely by the law), the legislators involved in the overhaul of the law changed the language by which to describe a parent’s custody of a child. Part VI of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA) governs the allocation of parental responsibilities.

According to the law, parental responsibilities are defined as “both parenting time and significant decision-making responsibilities with respect to a child.” In other words, parental responsibilities involve duties that we used to talk about under the language of legal custody and residential custody. When we think of legal custody, we typically think about whether a parent has substantial decision-making responsibilities concerning his or her child, and these do not have much to do with where the child actually lives or spends most of his or her time. Residential custody, differently, referred to where the child lived, and often coincides with a parent having certain “caretaking functions,” that are important but do not involve significant decision-making.

Now, how does a court decide who has parental responsibilities and to what extent?

Considering the Best Interests of the Child

When the court allocates decision-making responsibilities to a parent or parents, it looks to see what is in the child’s best interests. The court can take into account a number of different factors in making this determination, such as:

  • Child’s needs;
  • Child’s wishes (depending upon their age);
  • Wishes of the parent;
  • Previous role of the parent(s) in decision-making processes; and
  • Child’s adjustment to a particular home or community.

The statute specifically lays out a number of other factors, too. But can a court reason that a mother’s full-time employment takes away from her ability to provide for a child’s needs, versus an “at-home mom”? According to the article in the Huffington Post, courts clearly cannot discriminate against a mother (or father) who works. However, if the mother is the primary earner in the family that requires a lot of business travel, for instance, and the father has a job that allows him to work from home, the court may reason that residential custody (now known as “parenting time”) should favor the father.

Would such a decision have implicit biases against working mothers? It is difficult to say, but the “best interests of the child” standard is supposed to focus on just that—what is in the child’s best interest regardless of gender biases.

If you have questions about Allocation of Parental Responsibilities under Illinois law, a dedicated Chicago family law attorney can assist you. Contact Gordon & Perlut, LLC today for more information.