Family Law Chicago – Modern Family Norms

Family Law Chicago – Modern Family Norms

By: M. Scott Gordon

In general, families don’t look the way they did 50 or 60 years ago. To be sure, the postwar trend to get married, have children, and grow old (even in an unhappy marriage) just isn’t the norm in the 2000s. Nowadays, most families don’t have the same makeup. But have Family Laws governing family relationships in Chicago kept pace?

Some families are “blended,” with stepparents, stepchildren, and half-siblings. Adoption has also become more feasible for Chicago families in the last few decades, and family makeups have continued to expand since same-sex marriage was legalized in Illinois. Has Illinois family law made changes to accommodate these shifts in the typical family structure?

Making Updates to Divorce Laws and Child Custody Laws

According to a recent article in the Illinois Times, the divorce laws in our state largely haven’t been updated in 40 years. To be sure, the current law that governs marriage and divorce in Illinois was passed back in 1977. That law is known as the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act.

Now, however, the Illinois Family Law Study Committee has something to say about that. The Committee is “a legislative advisory group created to make recommendations for updating the state’s marriage law.” What’s the Committee currently doing? It’s proposing changes to the law that it has “been fine-tuning for seven years.” And it’s attempting to “incorporate modern cultural norms and values surrounding divorce and child custody.”

A lawyer who is the chairman of the Family Law Study Committee has emphasized that the proposed changes to the 1977 law are looking good. Although some commentators still aren’t pleased with what the Committee has developed, the chairman said that the changes make the law look “much better than what it was when it was written 40 years ago.”

Notable Proposed Changes

One of the most radical proposed changes to the law concerns child custody. Indeed, Senate Bill 57 “removes the concept of custody, joint or otherwise.” Rather than courts giving sole or joint custody to one or both parents, the bill proposes that courts assign specific childcare responsibilities to the parents. This shift could be particularly helpful in heated custody battles, as it “avoids creating winners and losers.”

Generally speaking, Illinois courts won’t assign joint custody if it appears as though the parents will not, under any circumstances, be able to communicate with one another. In such a situation, assigning sole custody to one parent often increases hostility between the parents.

Proposed changes, if passed, would also impact divorce proceedings. For instance, the bill would eradicate a separate hearing, in a divorce case, “in which couples have to prove to a court why they should be granted a divorce.” Such hearings require the spouses to “say negative things about the other person to get a divorce,” which often breeds hostility.

In addition to getting rid of these hearings, the bill also aims to excise the “heart-balm” provisions of the law, which allow one spouse to sue the other spouse for destroying the marriage on the ground of infidelity. While these kinds of cases don’t often arise in Illinois courts, maintaining the possibility for them on the books says something about divorce and its adversarial nature.

Are you thinking about filing for divorce? Do you have questions about how the proposed changes to the Illinois marriage, divorce, and child custody laws could affect you? Contact an experienced Chicago family law attorney at Gordon & Perlut, LLC to learn more about how we can help.