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Naperville divorce attorneyA divorce is hard under the best of circumstances, especially when children are involved. Many times, disputes over parental rights and responsibilities can resemble all-out, head-to-head battles, with each parent fighting tooth and nail for their own individual interests: Maximum child custody, maximum parenting time (visitation), all at the expense of the other parent. In addition, there is frequently a large dose of resentment and ill will added in. What is all too often undervalued in this scenario is the one factor that the courts will ultimately use most to decide the final parenting plan: What is best for the children?

The Evolution of Illinois Divorce Law

Fortunately, here in Illinois, recent years have seen a great deal of evolution in divorce law to improve how parenting plans are decided and carried out in daily life. Over time, “child custody” has become the “allocation of parental responsibilities.” Where questions of sole or joint custody once prevailed, present-day Illinois law now anticipates that both parents will participate in caring for the children, jointly negotiating a plan that specifies the respective rights and authority each has over their children. In particular, decisions about children’s education, medical treatment, religion, and other major facets of their lives now need to be allocated by consensus between the parents, in whatever proportions they agree to.

Likewise, what used to be called “visitation” is now known as “parenting time”—a more accurate and meaningful designation. Here again, the many components of the child’s daily life, such as their morning and nighttime routines, schooling, and homework now fall under the category of “care-taking functions.” These essential responsibilities also need to be negotiated by the parents. All of these agreements are expected to be reached with the child’s best interests as the primary consideration.

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dupage county visitation lawyerThe relationship between a child and his or her father can be one of the strongest bonds a person ever experiences. Unfortunately, in the past, many unmarried fathers have experienced difficulty and frustration when trying to pursue a relationship with their child. For some fathers, these challenges continue even today - but most would agree that their relationship with their child is worth the fight it sometimes takes to get there. If you are a father in Illinois and you want to seek parental rights, including parenting time and allocation of parental responsibilities, read on. 

Establish Paternity

No father has a legal claim to spend time with a child with whom he does not have a legal relationship. Establishing paternity over your son or daughter is the most important first step in a lifetime of love and support. If your child’s mother rejects the possibility of your presence at birth and you cannot sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity, you may need to get a court-ordered declaration of parentage. You may need to submit to a DNA paternity test to confirm the biological relationship to the child and establish paternity. Once paternity is established, you can petition the court or parenting time and parental responsibilities.  

Show You Are Responsible 

Although it may seem unfair that a father has to prove his worthiness as a parent, it is important to act responsibly - even if the outcome seems unfair at the moment. It can take time to establish parental rights, which can be frustrating. However, a court is more likely to take your claims seriously if you always pay child support, demonstrate your home is a safe and nurturing place for a child to live, and show up to your court dates looking clean and organized. 

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IL family laywerIllinois courts and judges are very concerned with the well-being of children, and Illinois family law reflects that fact. Recent changes have been made to the law to encourage both parents to have an equal role in their relationship with their child whenever possible. As a result, it is rare for a court to decide to terminate a parent’s rights to see, care for, and have a relationship with their child.

However, termination of parental rights can happen when courts find it is in the best interest of the child. Termination happens when a parent is deemed unfit by the state and/or when another adult, such as a grandparent or stepparent, seeks to adopt a child.

When Is a Parent Considered Unfit?

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is the governmental division responsible for overseeing the wellbeing of children who have problems at home serious enough to require state intervention. There are three primary reasons that DCFS may consider a parent unfit for parental rights:

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IL family lawyerTwo and a half years ago, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a bill into law that changed the way marijuana is treated in Illinois. The Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (ICRTA) decriminalized the use and possession of recreational marijuana and opened the door to private businesses selling it to citizens. Although marijuana remains illegal on the federal level, the ICRTA halted criminal punishment of marijuana users and even allowed Governor Pritzker to pardon thousands of previous marijuana convictions.

The ICRTA also included provisions that prevent marijuana use, by itself, to be considered as a factor when judges make decisions about the allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time. No employee of an Illinois court - including child representatives like guardians ad litem - may discriminate against a parent based on the fact that they use marijuana. However, this does not mean that parents in Illinois can use marijuana however they please.

Do Not Allow Marijuana Use to Interfere with Parenting

Like parents who drink alcohol, parents who use marijuana must refrain from using it in a way that interferes with their parenting abilities. Best practices for marijuana use include:

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IL divorce lawyerMarried parents can claim their child as a dependent exemption on their joint tax return. After divorce, however, only one parent can claim a child as a dependent for tax purposes. Because the ability to claim dependent exemptions can make a major difference in a parent’s finances, being able to claim your child as an exemption is often as good as money itself. Understandably, the tax implications of divorce can be a topic of contention.

Include Child Tax Exemptions in Your Divorce Decree

In the midst of divorce negotiations, who gets to claim a child as a dependent exemption is often forgotten until after the divorce is finalized. This could be a costly mistake. Illinois no longer uses the terms “custodial parent” or “child custody,” but the IRS still does. The IRS sees the parent who spends the most time with the child as the custodial parent, and unless parents specify another arrangement, the IRS default is that the custodial parent gets to claim the child as a dependent on their taxes.

However, if parents are proactive about arranging exemption claims, they can do it however they wish. They may alternate years, or, if they have multiple children, agree to split the exemptions so each parent may claim one or more children. Include the discussion about child-dependent exemptions in the broader conversation about asset division, child support, and spousal maintenance. Parents who work cooperatively can usually come to a holistic financial resolution that suits them both better than if a judge were to make the decisions for them.

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