New Terminology in the Law Focuses on Parental Inclusion

The influence of language and communication in today’s world is tremendous. The schoolyard chant claiming “words could never hurt” is simply not true. Words can definitely hurt. They can also be used to bring people together, to overcome adversity, and to even change the world. For centuries, authors and playwrights have extolled the power that words can have, even compared to physical weapons of war–perhaps most concisely stated by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his 1839 play Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy: “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Words can be powerful in more mundane settings as well, with a prime example to be found in recent changes to the Illinois laws regarding child custody and parental visitation.

No More Titles

For many years, the law in Illinois recognized two classes of parents in cases related to child custody. Custodial parents were making the vast majority of important decisions regarding their children’s upbringing, while non-custodial parents were all but relegated to a supporting role. Nasty battles often ensued, as parents who wished to be intimately involved in their children’s lives were understandably insulted by their perceived status as less important.

Last year’s reforms to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act sought to address this problem. As such, the new law no longer includes specific titles for either parent, and, in fact, effectively eliminated the word “custody” altogether. Starting this year, parents are expected to divide parental responsibilities between them in such a way that will keep the child’s best interest the top priority. While parental responsibilities and parenting time may not be exactly equal, there are no more labels for each parent.

Visitation Language

These changes were also reflected in the update to the portion of the law dealing with parental visitation as well. The idea of a parent “visiting” with his or her child could easily lead a parent to believe that he or she was an outsider in the child’s life, rather than a parent with legitimate rights and responsibilities. Combined with the title of non-custodial parent, it is not hard to see why a parent may have felt this way. Going forward, visitation for parents has been renamed as “parenting time,” so as to more accurately reflect the parent’s role. Parenting time can still be limited or terminated in certain situations, but the basic presumption seems to be more appropriate.

Family Law Questions?

If you are in the midst of a divorce and have concerns about your rights and responsibilities as a parent, contact an experienced Orland Park family law attorney today. We will review your case, help you understand your options, and assist you in developing a parenting plan the meets your child’s needs while protecting your rights. Call 708-518-8200 to schedule a complimentary consultation at Kezy & Associates.