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How Can Fathers Protect Their Rights in Child Custody Disputes?

Posted on in Child Custody

elmhurst-fathers-rights-attorney.jpgIn many family law cases, fathers feel that they need to fight against negative perceptions and stereotypes as they take steps to ensure that they can be part of their children’s lives. These stereotypes are not always unwarranted, since there are many “deadbeat dads” who fail to stay involved in their children’s lives, do not take the time and effort to spend time with their children, or refuse to meet their child support obligations. However, there are also many fathers who are closely involved in their children’s lives, playing just as important a role as mothers in caring for their kids, providing them with instruction and discipline, and ensuring that their needs are met. These fathers will want to make sure they will be able to resolve matters related to child custody in a way that will allow them to play a continuing role as a parent, make decisions about important issues, and spend quality time with their kids on a regular basis.

The attorneys of Weiss-Kunz & Oliver, LLC are dedicated to protecting the best interests of children in family law cases. For dads who are looking to make sure they will be able to share custody of their kids, we can fight to protect their fathers’ rights and help them resolve disputes successfully. We can help fathers demonstrate that they are looking out for what is best for their children, that they have played an important role in children’s lives and deserve to continue to do so in the future, and that they have the capability to meet their children’s ongoing needs. Our goal is to make sure our clients will be able to preserve important family relationships and give their kids the lives they deserve.

Understanding Child Custody in Illinois

The first thing that fathers will need to understand when addressing legal issues related to their children is what exactly is meant by “child custody.” In cases where a married couple with children chooses to get a divorce, one or both parents may believe that one of them will have primary custody, while the other will only be granted limited periods of visitation. However, while these types of arrangements may have been used in the past, the majority of parents are now able to share custody, ensuring that both mothers and fathers will play a continuing role in raising their children. 

Parents may be surprised to learn that Illinois law does not even use terms such as “custody” or “visitation,” and it does not designate a person as the “custodial” parent. In recognition of the ways that modern parents handle child-rearing, as well as the fact that children are often raised by same-sex couples, the law does not give preference to either mothers or fathers when determining how custody of children will be handled.

Traditionally, custody of children has been separated into either “legal” or “physical” custody. Illinois law continues to make this distinction, although it refers to these issues as “allocation of parental responsibilities,” which addresses how parents will make decisions about important issues in children’s lives, and “parenting time,” which details arrangements for when each parent will have children stay in their home or spend time with them in other locations.

The allocation of parental responsibilities will determine the rights that each parent will have to make decisions for their children. These decisions may address medical treatment and healthcare, educational matters and school-related issues, activities that children will participate in, and religious issues regarding when children will attend church or other services or receive education or training in a certain religion. Most of the time, parents will be encouraged to share responsibility in all of these areas, and mothers and fathers may have an equal say in how these decisions will be made. However, there may be some cases where it may be appropriate for one parent to have sole responsibility for certain types of decisions or to be able to address these issues without consulting with the other parent. 

Parenting time usually will not be dependent on how the allocation of parental responsibilities is handled. In fact, even if all parental responsibilities are allocated to one parent, the other parent will still have the right to spend a reasonable amount of time with their children on a regular, ongoing basis. During a parent’s parenting time, they will be responsible for providing for children’s needs, including making sure they are fed and clothed, ensuring that they have a safe place to live and sleep, and attending to needs such as grooming, hygiene, and discipline. When children are in a parent’s care, that parent will be able to make decisions about issues such as emergency medical treatment, and they will have the obligation to make sure children’s health and safety are protected.

Protecting Fathers’ Rights in Child Custody Disputes

As parents determine how to handle matters related to child custody, they will need to create a parenting plan, which will be part of their divorce decree. This plan will fully detail how parental responsibilities will be allocated, and it will also include a schedule for parenting time. It will also include other important information related to parents and children, including detailing each parent’s rights to access records for their children from doctors or schools and specifying how transportation arrangements will be handled. A parenting plan may also list any rules that may apply to parents or children, such as how discipline will be handled, when and how parents can communicate with children during the other parent’s parenting time, and how matters will be handled if a parent will be unavailable during their scheduled parenting time.

During the divorce process, parents will be encouraged to work together to reach agreements about how parental responsibilities will be allocated, how parenting time will be divided, and what terms should be included in their parenting plan. They may be able to do so by using mediation, which will encourage them to cooperate with each other and establish a positive relationship as co-parents going forward. However, there may be some cases where parents will be unable to agree on some or all of their child custody issues. If parents reach an impasse in their negotiations or find that they cannot resolve some issues on their own, they may pursue litigation and ask a judge to make decisions about the outstanding issues in their case.

As a family court judge addresses child custody matters, their primary focus will be on ensuring that children’s best interests will be protected in the decisions that are made. To determine what is in children’s best interests, a judge may consider multiple factors, including:

  • Each parents’ wishes for how matters should be resolved.

  • The child’s wishes, as long as a child is of an age where they can reasonably understand the issues being addressed and has the maturity and ability to express their desires. Children generally will not be required to testify in court, but they may meet privately with the judge to discuss the issues in a case and inform the judge of their preferences.

  • Physical and mental health issues that affect parents, children, or other parties, including whether parents have the capability to provide the necessary care for children, whether children have any extraordinary needs that parents must address, and whether there are any concerns about other family members who live in a parent’s home or regularly spend time with children.

  • Parents’ previous levels of participation in matters related to parental responsibilities or providing care for their children. If a father has previously been closely involved in making decisions about how his children should be raised, he should be able to continue to participate in these decisions in the future. A judge may also look at the types of “caretaking activities” performed by a parent in the two years before a divorce or child custody case began, such as preparing meals, providing discipline, putting children to bed, changing diapers, attending to bathing and grooming needs, assisting with homework, or other household responsibilities. This may inform decisions about how much parenting time each parent will have.

  • The parents’ ability to cooperate with each other to discuss issues related to their children, make decisions, and address changes in children’s lives, as well as their willingness to be flexible, consider each other’s needs, and put their children’s best interests ahead of their own desires.

  • The distance between parents’ homes and how this may affect transportation arrangements for children.

  • Whether each parent is willing and able to encourage their children to maintain good relationships with the other parent.

  • Whether there are any safety issues that may affect children, including any instances of domestic violence that took place in the past or concerns about other people who live in either parent’s home.

  • Any other issues that may affect the children’s best interests.

It is important to note that Illinois law is gender-neutral when addressing these matters. Neither mothers nor fathers are given preference when making decisions about child custody. Fathers who have been involved in making decisions about their children, who have worked to provide for their children’s needs, and who have taken the time and effort to manage household responsibilities and care for children on a regular basis should be able to maintain these parental roles. By demonstrating their level of involvement in children’s lives and their ability to meet children’s needs going forward, fathers can protect their relationships with their children and ensure that they will continue to be the parent their children deserve.

Rights of Unmarried Fathers

While fathers who are married have parental rights toward their children, these rights may not necessarily apply to unmarried fathers. If a father is not in a legal relationship with a child’s mother when the child is born, he will not automatically be considered to be the child’s legal parent. If a couple remains unmarried, and they choose to end their relationship in the future, a father who is not a legal parent may have no right to share in parental responsibilities or parenting time.

To ensure that a father’s parental rights will be protected, it may be necessary to establish paternity. The easiest way to do so is for a mother and father to sign a form known as a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity and file it with their local county clerk. This form can usually be obtained from hospital personnel at the time of a child’s birth, although it may also be available from a local registrar or child support office, and it can be completed and submitted at any time after a child is born.

In cases where the identity of a child’s father is in doubt or where a mother is not willing to acknowledge paternity, a father may file a petition to establish paternity in court. In these situations, a family court judge will usually order DNA testing, which can confirm that a man is in fact the child’s biological father. This will allow the father to be named the child’s legal parent, and the parents can then address issues related to child custody. Paternity will also establish the obligation to financially support the child, and a father may be ordered to pay child support or contribute to other child-related expenses such as medical insurance or the costs of daycare.

Contact Our Elmhurst Fathers’ Rights Lawyers

If you are a father who is concerned about whether you will be able to share custody of your children, our lawyers can advise you of your rights and options. We will provide you with legal representation as you address these issues, and we will work to resolve disputes effectively and ensure that you can be the parent your children need and deserve. Contact our DuPage County child custody attorneys today and set up a consultation by calling 312-605-4041.

Sources:

https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs4.asp?ActID=2086&ChapterID=59&SeqStart=8300000&SeqEnd=10000000

https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs5.asp?ActID=3638&ChapterID=59

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