Read the Transcript of this Podcast Below:
My name’s Diana Shepherd. I’m the Editorial Director of Divorce Magazine and Family Lawyer Magazine. In this podcast, we’ll be discussing Illinois child support and parenting time and responsibilities, formerly referred to as custody. My guest is Oakbrook Terrace Family Law attorney Dheanna Fikaris, the founder of Fikaris and Associates. Understanding that issues regarding children are always sensitive, she tries to make the process as pain-free as possible for divorcing parents.
Diana Shepherd: What are the different types of custody arrangements or parenting time available in Illinois?
Dheanna Fikaris: The laws have recently changed in that regard. In Illinois now, except in extreme circumstances, the only custody is joint custody. Joint legal custody means that the parents have to decide together on important issues such as education, health-related matters, religion; any major decisions that parents would make would be made jointly. Sole custody is no longer in play in Illinois, except for extreme situations where maybe one parent is in jail or there’s been proven evidence of some kind of abuse. But, in general, it’s joint custody only.
In the State of Illinois, are stay-at-home parents more likely to get primary custody than working parents?
No, they would be designated as the residential parent, meaning that the children would for purposes of school registration or the amount of time they’d be living with one parent – let’s say with the mother – the mother’s the stay-at-home parent. Now that doesn’t mean that she has sole custody: it’s still joint custody, but with residential parenting with the mother, especially if the children are young. If finances are such that it’s just too expensive to have the children in daycare, which is often the case, and it’s better for the mother to be home with the children, and easier for the children to be in one home instead of back and forth. As they get older, that changes and the children can have more time with the other parent. But stay-at-home parents, they don’t get primary custody. What they have is called the residential parent.
How are parenting responsibilities and child support decided when dealing with children of unwed parents in Illinois?
There is no difference. There still has to be what’s called an allocation judgment. It used to be called a joint parenting plan, which I think explains it better. But it’s the agreement or the judgment that’s entered on how parenting time will be set up. For example, the children will be with their mother Monday through Thursday night, and the father will have Friday, Saturday, Sunday with the children. How they’ll handle extracurricular activities and parents driving the kids to the different activities. It’s not treated any differently. The only difference is you’re not dealing with a divorce. You’re just dealing with the child support, custody, which is joint custody usually, and parenting time, vacation time, things like that.
How do you know whether sole or joint custody would be in the best interests of children?
It’s harder now in Illinois since there’s no sole custody. But if one parent is an alcoholic, for example, who either refuses or is unable to get the help she needs and it’s not in the best interests of or dangerous for the children to be with the mother unsupervised, then that’s when the lawyers would make sure that there would be a change in custody. Or if there’s any kind of abuse, there would be a change in custody. In that situation, a guardian ad litem or child representative would be appointed and help decide, would be the advocate for the child or the children to see what is best for them. It’s rare in Illinois now, but it still does happen.
Are the Illinois child support guidelines meant to cover all expenses related to children?
The theory behind the new guidelines is that if the children or child is with the father 40% of the time and with the mother 60% of the time, then they will be paying for things with the children when they have them. They will be buying food or maybe clothes or different activities. The new guidelines are supposed to take that into account with the extracurricular expenses and all expenses. It doesn’t work out that way exactly because there’s always extracurricular expenses that have to be divided equally between the parents. If they are on travel-based football, baseball, basketball, hockey, or special golf travel teams, that’s not covered by the child support guidelines. In general, if one parent has the children or child 80% of the time, they’re going to be paying a significant amount for the children. The new guidelines are supposed to address that issue to make it more equitable. Not everything fits into the child support guidelines though. There’s always extracurricular or uncovered medical expenses that have to be taken into account.
Can the amount and duration of child support be changed after they have been set?
Child support is always modifiable, meaning it can be changed. If one parent makes more money or a parent has a job where there’s a set income but then there’s also bonuses, that would go to the modification of child support. It’s the child’s right, under Illinois law, to have child support. Parents get kind of stuck on the, “Well, the money’s going to my ex, not my kids, and this isn’t fair.” The money is for the children and that’s why it’s able to be modified. Also, if someone loses their job, they may not be able to pay what they were ordered to pay initially. They would have to go into court to modify the amount: to prove that their income has gone down, and for whatever time that they’re unable to pay the original amount, the court will allow a downward modification.
If a child support recipient remarries, can their ex-spouse stop making child support payments?
No: the child support is the right of the child. They cannot stop making child support payments. The court order stands. The new spouse’s income also cannot be included in the child support amount for modification purposes, saying, “Well, my ex got married and his new wife makes money, so they have more money now and I want more child support.” The new spouse’s income does not come into play. There are back-and-forth discussions between the lawyers on issues of expenses which are defrayed from the spouse who got remarried, so the other spouse feels they should get the benefit of that. In general, child support cannot be stopped just because one spouse gets married.
If joint residential custody has been awarded, but the child is living predominantly with one parent, should the parents change the child support amount to reflect that?
It depends on the age of the child. When kids get older and they’re teenagers, it’s very hard to say, “You have to go to Mom’s house this weekend, and you have to stay there all weekend because it’s Mom’s parenting time.” No court will enforce that. It’s very difficult to get kids to do. It’s not really fair to make the kids do that when they have activities and friends and things they want to do. Regarding going back into court to change the child support amount, I don’t always recommend that. If it’s a situation where one child, for whatever reason, just can’t get along with a parent and wants to live with the other, you can go back into court and change that. In general, it just depends on the age. If they’re older, it’s just very difficult to get them to spend their whole weekend with one parent. The parents have to learn to co-parent. I always try to guide my clients to be more flexible when the children are older. It’s not worth running into court every time one child misses a scheduled parenting time.
Diana Shepherd: My guest today has been Illinois Family Law Attorney Dheanna Fikaris, the founder of Fikaris and Associates in Oakbrook Terrace. Dheanna works hard to protect her clients’ bond with their children and to resolve their child related divorce issues as favorably and painlessly as possible. If you are a divorcing parent who’s concerned about child support and parenting time, visit www.fikarislawoffices.com to learn how Fikaris and Associates can help to protect your best interests.