Each year from 2018, 50/50 parenting time bills have created controversy in Illinois. Proponents from the father’s rights camp steadfastly promoted the equal parenting-time presumption. Promoters used strong-arm tactics to try to push through the various equal parenting-time bills. National organizations have supported this legislation. This includes the National Parents Organization (originally: Foundation for Fathers and Families).
In 2020, HB 185 (and Committee Amendment No. 1) renewed the push from the father’s rights community to enact a 50/50 presumption in Illinois. These parenting time bills received substantial press with former Chicago Mayoral candidate, LaShawn Ford being its main sponsor and biggest backer. The Illinois chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers has voted unanimously against both HB 185 as HCA No. 1.
2021brought us the reprise of this legislation: HB 620.
The bill would change the definition section. It would add language providing that, “the involvement of both parents for equal time is presumptively in the best interests of the children.” It would eliminate the language, “Nothing in this Act requires that each parent be allocated decision-making responsibilities.”
It would further amend 750 ILCS 5/602.7 regarding Allocation of Parental Responsibilities: Parenting Time. Our current law reads: “Unless the parents present a mutually agreed written parenting plan and that plan is approved by the court, the court shall allocate parenting time.” The bill would add this critical sentence: “There would be a rebuttable presumption that it is in the child’s best interests to award equal time to each parent.”
2020 HCA No. 1 and 2021 Legislation.
The 2020 HCA No. 1 was a delete and replace amendment. The reprise of this would make three critical changes to Illinois parental allocation law.
Implication that Equal Decision Making Required: It would first remove from Illinois the provision: “Nothing in this Act requires that each parent be allocated decision-making responsibilities.” By implication regarding rules of construction, it could be argued that the amendments would require equal decision making. The 2016 rewrite to the 600 series of the IMDMA sought to gently remind judges that they must follow the best interests of children standard. One of the tools available to the judge in advancing this concept is the provision that nothing in this Act requires that each parent be allocated decision-making responsibilities. It affirms that children’s best interest come first. Nothing is gained by deleting this reminder nor is it understood what are the unintended consequences of its deletion.
Conflation of Standards Applying to Third Parties with Standards Applying to Each Parent: HB 620 would also presume not only that both parents are fit but also provide, at Section 602.7, that:
It is presumed both parents are fit and fit parents act in the best interest of their children, therefore the court shall not place any restrictions on parenting time as defined in Section 600 and described in Section 603.10, unless it finds by a preponderance of the evidence…
The House Bill conflates the “fitness” standard applicable to third-party litigation with the best-interests’ standard applying to parenting-time allocations involving natural parents. Fit parent have Constitutional rights in lawsuits against non-parents including grandparent visitation case law. Current law already presumes the fitness of each parent in order to minimize potential litigation between the parents. But House Bill 620 takes language that protects natural parents from third party litigation and applies it against litigation between parents. Parents, fit or not, do not always act in their children’s best-interests. If they did, there would be no need for judicial intervention, because parents would simply “do the right thing” and put their children’s best interests above their own–always. These are case-by case determinations.
Deletion of the Critical Third Statutory Factor in Allocating Parenting Time: It would delete the third statutory factor in allocating parenting time. This factor did not incorporate the approximation rule in the American Law Institute’s treatise but it did allow the court to consider the parent’s previous caretaking pattern. Thus, the amendment would eliminate the factor that reads:
the amount of time each parent spent performing caretaking functions with respect to the child in the 24 months preceding the filing of any petition for allocation of parental responsibilities or, if the child is under 2 years of age, since the child’s birth.
Eliminating this factor would remove a critical provision from Illinois law. This allows a judge to consider the family’s previous pattern of caretaking for the children. Under rules of statutory construction, the amendment would prevent the judge from considering the amount of time each parent spent with caretaking functions before the divorce. It makes no practical sense to eliminate this judicial consideration. What serves the children post-divorce? Surely, the arrangements the parties themselves had in place before divorce should be considered. This factors allows the judge to best minimize the disruption in a child’s life from the parent’s divorce.
Illinois law was already radically changed with the 2016 Rewrite to the entire Section 600 series of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. Those changes should be given greater time to settle rather than continue to make a change such as a 50/50 presumption. Following the 2016 Rewrite, we have already seen parenting plans in Illinois that are far more “father friendly.” Our income-shares statute also gave the non-residential parent an incentive to seek additional time: giving that non-residential parent seeking to pay a lower child award, the incentive to count overnights. That has become the norm because of the provisions in the Illinois income-shares allowing for a significant reduction in support if a parent has at least 146 overnights per year.
The trend that we have seen in Illinois has already provided more and more shared parenting-time schedules–a positive development in Illinois law. A one-size-fits-all 50/50 parenting-time presumption would not be.
We have seen that our maintenance guidelines were originally posited as just a “starting place.” More than the norm, most judges rarely vary from the maintenance guidelines. This would happen with parenting plans if we enact a 50/50 parenting-time presumption. Such as presumption would not be centered around the children’s best interest. We see from states states that have adopted this presumption, that it becomes the rare case indeed to vary from it.
A good recent article on the national trend is a 2016 Pew Article. That article had stated:
Laws that encourage shared parenting may sound “seductive” to state lawmakers, but they often force families into bad situations, said Maritza Karmely, a professor at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. Bar associations, judges and lawyers have come out against some of the proposals.
“A presumption is a pretty radical step,” Karmely said. “That assumes that shared parenting works for most families, and I think that is an enormous assumption.”
We have nationally seen “red-states” tend to award equal parenting time. For example, in Wisconsin there is a provision that there is a rebuttable presumption that the parties will not be able to cooperate regarding decision making issues in cases of domestic abuse. But Wisconsin the law provides that each parent shall have regularly occurring, meaningful periods of physical placement with each parent. The Wisconsin provision is not a presumption of equal placement.
Even before the 2021 bill, I had predicated that we would continue to see a push for this one-size-fits-all “solution.”
A December 2017 Washington Post article summarized:
The legal push for custody arrangements follows years of lobbying by fathers’ rights advocates who say men feel alienated from their children and overburdened by child-support obligations. This movement is gaining new traction with support from across the political spectrum, as more lawmakers respond to this appeal for gender equality and, among some conservatives, the frustration of a newly emboldened constituency of men who say they are being shortchanged.
The well-balanced Post article also stated:
Critics of the bills, including women’s rights groups and some legal associations, say that stricter laws will roll back important protections against abusive or controlling former spouses and take discretion away from judges who are tasked with deciding what is in the best interest of children. They also say that the bills, which would directly apply to only the 10 percent or so of divorcing parents who cannot come to an agreement, are unnecessary because more divorcing parents are already choosing shared custody. Laws that require joint physical custody could also lead to the elimination of child support in some states, women’s advocates say, disrupting a system that was designed to help women, who have historically been paid less in the workforce while performing more unpaid labor at home.
The trend toward a more equitable parenting-time split is a helpful one, consistent with the best interest of the children. We have seen that presumptions become much more than a rule of safe harbor. They become the normal in all but the most unusual cases. Our child support guidelines are based upon statistics regarding the cost of raising a child. An equal parenting-time presumption would result in many dramatically lower child support awards. The Illinois bill would also create an uphill battle for victims of domestic violence to combat equal parenting-time schedules.
HB 620 seeks to create less-and-less judicial discretion regarding parental allocation. The amendments each are unnecessary. They have consequences that cut against the best interest of children in Illinois.