One of the most painful and expensive disputes that divorcing parents have is over custody of the children or a visitation schedule.
The court determines custody of the children in accordance with the "best interests of the child." All relevant factors are considered, including the wishes of the children's parent or parents; the wishes of the child; the mental and physical health of all individuals involved; the threat of physical violence by the children's potential custodian, whether directed against the children or directed against another person; and the willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the children.
A judge may require couples who have disagreements about custody issues to attend parenting programs or participate in mediation. If the judge appoints an attorney to represent a child in a contested case, the parents will be responsible for paying the fees of that attorney as well as their own attorneys' fees.
Temporary orders and/or the judgment for divorce may call for payment of child support. If one parent has custody, the law assumes that the parent is contributing to the children's needs and directs the other parent to pay a percentage of his or her net income, after certain deductions, to the custodial parent. For example, the parent will typically pay 20 percent of his or her income after mandatory deductions if there is one child; 28 percent if there are two children, and escalating percentages to 50 percent if there are six or more children.
As an alternative to custody by one parent, the court may enter an order of "joint custody" if it determines that joint custody would be in the best interests of the children.
Payments for child support must come directly from the paycheck of the non-custodial parent through payroll withholding, whenever possible. Child support is always modifiable should there be a substantial change in circumstances. The obligation to pay child support continues until a child reaches 18 or graduates from high school. Both parents may also have an obligation to contribute to a child's post-high school education.
To help enforce delinquent child support obligations, the state established a Passport Denial Program, which is part of the federal Offset Program. Under the program, non-custodial parents certified by a state, who are behind in their child support payments of $2,500 or greater, are denied a U.S. passport or the use of a passport service. The Department of Child Support Enforcement, a division of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, then works with the debtor to make arrangements to pay the child support debt so that the passport hold can be released.
For further information about law-related issues, contact an Illinois State Bar Association member-lawyer in your area or visit www.isbalawyers.com.