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Notable Changes To Outdated Illinois Family Law Statute

The IMDMA, a cornerstone in the state’s family law since 1977, had remained largely unaltered for almost four decades. This all changed in 2016 with the adoption of several new amendments to the decades-old statute. Its amendment marked a significant shift, aiming to address the evolving dynamics of family structures and the needs of individuals navigating the complexities of divorce, child custody, support, alimony, and property assessments

The reform of the IMDMA was driven by a growing recognition that the existing legal framework was insufficient in mitigating conflict among divorcing parties and inadequately protected the interests of children caught in the crossfire of marital dissolution, especially in light of the drastic changes and evolution of societal norms The changes reflect a more modern understanding of family dynamics and a shift towards a system designed to reduce acrimony and promote fair outcomes.

Elimination of Fault-Based Divorce

One of the most pivotal changes brought about by Senate Bill 57 was the elimination of fault-based divorce. Under the old system, individuals seeking divorce were compelled to provide the court with legally acceptable grounds for dissolving their marriage. These grounds ranged from bigamy and adultery to extreme emotional or physical cruelty, abandonment, and even the conviction of a felony. This requirement often led to increased hostility and protracted legal battles, as parties were forced to publicly air their marital grievances, sometimes based on deeply personal and sensitive issues. It also had the unfortunate effect of keeping people trapped in harmful marriages if they could not meet one of the required grounds.

In the new legal landscape, the requirement to establish fault is removed, allowing couples to file for divorce citing irreconcilable differences. This change signifies an important move towards recognizing the complexities of personal relationships and the reality that a marriage can break down irretrievably without specific blame attributable to either party. The implications of this shift are profound, promoting a more amicable and less adversarial divorce process, potentially reducing the emotional and financial strain on all involved parties, especially children. The shift to a no-fault divorce paradigm marks a significant departure from this contentious approach and has greatly increased the ability to seek a divorce by eliminating the restrictive grounds.

Revisions in Property Division and Valuation

Another critical area of reform under Senate Bill 57 involves the division and valuation of marital property. Traditionally, the process of property division in a divorce case started with determining which assets constituted marital property and which were nonmarital. Nonmarital assets, such as those acquired through inheritance, generally remained with the individual who owned them, provided they hadn’t been merged with marital funds. However, there was ambiguity as to the date of valuation of assets and the standard by which to value them.

The new law mandates the use of the fair market value standard. This is valued at the date of trial, or a date upon which the parties agree.

This approach allows for a more dynamic and realistic assessment of asset worth, considering market fluctuations and other economic factors. The involvement of experts, with the court’s approval, in valuing these assets underscores the commitment to achieving equitable outcomes, with costs shared between the parties.

These changes in property division and valuation represent a significant shift towards a more equitable and practical approach to handling the financial complexities of divorce. By addressing the nuances of asset division and introducing clear standards for valuation, the amendments aim to reduce contention and provide a framework for fairer and more efficient resolutions.

Transformation of Child Custody and Visitation Concepts

The reforms in Illinois family law have also significantly redefined the concepts of child custody and visitation, aligning them more closely with the best interests of the child and reflecting contemporary understanding of co-parenting. The traditional terms of ‘joint custody’ and ‘visitation’ have been replaced by ‘decision-making responsibilities’ and ‘parenting time,’ respectively. This linguistic shift represents more than mere semantics; it’s a fundamental rethinking of how parental roles and responsibilities are conceptualized post-divorce. The emphasis has shifted to focus more on the well-being of the respective children, and what is in the best interest of the children as opposed to who wins or loses.

Under the new framework, “decision-making responsibilities” refers to a parent’s authority regarding significant aspects of a child’s life, including education, health care, religious upbringing, and extracurricular activities. These responsibilities can be allocated solely to one parent or shared between both, depending on what the court deems to be in the child’s best interest. This approach moves away from the winner-takes-all mindset of traditional custody battles, acknowledging that both parents can have active roles in crucial aspects of their child’s upbringing, even after a separation.

‘Parenting time,’ replacing the concept of visitation, pertains to the actual time a child spends with each parent. It is important that parents come up with a written schedule of how their time with the children will be allocated amongst themselves. This includes addressing where and who the child may be with on the child’s birthday, the parent’s birthday, and holidays, as well as on a regular basis. Determining parenting time is guided by the child’s best interest standards, ensuring that each child’s unique needs and circumstances are taken into account. The Child’s best interests are determined by a set of factors the Court is to consider, some of which include:

  • The child’s daily needs
  • The child’s adjustment to home, school, and community
  • The mental and physical health of all individuals involved
  • The ability of the parents to cooperate to achieve what’s best for the child
  • Any history of violence or abuse.

This holistic approach aims to foster an environment where the child’s well-being is paramount, balancing the child’s need for stability with the benefit of maintaining a strong relationship with both parents.

Modifications in Relocation Rules

The new law offers a more nuanced approach to relocation, considering the impact on the child and the non-relocating parent. Parents granted the majority of parting time living in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Will, McHenry, and Lake Counties may relocate up to 25 miles from their current residence without court approval, whereas those residing outside of these counties may move up to 50 miles within Illinois without needing the court’s permission. This change acknowledges the reality of modern life, where job opportunities, family support networks, and other factors can necessitate relocation. It balances the relocating parent’s needs with the importance of maintaining a meaningful relationship between the child and both parents. However, in any event, they still must provide written notice to the other parent of their intent to relocate.

If a parent in the counties listed above seeks to move more than 25 miles from their current residence, they have to receive written approval that the other parent consents to the relocation. If the other parent does not respond to the notice to relocate or responds that they do not agree, then the parent intending to relocate needs to file a petition with the Court and convince the court it is in the child’s best interest to relocate along with the parenting exercising primary parenting time.

These modifications in relocation rules demonstrate a commitment to adapting family law to the realities of contemporary family dynamics. By considering the diverse needs and circumstances of families, these changes aim to facilitate more equitable and practical outcomes in the wake of marital dissolution.

Contact Our Downers Grove Family Law Attorneys

If you’re navigating the complexities of the recent changes in family law, including the interim attorney fees provision, don’t hesitate to seek professional guidance. Contact our Downers Grove family law attorneys today by calling 630-427-4407. Our team is ready to assist you in understanding and effectively managing these new legal developments.

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