Allocation of Parental Responsibilities and Your Child’s Wishes
Too often, parents who are going through a divorce focus their energies on fighting with one another rather than on finding workable solutions for raising their children. Under Illinois law, divorcing parents are expected to develop a cooperative plan that addresses the allocation of parental responsibilities—once called child custody. Such an agreement, however, is not always possible, and the matter is left to the court to decide. During the proceedings, each parent will the opportunity make his or her case, which will be taken into account by the judge. But what about the child? Does the child get a say in how parental responsibilities are allocated?
The Wishes of the Child
The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act clearly provides that, yes, the wishes of the child are to be considered by the court in a proceeding related to decision-making responsibilities or parenting time. The law, however, does include an important caveat. The court must also take “into account the child’s maturity and ability to express reasoned and independent preferences.”
The qualifying provision in the statute is meant that the court is not bound by the wishes of a child who has not developed the critical thinking skills necessary to form reasonable opinions regarding parenting responsibilities. A preschool-aged child, for example, may express the desire to go live with Dad because she thinks she will get to stay up late and watch movies. Conversely, a more mature middle school-aged child may be able to identify that Mom routinely has trouble getting her to school on time and struggles with day-to-day responsibilities, so more days with Dad may be better. The court is obviously more likely to give credence to the older, more mature child’s wishes.
Options for Providing Information
While technically possible, it is uncommon for a child to be asked to present his or her wishes in open court for several reasons. First, the courtroom can be extremely intimidating, and the subject matter going on around the child may be inappropriate for him or her to hear. In addition, there is also the concern that the wishes of the child may be unduly influenced by the presence of the parents. As a result, a judge may speak to the child in chambers with a court reporter present. Alternatively, the judge may appoint a guardian ad litem or custody evaluator to obtain a better understanding of the child’s wishes. Thus, the child’s voice can be heard with subjecting him or her to unnecessary stress or hardship.
If you are in the midst of a divorce and you have questions about the allocation of parental responsibilities, contact an experienced Geneva family law attorney. As a certified guardian ad litem, Attorney Doug Warlick understands the importance of protecting your child’s best interests and he is ready to go to work on your behalf. Call 630-232-9700 for a confidential consultation today.