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Kane County, IL parental alienation lawyerParental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) has been recognized by some in the medical community since 1985 when one child psychologist identified the similar behaviors that children exhibit when they have been exposed to parental alienation by one or both parents. In the decades since, the syndrome has yet to be recognized by the American Psychological Association or the American Medical Association.

Despite the debates over whether PAS per se actually exists, there is no debate about the existence of parental alienation. Unfortunately, it occurs far too often in divorce and child custody situations.

What Is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation is when one parent disparages the other parent to their child, deliberately manipulating the child’s perceptions of the parent, with the goal of turning the child against that parent. For example, a father may tell his children that their mother will stop loving them just like she did him or a mother tells her children that their father is going to forget all about them now that he has a new girlfriend.

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St. Charles, IL child custody lawyerPart of our job as parents is teaching our children how to be independent. This includes encouraging them so they are ensured their voices are heard and that their opinions and feelings matter. This process is an ongoing one and there are times when parents do need to overrule what their child wants because it is not in their best interest. One question that parents going through a child custody case often ask is whether or not the court will take into consideration the child’s wishes. Although in many cases the judge will consider the child’s wishes, it will not be the deciding factor.

Allocation of Parental Responsibilities and Parenting Time

In 2016, there was a major overhaul to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA). Lawmakers eliminated the phrase “child custody,” replacing it with the allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time. What did not change is how family court judges decide the allocation and parenting time, basing those decisions on the best interest of the child doctrine.

When it comes to whether or not the child’s wishes have any sway in the court’s decision, that often depends on the age of the child. Under the statute, the court will take into consideration the child’s “maturity and ability to express a reasoned and independent preference.” While this usually refers to older children, it can also apply to a younger child who is especially articulate and mature for their age and is able to clearly express their wishes in a manner that assures the court they are not just repeating what they have overheard or been told what to say by one of the parents.

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St. Charles family lawyerIn most situations, an Illinois family law judge will not make a decision regarding the custody of a child unless both parents are able to present their side/argument to the court. However, there are situations where the court will grant one parent temporary emergency custody based on that parent’s testimony alone, often without the other parent even being notified of the hearing if there are allegations that the child is in some kind of danger of abuse or neglect if they are left in the other parent’s care. These child custody orders are referred to as “ex parte” orders.

When Are Ex Parte Orders Issued?

As mentioned above, under normal circumstances, the court wants to hear from both parents – along with any witnesses they may have – as to what their preferred role in the allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time should be.

Unfortunately, there are circumstances where one parent’s behavior or choices place the child in a dangerous and/or unhealthy living situation. It is in these situations that the court will allow a hearing where the other parent can present their allegations and evidence to the court showing that the parent is putting the child in danger, without the parent being present or even notified that a hearing is taking place. There is often a concern in these situations that if the allegedly abusive parent was aware of the hearing, they might take off with the child, creating an even more alarming and dangerous situation.

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Kane County family law attorneyWhen an individual becomes a parent, they are generally entitled to certain rights regarding their child. However, there are a variety of circumstances that can result in a parent losing their parental rights in Illinois. From undetermined paternity to a lack of parental fitness, an individual’s right to parent their child can be revoked. Suppose you have had your parenting rights taken away. In that case, a family attorney can help you uncover your options towards establishing custody, parenting responsibilities, or visitation time with your child.   

Lack of Parental Fitness

In order to understand how the state can revoke parental rights, it is crucial to be familiar with parental fitness guidelines. Being a fit parent includes having the physical, emotional, and mental ability to care for your child. Ways that a parent can be deemed unfit include: 

  • History of child abuse or neglect
  • History of sexual abuse or assault 
  • One year or more of habitual substance abuse 
  • Living in an unsafe environment 
  • Consistent lack of accountability for childcare responsibilities 
  • Mental illness that impacts the ability to care for a child 

If a parent is deemed unfit to parent, the court could terminate their parenting rights, including custody, the right to visitation, or the right to make legal decisions for the child. These unfit qualities are especially reviewed during a divorce. If a couple is pursuing a custody battle while dissolving their marriage, the unfit parent may lose their parenting rights as a divorce agreement is drafted.  

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Kane County family law attorneyOne of the toughest but most important parts of an Illinois divorce is creating a parenting agreement that suits both parents’ needs as well as the children’s best interests. Parents must often get creative and curious when creating a parenting plan because both spouses are sure to have strong opinions about what is likely to be the best arrangement. 

An important part of every Illinois parenting time arrangement is the right of first refusal - or, in other words, the obligation either or both parents have to seek child care from each other rather than a third party under certain clearly delineated circumstances. If done well, the right of first refusal can benefit children as well as divorced parents. Here are three ways your kids might benefit from a great right of first refusal clause. 

Strengthened Parent-Child Relationship

The clearest reason for a right of first refusal clause is the importance of increasing the time children spend with their parents and strengthening their relationship whenever possible. The right of first refusal allows this by ensuring children maximize the time spent with each parent, rather than with a babysitter or other family member. Although it may be easier for parents to sometimes rely on grandparents or neighbors to watch the children, and important though these other relationships may be, children need their parents’ caregiving more than anyone else’s. 

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