Having children outside of marriage has become an accepted alternative in today’s society. Indeed, more than half of births to American women under age thirty occur outside of marriage. Celebrities, athletes and couples from all walks of life have elected to have children without the formalities of marriage. The Illinois Parentage Act (“Act”) seeks to address the rights and responsibilities of unmarried parents and their children by providing for recognition of a parent-child relationship as well as tackling the issues of support, custody and parenting time.
Child support in parentage cases is determined using the same criteria that apply to divorcing couples under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. (“IMDMA”) The objective is for the child to enjoy the same lifestyle as he or she would have enjoyed had the family remained intact. Indeed, a court must award a statutory minimum percentage of the payor’s net income to the custodial parent unless there is a significant reason for deviation. Such a result may be the case even if the support award would exceed the actual demonstrated needs of the child.
Additionally, in actions brought within two years of a child’s birth, a court may direct a father to pay the reasonable expenses incurred by the mother incident to her pregnancy and the delivery of the child. The Act also provides for an award of child support retroactive to the child’s birth after the court considers relevant factors, including the father’s prior knowledge of the child’s birth and the extent the mother previously sought his assistance in supporting the child.
The Act has equalized the rights of unmarried fathers to those of married fathers with respect to custody. A man believing he is the father of a child may seek to have his paternity established by court order, thereby earning the right to request custody of or visitation with his child. Custody is governed by the best interests of the child, with joint custody, or joint decision making, being appropriate in situations where the parties can communicate and cooperate in matters regarding their child’s health, education and religious upbringing. In awarding custody, the court will consider criteria such as the wishes of the parents, those of the child where appropriate, the health of all individuals involved, and the willingness of each parent to encourage a close relationship between the other parent and the child.
In the vast majority of cases, the parent with whom the child does not reside is entitled to visitation rights. The frequency and duration of such visitation is determined by what is in the best interest of the child. Unlike cases where parents are married, however, there is no presumption that a non-custodial parent should be granted liberal parenting time with his or her child. To the contrary, the parent seeking visitation must prove that it is in the best interest of the child.
The Chicago area family law attorneys at Schiller DuCanto & Fleck LLP are adept at handling contested as well as agreed paternity, support and custody matters with discretion and skill. Their experience in expertly navigating complex parentage cases is unparalleled.