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Illinois divorce law changes for 2016 focus on parental duties, time, streamlining process

Waiting period for divorce shortened, ‘custody’ and ‘visitation’ terms nixed

CRYSTAL LAKE – Local divorce attorneys are bracing for changes in the law governing the way people get divorced.

As of Friday, the terms “custody” and “visitation” no longer will be in a divorce attorney’s vocabulary, replaced instead by “allocation of parental duties” and “parenting time.”

Previously, custody was painted in broad strokes. Parents either had sole or joint custody that affected the way decisions were made on a child’s education, health care, religion and extracurricular activities. Under the new law, parents will decide on each of those categories separately and will decide who will be responsible for each of those decisions.

“It’s more of a nomenclature change than a substantive change,” said Timothy J. Clifton, a divorce attorney at Zukowski, Rodgers, Flood and McArdle. “The goal was to get away from the term custody because that word elicits such a response.”

It’s the same train of thought that changed visitation to parenting time. Some parents can be offended by the term, or as Crystal Lake-based attorney Paulette Gray explained: Grandma visits, mom and dad parent.

“To a certain extent, you’re changing the name, but the battle is still there,” said Gray, who also is a past president of the Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

Also under the new law, the grounds for getting a divorce have changed, as has the waiting period for couples wishing to end their marriage.

Parties seeking a divorce no longer can cite grounds such as adultery, mental anguish, impotence, habitual drunkenness and the laundry list of other reasons for ending a marriage. The only ground for dissolving a marriage is irreconcilable differences.

“If you get served with divorce papers that say you’re guilty of adultery, right away you’re on the defensive and you’re coming out swinging,” Gray said.

Realistically, Gray and Clifton said citing those grounds has no effect on the outcome of the divorce because Illinois has long been a no-fault state. Removing the other grounds streamlines the process.

There also are changes to the waiting period for a divorce. Under the previous law, parties who cite irreconcilable differences had to prove they lived separate and apart from their spouse for two years. All other grounds, such as mental anguish or habitual drunkenness, for example, required no waiting period. On Monday, couples need only to live separate and apart for six months.

Another significant change is a rule that allows custodial parents to move with their children, as long as it is within 25 miles.

“I feel like in theory it’s a good idea,” Clifton said. “I don’t know how in practice it’s going to play out. I think people are going to play games with the 25 miles.”

In McHenry County, and other counties along the Wisconsin state line, 25 miles can mean a move to a different state. Previously, a court order was required to move across state lines.

“I’m just not a fan of somebody being able to permanently move children from the state without a court order,” Gray said.

The goal behind the changes, the lawyers said, was to streamline the process, and give couples fewer things to argue about. However, as Clifton puts it, arguments are bound to happen.

“There’s always something to fight about,” he said.

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