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IL family lawyerAs American and global culture has changed in recent years, more and more people are recognizing that families come in many different forms. In many cases, same-sex, transgender, and non-binary parents play the same role as those in “traditional” opposite-sex couples, including working together to raise children. Because the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized marriage equality, LGBTQ couples have the right to be legally married, and they also have the right to terminate a marriage through divorce. However, if a couple has children, they may encounter some unique concerns as they address issues related to child custody, and in these cases, a parent may need to work with an attorney to make sure their parental rights will be protected.

Legal Parentage in LGBTQ Families

For some couples, the question of paternity may come into play during legal proceedings that address child custody. If one partner is a child’s biological parent, the other partner may be concerned about whether they are also considered the child’s legal parent. According to Illinois’ paternity laws, if a person gives birth to a child, that person’s spouse will be presumed to be the child’s legal parent. This is true regardless of the gender of the biological parent’s spouse. A person who was formerly married to the biological parent may also be presumed to be the child’s parent if the couple’s marriage ended within 300 days before the child was born.

LGBTQ couples have multiple other options for becoming parents, including surrogacy and adoption. A surrogacy agreement between a child’s intended parents and the child’s biological mother will usually supersede paternity laws, and the surrogate mother (and, in some cases, the other biological parent) will not be considered the child’s legal parent in these cases. When LGBTQ parents adopt a child, either as part of a surrogacy agreement or through another arrangement, they will become the child’s legal parents, ensuring that they will have the right to share child custody in the case of a divorce or the end of an unmarried partnership.

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IL family lawyerIn cases where married parents get divorced or an unmarried couple with children is no longer together, child support is often necessary to ensure that the couple’s children will have the necessary financial resources. Determining how to calculate child support can sometimes be a complex process, and if either parent has children from another relationship, the parents may be unsure about how this will factor into the calculations. By understanding how Illinois law addresses these situations, parents can make sure child support orders will provide for their children’s needs while ensuring that they will be able to support themselves.

Child Support and Multi-Family Adjustments

Since 2017, Illinois has used what is known as an “income shares” method to calculate child support obligations. Under this method, the income earned by both parents is added together, and a “basic child support obligation” is determined based on their combined income and the number of children they share. The basic obligation is then divided between the parents based on each parent’s “percentage share” of their combined income. That is, if one parent earns 65 of the combined income, they will be responsible for 65 percent of the basic child support obligation. The parent who does not have primary physical custody of the couple’s children will typically pay their portion of the child support obligation to the parent who has the majority of the parenting time.

If either parent has children from a previous relationship, a “multi-family adjustment” will be made to their income prior to calculating the basic child support obligation, and the amount of child support they pay for other children will be deducted from their income. This amount may vary based on whether they have an existing child support order. If there is a current child support order in place, the multi-family adjustment will be the amount that is actually paid under this order. If there is no child support order in place, the multi-family adjustment will be the amount of child support that a person actually pays or 75 percent of what they would be required to pay if their child support obligations were calculated under the current guidelines in Illinois law. In some cases, a family court judge may choose not to perform a multi-family adjustment if they find that this would cause financial hardship for the child.

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IL divorce lawyerIn a perfect world, all divorcing spouses would be financially stable and able to exit their marriages with comfort and ease. In real life, unfortunately, this is not always possible. Challenges finding suitable employment, disabilities, and transportation issues can all make finding and keeping a good job difficult. Individuals who are unemployed can still get divorced in Illinois, but it helps to be aware of how unemployment may affect the divorce process.

Are You Voluntarily or Involuntarily Unemployed?

If you have been laid off, furloughed, or fired but are trying to find a job, you will probably be considered involuntarily unemployed. But if you choose to be unemployed, any financial obligations you may have that could factor into a divorce will be handled considering the income you would likely be earning if you had a job. One exception to this is if you are voluntarily unemployed because you are raising children while your spouse works.

Will I Still Have to Pay Child Support if I Am Unemployed When I Get Divorced?

Illinois uses the “income shares method” to calculate child support payments according to each parent’s income. While unemployment may affect child support calculations, especially if a spouse is involuntarily unemployed, a change in future employment could change child support contributions at any time. A spouse who tries to remain unemployed just to avoid paying child support will likely be ordered to pay child support as if he or she was employed according to their honest earning capacity.

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Il family lawyerAs research about mental health and effective treatment options continue to develop, mental illness has become much better understood and far less stigmatized. However, an important part of living well with mental illness is managing it properly. When a parent has a mental illness that is not addressed, he or she may be unable to care for their children. In serious situations, a parent with mental illness can even pose a risk to a child’s health and well-being. If you share parental responsibilities in Illinois and have seen your child’s other parent act in ways that are cause for concern, an experienced attorney may be able to help you make any necessary changes to parenting time or parental responsibilities.

A Parent’s Mental Health Can Impact a Child’s Mental and Physical Health

Children who are mentally healthy in childhood reach important milestones in their emotional development. Independence, self-soothing, confidence, and other important social skills allow children to successfully navigate life’s tough situations. Mentally healthy children also tend to be happier and function better at home and in school.

A study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the mental health of a child is deeply intertwined with the mental health of a parent. Parents with untreated serious mental health issues can model inappropriate or ineffective coping mechanisms, such as intense anxiety or uncontrolled anger. A parent’s mental health challenges may interfere with their ability to provide care for a child and may even contribute to an unsafe living environment.

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IL family lawyerAn important part of any divorce involving children is a parenting plan. Parenting plans are part of the final divorce decree and, as such, are legally binding. They cannot be modified without court approval and parents who fail to abide by the terms of their parenting plan can find themselves facing court sanctions and loss of parental privileges. Sometimes, however, life changes, and under certain circumstances, parents can successfully petition an Illinois court to change the parenting plan to an arrangement that makes more sense for their family. If you want to petition for a modification of your parenting plan, here are a few things to know.

When Can a Parenting Plan Be Modified in Illinois?

It is important to note that parents cannot modify the allocation of parental responsibilities (custody or important decision-making authority) simply because they do not like the plan’s contents or believe the arrangement is unfair. Many parents feel upset when they first get divorced because they are dissatisfied with the arrangements of the divorce decree. However, whether an arrangement is truly unfair is neither here nor there as far as Illinois courts are concerned; to petition for a modification, parents must wait two years after the divorce is finalized. The only exception to this is if keeping the current plan would put a child at risk of physical or emotional harm.

Parenting time - which is the arrangement that details when each parent will spend time with the child - can be modified at any time as long as there is a significant change in circumstances or if both parents agree to the change. For example, if one parent gets promoted to a job that has them working night shifts, the parenting plan will need to change; that parent can ask their ex-spouse to approve the change, or they can go to the court to get the change approved. Either way, it is important to make changes with the court instead of simply agreeing in person.

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