Divorce and custody proceedings can be an emotional and tense time for all individuals involved. In these situations, it is often the children shared by the parties that suffer the most. While both spouses have attorneys representing their own wishes, the children are in the position of relying on their parents to advocate for their best interests. Because of the strong emotions that can surround a separation, the Illinois legislatures have implemented a number of procedures to ensure that the best interest of any children involved are given the highest consideration.
THE CHILDREN FIRST PROGRAM
If the divorcing couple shares children who are under the age of eighteen, they will be required to complete The Children First Program. The Children First Program is an educational group seminar for divorcing parents. Group discussion is facilitated by a moderator and participants view short videotaped examples of interactions that frequently occur during dissolution proceedings, and which have negative, often hurtful, effects on children. The program’s primary goal is to focus participants’ attention on the feelings of the children involved, rather than on the problems, or feelings, of the parents. Parents are not allowed to attend the same class to ensure that each parent’s focus, and the group’s discussion, remains on the children. Once an individual has completed The Children First Program, they are given a certificate which they are required to submit to the court.
GUARDIAN AD LITEMS
A Guardian ad Litem, or “GAL”, is a licensed attorney appointed by the court to investigate and represent the best interests of the parties’ children. Although judges ultimately make these decisions if no agreement can be reached, the Guardian ad Litem’s recommendations are typically given a lot of weight. A Guardian ad Litem’s investigation often looks into the day to day relationships between the parents and the minor child. The GAL may ask about the family’s history, what brought the couple to the present disputes, what is currently going on, and what can be forecasted for the future with respect to the child’s needs and the present or ongoing issues between the parties. Guardian ad Litems are compensated for the work they do in each case, and most often, the judge orders the parties to split the cost of payment evenly.
If one parent fears that the other parent is acting inappropriately while exercising their parenting time with the children, they can petition for the judge to require supervised visitation. When supervised visitation is ordered, the court can appoint a family member, friend, or other willing individual to supervise the visits between the children and the parent. Although the supervisors are appointed by the judge, if an individual’s wishes to no longer supervise the visitations, they can petition to the court to relinquish the responsibility. In addition to private individuals, Illinois also has supervised visitation centers where parents can exercise their parenting time. These centers have procedures in place to ensure the safety of the children and all parties involved. Additionally, these centers will provide reports to the court regarding the nature and progress of the visitations. While these centers can be useful tools, there is typically a limited number of hours per week they are able to supervise visits for each parent.
Child custody is just one of the many aspects that must be sorted out during a dissolution proceeding. If you have questions about custody or other family law matters, contact Sherer Law Offices at (618) 692-6656.
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