What Is a Child Custody Hearing?
One of the most important decisions in the process of parental separation is deciding upon arrangements for their child or children. Formerly known as “custody and visitation,” Illinois Courts now call these proceedings hearings to determine parental allocation of “decision-making responsibilities and parenting time.” A child custody hearing can be a stressful process, as the future may seem uncertain, and your goal is to determine where the children will primarily live as well as create an ideal parenting time schedule for both parents and children.
Child custody hearings are significant decisions regarding divorce cases, as they determine a child’s legal and personal connection with each parent. This guide will provide a comprehensive idea of how child custody hearings proceed and what to expect in the process so that you can feel more prepared to take on this next chapter of your life.
What to Expect at a Child Custody Court Proceeding
To make important decisions regarding child custody, a court will need substantial information from both parties. At an initial custody hearing, both parents must testify in front of the judge concerning their respective custody proposals. The judge will inquire about the type of custody sought by each parent.
There are multiple forms of parenting agreements, including those that seek sole or joint decision-making. Additionally, some parents seek to have the majority of parenting time with the children, while others will seek to have a 50-50 schedule set in place. A court may prefer a joint decision-making arrangement and 50-50 schedule, as it best benefits the child emotionally and allows them to remain in contact with both parents. However, each case is still determined on a case-by-case basis after reviewing best interest factors in the statute. As part of this analysis, the judge will ask specific questions to obtain a thorough understanding of your case and make the best decision regarding you and your family’s future. Custody hearings tend to be short in duration, with the length dependent upon how many issues there are in your situation.
Working with a child custody attorney can be a valuable asset during your child custody court proceeding. Child custody lawyers not only help reach an ideal arrangement for all parties involved but also assist with communication and provide a better understanding of child custody laws.
Child Support Order
Understandably, one of the biggest concerns parents have when going through a separation involving children is finances. Ensuring that your children feel secure and well taken care of is a high priority. A child support order is a legal document that states how much, how often, and the duration for which a parent must pay child support. This document can also determine paternity and decide which parent must provide medical insurance, so it’s an important first step in a child support hearing.
The process of obtaining a child support order includes a ‘court order,’ which legally sets the terms for the child support, contribution toward the child’s other expenses (i.e., daycare, activity fees, and medical bills), and insurance coverage. Many factors will be considered to decide upon the best interest of the child, including the financial needs of the child, the financial responsibilities and needs of both parents, as well as the physical, emotional, and educational needs of the child.
Under the newly established Illinois child support laws, which took effect in 2017, both parents’ incomes are taken into consideration. Child support is calculated based on the combined net incomes of both parties, as well as the parenting time schedule. The order will be determined by a judge, who will then direct the parties to act in accordance with the order. A child support order is an essential step towards crafting your family’s plan and ensuring financial security and emotional stability.
In divorce cases involving children, Parenting Plans are made, keeping the best interest of your children in mind while adhering to each party’s situation. The Plan sets forth how parents make decisions on medical issues, educational needs, religious upbringing, and extracurricular involvement, and your Plan can have a customized parenting time schedule crafted on a case-by-case basis. The parent with the majority of parenting time is known as the custodial parent and has primary responsibility for the child.
In a sole custody Parenting Plan, only one parent would have decision-making authority over the four major categories, while the other parent would be determined the noncustodial parent, having only access to records. If a parent is seeking sole decision-making authority, they must provide an explanation with evidence to support their claim that the other parent should not receive any rights to make decisions. Often, judges will typically prefer assigning joint decision-making, but there are occasions where sole authority being assigned to one parent is in the child’s best interests.
In the case of a joint custody arrangement, the parents must communicate and work together on decisions that affect their child’s daily life. The goal of the courts when deciding a custody arrangement is to ensure that each parent has an active say and inclusion in their child’s life.
Another way to ensure financial security when going through a separation with children is deciding upon alimony payments. An alimony payment, also called a ‘maintenance’ or ‘spousal’ payment, is a predetermined and prescheduled amount of money a judge awards to a party following a separation. These payments and their requirements are determined through a legal decree or court order during a divorce hearing.
Alimony payments are typically issued in situations where one party has a significantly higher income than the other, and the payments are necessary to support the lifestyle of both spouses. Many factors are considered when deciding upon an alimony payment plan, including the amount each party earns each month, the expenses each party has, the length of the marriage, the financial situation of each spouse, and so on.
However, if both parties have similar incomes or if the marriage was relatively short in length, alimony payments may not be issued since there is no major disparity in lifestyle or finances. Furthermore, an expiration date might be decided upon for the alimony payments, meaning after that date, the payer is not legally required to provide further financial support to the other party.
Work with a Child Custody Lawyer
Child custody hearings can be intimidating, but the process doesn’t have to be stressful, and you don’t have to be uninformed. Educating yourself on what to expect and the steps of the legal process will help prepare you to make the best possible decisions for your future and your children.
If you ever feel overwhelmed, unsure, or need counsel in this difficult time, Strieker Law is here to help. Kristen Strieker has extensive experience as a child support lawyer, formulating divorce and custody agreements that incorporate support determinations, and she stays up to date on all recent changes to the Illinois child support and maintenance statutes. Law is a practice that is always changing, so working with a lawyer who understands significant statutory rewrites is the best option to ensure a desirable outcome concerning your case in a court of law.
If you have questions about your rights, the hearing proceedings, child support law, or need help crafting a parenting schedule, contact Kristen Strieker today to set up a consultation. Let’s start working towards your future.