Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Groups finding ways to take fight out of custody battles - Illinois

Daily Herald Search

Excerpts below:

Several state lawmakers and legal groups aim to give children more time with both parents and prod parents to work out agreements before they ever set foot in court.

“Contested divorce and child custody proceedings in this state can be torturous, heart-wrenching experiences to parents and children, that in turn create an undue burden on the community,” said Michael Burns, executive director of the Chicago think tank Dialogue on Sustainable Community.

State Rep. Richard Myers, a Macomb Republican, offers a different system. Under his plan, people would go to court under the notion that joint custody is best. Currently, there’s no presumption on what’s best; it’s up to the two sides to fight it out.

“We talk about mothers in one corner and fathers in the other,” said Michael McCormick, executive director of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children. “We need to recognize the value of the contribution both parents make in raising children.”

Myers’ proposal calls for each parent to have equal time with and responsibility for their children and to formulate a parenting agreement on how they will carry this out.

If, for instance, a mother disagrees with joint custody, it’s up to her to convince the judge that it’s not a good idea.

The legislation was endorsed by a House committee and awaits a vote in the full House.

However, the plan faces opposition from the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The group is concerned that violent parents could get custody more easily under the law.

“One of the reasons we’re against that is in situations where there is domestic violence, lots of times when there’s someone who is violent in that relationship ... they use that joint custody as a way of continuing to control and dominate the victim,” said Cheryl Howard, the coalition’s executive director.

She’s working with Myers to include exceptions for domestic violence cases.

The Illinois State Bar Association also has other ideas of how to alter the system. While it agrees both parents should be involved in a child’s life, the association feels a more complete and detailed overhaul is needed.

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