ILLINOIS — It was Martin Luther King who said, “We begin to die the day we begin to be silent on issues that matter.” Divorce and separation in this country almost always means that children lose sufficient contact with at least one of their parents and one side of their entire family.
No matter how good and participatory a parent has been, the standard “visitation” time forced upon almost all “non-custodial” parents in Illinois is approximately four hours a week and every other weekend. This cookie-cutter approach towards parenting time significantly prevents even-bonding, and viewed over a lifespan, unnecessarily robs the child of HALF of their identity, robs their joy and contributes to a negative ripple effect in all their future relationships.
Furthermore, systematically minimizing good parents’ time to nurture their children has contributed to a myriad of social ills, including drug use, dropping out of school, early sexual activity, criminal behavior and suicide. Looking at the big picture, it’s hard not to conclude that the greatest contributor to the unprecedented break down of the American family is the last five decades of flawed government policy, especially family law.
Once a judge has determined that both parents are good and fit, the BEST interests of EVERY CHILD would be that courts enforce an even-bonding opportunity with BOTH parents and families over the entire 18 years of child development. Thus, the best interest of every child, in general, is to have equal, or nearly equal time with both parents, especially during dramatic shifts in the family dynamic.
After exhaustive research by top experts, Speaker of the House Mike Madigan’s bipartisan Illinois Family Law Study Committee concluded it was in the best interests of every child to have at least 35 percent of time weekly with a good and fit non-custodial parent. That 35 percent was “mysteriously” gutted from 2014 legislation as soon as the Illinois State Bar Association opposed it. The ISBA supports 0 percent minimum parenting time.
In the public eye, the ISBA always supports the infinitely elastic policy of “maximum involvement” of both parents in the post-divorce lives of children. But INSIDE the courtroom, attorneys push for the best interest of their client, which is rarely synonymous with the best interest of the child in cases where parenting time is contested. Regardless of the changes made to family law in 2016, which were mostly cosmetic, in reality, the ISBA continues to support what is effectively a “winner-take-all” custody model, which maximizes conflict and reduces children to pawns. The ISBA audaciously contends that greed has zero impact on their family law agenda and, if you believe that, then you must also believe that Chicago’s Al Capone was ONLY guilty of tax evasion.
Nationally, the Washington Post reported that in 2017, more than 20 states considered laws to FINALLY require shared parenting. In Illinois, the Chicago Tribune reported in 2018 that, “Illinois ranks in the bottom five states for the amount of custody time dads get to spend with their kids”. For decades, shared parenting advocacy groups have been diligently working on legislative remedies to the epidemic of family court-created parentlessness.
In December 2017, State Representative La Shawn Ford, alarmed about the major social ills in every community due to parentlessness, held a massive equal parenting time roundtable discussion in Chicago. The opposition to equal parenting time legislation, an army of veteran family law attorneys and at least one judge, claimed to be top experts with decades of experience, and audaciously insisted that no substantive changes in family law were needed. Strikingly, that small-but-powerful opposition to EVERY parenting time reform bill has NEVER, to this day, provided ANY data evidencing that court results are successfully serving the best interests of children. And even-bonding wasn’t even on their radar.
Bill after bill, the SAME opposition to family law reform refuses to negotiate in good faith; they never compromise, but endlessly trumpet that they alone define equality and that they alone are the true vanguards of serving children. Most disgraceful, in official hearings, of which we have video footage of, the opposition have endlessly questioned our motives with proclamations like, “Fathers seeking more time with their children are really seeking to reduce their child support payments.” In past bills, to prove we were ONLY concerned about increasing parenting time, we have repeatedly offered to put language in our bills to specifically delink any impact parenting time changes MIGHT have on child support. They immediately rejected the offer. Audaciously, the same opposition groups who endlessly question our motives, including a financial motive, are the same groups endlessly addicted to our cash.
Furthermore, the opposition to 50/50 parenting DEMANDS peer-reviewed longitudinal studies proving that equal parenting time is what is best for children. This is an absurd demand given the fact that family courts have perpetuated extreme, gender-based inequality from the beginning of our nation. That’s like the racist White Citizens’ Council of the 1950s and 60s demanding Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. provide studies supporting equality BEFORE supporting equality legislation for Americans of African slave descent. In America, the burden of proof should be on the government to provide REAL EVIDENCE to justify reducing your time with YOUR kids.
But take heart! Today, you can be a part of positive change, thanks to Representative Ford’s Illinois House Bill 0185, a gender-neutral equal parenting time bill! This 2019 bill would create a rebuttable presumption that equal parenting time is in the best interests of ALL children at the beginning of every divorce or separation. If enacted, HB 0185 would provide 50/50 parenting time as a STARTING POINT, not necessarily an end point in every case. From the onset of each case, the judge would start with a 50/50 parenting time presumption and then would proceed to determine what the best parenting time allotment utilizing the long established 17 factors. These well-established 17 factors include determining if any abuse or neglect is present. To be crystal clear, HB 0185 has no impact on current domestic violence protections and would greatly decrease tension over the number one issue that court’s currently FORCE parents to fight over: parenting time. Most critically, ANY deviation from 50/50 parenting time would have to be justified in writing in the judge’s decision. HB 0185 has gained bipartisan support, but will ONLY pass into law if OUR calls of support pour in NOW!
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg once stated, “Women will only have true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.” But a parent can never equally share parenting responsibilities when endlessly blocked and/or frustrated in the attempt. A good parent should never have to go through Mrs. Doubtfire-like contortions and bow to every whim of a controlling parent, just to maintain a meaningful relationship with the children they BOTH brought into this world. Family courts should heal not hurt. A court should never sit on the sidelines for years and wait until a family dynamic is psychologically, emotionally, spiritually and financially exhausted before managing a divorce case towards a successful conclusion that includes ongoing even-bonding opportunities. Isn’t it long overdue that all parents enter the courtroom believing, in good faith, that they are viewed as equals in the eyes of the law???
The vested interests who endlessly oppose a child’s constitutional right to bond equally with both parents often defend the indefensible by cavalierly stating, “Divorce is complicated.” Equality has ALWAYS been complicated, but in this country, we eventually embrace those complications, realizing that the worst source of complication is perpetual inequality. Within the next few decades, today’s family court outcomes will be viewed as repugnant as the segregated water fountains of the Jim Crow era.
Justice Ginsberg has had an iconic legacy fighting for equality. What will YOUR legacy towards equality be? Will you act today or allow your silence to feed the status quo that hurts children and causes social ills? It is so easy to act. Below is a link to the Illinois Family Law Subcommittee which will vote whether HB 0185 should advance. It is absolutely vital that you use your phone as a tool for good TODAY and call all 8 representatives to ““VOTE YES on HB 0185”. Furthermore, no matter where you live in Illinois, please call your state representative to urge their support of HB 0185. Representatives don’t expect you to be a bill expert. They just need polite, but persistent, phone calls urging them to support REAL shared parenting and to SPONSOR HB 0185! Many organizations support HB 0185; Leading Women for Shared Parenting, Women of Illinois for Fathers’ Equality and Illinois Fathers for Equality.
And finally, what is most soul crushing, I cannot believe that I jumped out of airplanes in the middle of the night in an Army airborne unit only to return to my home, the Land of Lincoln, to be REPEATEDLY told by family law reform opponents that “Equality is so impossible that we better not even attempt any progress.” That is the rhetoric of failure and when it comes to our children, failure is not an option. In the immortal words of Nelson Mandela, “It always seems impossible until you make it happen.” ALL children spell love T-I-M-E, so let’s make equal parenting time a REAL possibility in Illinois – please make those calls TODAY! The vote is February 14 and your call could tip the scales in favor of Illinois children!!!
DONATE HERE to the Shared Parenting effort!!!
Richard Thomas, MS, BA, BSN, from Rockton, Illinois, is a father, a nurse, an airborne Army veteran and has been involved in family law reform for over 10 years and is a member of Illinois Fathers for Equality. Richard welcomes all feedback at NurseRichardThomas@gmail.com
Click here to see Call List – Must call by 2/13/2019.
READ entire HB 0185 Bill Here;
2018 Chicago Tribune article proving Illinois 5th from the bottom in parenting time;
2017 Washington Post article regarding shared parenting legislation;
List of all Illinois State House Representatives;