Richard Thomas — 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 an entire family.
No matter how good and participatory a parent has been, the standard “visitation” time forced upon almost all “non-custodial” parents in the state of Illinois is approximately four hours a week and every other weekend. This prevents even-bonding, and viewed over a lifespan, family courts currently create the greatest preventable theft of joy. Furthermore, it is overwhelmingly evident that obstructing good parents from influencing their children is causing a myriad of social ills from Chicago to Cairo.
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.
Speaker of the House Mike Madigan’s bipartisan Illinois Family Law Study Committee, after exhaustive research, concluded that it was in the best interests of every child to have at least 35 percent minimum 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.
The ISBA insists on keeping the current “winner-takes-all” custody model which maximizes conflict and reduces children to pawns. The ISBA audaciously contends that greed has zero impact on family law 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 recently reported that more than 20 states in 2017 considered laws to require shared parenting. Currently, Illinois House Bill 4113, a parenting equality bill, is a quantum leap forward toward a remedy for court created inequality. HB 4113 would create a rebuttable presumption that equal parenting time is in the best interests of children. Any deviation from 50/50 would have to be justified in writing in the judge’s decision.
HB 4113 has quickly gained strong bipartisan support with 17 sponsors.
Last month in Chicago, Rep. La Shawn Ford, chief sponsor of HB 4113 and civil rights hero, held a massive HB 4113 roundtable discussion. The opposition, an army of veteran family law attorneys and at least one judge, claimed to be experts for decades, but came to the table with zero evidence that family courts are serving the best interests of children.
The vested interests who oppose a child’s constitutional right to equal parenting often defend the indefensible by cavalierly citing, “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 odious as the segregated water fountains of the Jim Crow era.
And finally, 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 told that “equality is impossible.” Well, in the words of Nelson Mandela, “It always seems impossible until you make it happen.”
The fate of our children is now in your hands. Silence in a democracy is consent, so please call your state representative NOW! Representatives don’t expect you to be a bill expert. They just need the phone calls urging them to support shared parenting and to SPONSOR HB 4113! Many organizations support HB 4113; Leading Women for Shared Parenting, Women of Illinois for Fathers’ Equality and Illinois Fathers for Equality.
Richard Thomas is a nurse from Rockton. Any response welcome at NurseRichardThomas@gmail.com.