A Primer on Critical Questions Concerning Child Support, Visitation and the Joint Custody Law
1. HOW IS CHILD SUPPORT DETERMINED?
Specific child support levels are generally determined on a case-by-case basis. All states have established minimum statutory guidelines and the child support level is usually calculated in the state where the support case is pending. For example, in Illinois, when ordering a support award that deviates from established guidelines, the court is required to justify its departure from the statutory norm.
2. I WANT TO SEE MY CHILD, BUT I DO NOT HAVE A VISITATION ORDER AND MY CHILD’S MOTHER REFUSES TO LET ME VISIT. WHAT CAN I DO?
If you do not have court-ordered visitation, then you need to file a petition for a specified visitation schedule. Any resulting visitation arrangement should specify when visitation is to begin and end, and where it is to take place. This needs to be done so that the order will likely be enforceable. The more ambiguous the court-ordered visitation rights, the less likely they will be enforced.
3. I DO HAVE COURT ORDERED VISITATION RIGHTS, BUT MY CHILD’S MOTHER STILL REFUSES TO LET ME VISIT, WHAT CAN I DO?
In Illinois, you have two possible courses of action to enforce visitation rights. One is criminal in nature, and the other is civil. The strategic choice would be made on a case-by-case basis. Interference with visitation rights can be a crime under Illinois law, which is punishable by up to one year in jail upon the third conviction. You can alternatively pursue the matter civilly by filing a petition for rule to show cause (contempt) against the custodial parent.
4. WHAT IF I HAVE COURT ORDERED VISITATION SCHEDULE, BUT MY JOB SCHEDULE CHANGES, AND THIS MAKES MY VISITATION SCHEDULE UNWORKABLE?
You need to file a petition to modify your visitation schedule based on the substantial change in circumstances. Oral agreements modifying visitation schedules are not legally enforceable court orders. Only judges can modify court orders.
5. MY LAWYER TOLD ME THAT ILLINOIS DOES NOT HAVE A JOINT CUSTODY LAW. IS THIS TRUE?
That is not true. Illinois does have a joint custody law, which I co-authored. It can allow parents to remain involved in the lives of their children. There are three forms of joint custody. Joint custody may be joint legal custody (both parents share major decision-making powers), joint physical custody (where children spend significant time with each parent), or a combination of these two.
6. I AM PAYING CHILD SUPPORT, BUT I JUST LOST MY JOB. WHAT CAN I DO?
You need to file a petition to reduce or abate (suspend) support, immediately, based on this substantial change in circumstances. Just because your income drops does not mean that your support obligation will automatically be reduced without the benefit of a court order. Protect yourself and seek out a court order reducing or abating support.
7. MY WIFE DEGRADES ME IN FRONT OF OUR CHILDREN. THIS TRAUMATIZES THEM. WHAT CAN I DO?
You should consider filing a petition for an injunctive order, specifying that the mother be prohibited from discussing your conduct in the presence of the children, except in a positive manner. Her conduct can be harmful to the children and your relationship with them, and must be stopped immediately.