Parents involved in an interstate child custody dispute face critical issues. One immediate concern is the judicial teleconference mandated by the Illinos Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, or UCCJEA. What happens there can completely alter the course of an Illinois child custody case.

The Illinois UCCJEA (750 ILCS 36/101 et seq.) is used by the courts to determine which of two states has jurisdiction to decide a child custody case. As such, if both parents want their child custody case heard in Illinois, the Illinois UCCJEA does not come into play. Please note, the UCCJEA is a “uniform law” that has been adopted by 49 states (all but Massachusetts), the District of Columbia, and the US Virgin Islands; it has not been adopted by Puerto Rico. States and territories that have adopted the UCCJEA are supposed to apply it in a similar fashion.

This posting is a fairly technical analysis of the Illinois UCCJEA, and specifically focusses on Section 110 of the Illinois UCCJEA and its guidelines for interstate judicial communication. If you have an interstate child custody dispute, contact me, Illionois UCCJEA attorney David Wolkowitz – I may be able to help.

UCCJEA cases are somewhat unique from other family law cases. Normally, only one state is involved in a child custody determine. But in UCCJEA cases, courts of two different states are supposed to communicate and coordinate with each other. However, when a child custody case involves the Illinois UCCJEA, an Illinois judge must communicate with the judge of a foreign state in order to make certain substantive and logistical decisions.  Because many judges have little experience with complicated UCCJEA cases (because they are somewhat rare), it is wise for parents involves in UCCJEA and their Illinois family law attorneys to  be familiar with the UCCJEA rules regarding interstate judicial communication.

Below is an overview of some of the major aspects of the Illinois UCCJEA provision on judicial communication.

When does the UCCJEA guarantee the right to be heard?

The Illinois UCCJEA guarantees parties the right to “present facts and legal arguments before a decision on jurisdiction is made.”

The problem is that the courts will make at least one major decision prior to a “decision on jurisdiction” – and the decision could alter the entire course of the UCCJEA case. The decision: Which court will decide which state has jurisdiction over the child custody case?

For example, an Illinois court could hold a jurisdictional hearing and determine that Michigan has jurisdiction, or vice versa. In theory, the state that holds the jurisdictional hearing should do so in an unbiased manner and apply the UCCJEA accordingly. However, in practice, a foreign judge might make a jurisdictional ruling that is meant to favor the local parent. Illinois parents can substantially benefit from having their child custody cases heard in Illinois, instead of any other state.

Courts are only obligated to allow parties to prevent facts and argument before a “decision on jurisdiction” is made. But what about the decision – such as the one described above – proceeding the ultimate jurisdictional decision? Apparently, one interpretation of the the poorly-drafted UCCJEA is that court may determine which state should make the jurisdictional decision without hearing facts and argument from either party.

Participating in a UCCJEA teleconference

Courts “may allow the parties to participate in the communication.” In other words, it’s the judge’s choice whether or not a party participates in a UCCJEA judicial teleconference.  For instance, an Illinois judge might not let the Illinois parent participate, and the Michigan judge might allow the Michigan parent to participate. That doesn’t seem fair, does it? But the UCCJEA does not address this scenario.

Further, the problem is exacerbated by the fact that some Illinois attorneys are so unfamiliar with the UCCJEA that they are under the severely mistaken belief that UCCJEA judicial teleconference are only for judges and attorneys – and that parents may not participate. In such a situation, an Illinois attorney may advise an Illinois parent not to show up for a UCCJEA judicial teleconference – handing a significant advantage to the foreign parent who does participate.

If an Illinois parent does not participate in a judicial teleconference, but the foreign parent does, the foreign parent could possibly influence both judges and make statements that would not be appropriate if they were made during a formal hearing.

As an Illinois family law attorney dealing with the Illinois UCCJEA, I try to protect my client’s right to be heard during a UCCJEA teleconference, particularly when the other parent will participate.

UCCJEA teleconferences must be recorded

Each state of a UCCJEA dispute is critical. The UCCJEA requires that all interstate judicial communication be transcribed or recorded, with the exception of the discussion of logistical matters (such as scheduling).  The Illinois UCCJEA states “a record must be made of [interstate judicial] communication. The parties must be informed promptly of the communication and granted access to the record.”

One problem with the provision is that it does not specify who has the burden of recording the communication. Is it the Illinois judge’s responsibility? The foreign judge’s responsibility? Must one of the parents pay for a court reporter to transcribe the communication?

Because the UCCJEA is essentially identical in every state, the foreign court will not have any more guidance than an Illinois court.

If an interstate judicial communication that was not recorded results in a substantive (not logistical) court order, parents who disagree with the order may benefit from having that order vacated (retracted) on the grounds that it was a product of a non-UCCJEA-complaint interstate judicial communication.

Be aware: UCCJEA teleconference pitfalls

Below are some pitfalls a parent in an Illinois UCCJEA dispute might encounter.

  1. Courts ignore the law: I spoke with several domestic relations judges about Illinois UCCJEA cases. And what I learned was shocking. According to one very respected Cook County domestic relations judge, approximately 50 percent of foreign judges refuse to conduct a UCCJEA teleconference as required by the UCCJEA – and in doing so, they refuse to apply the UCCJEA. This can be devastating for an Illinois parent whose child is wrongfully taken from Illinois and who seeks to use the UCCJEA to procure the child’s return.
  2. Representation in both states: Understandably, parents involved in a UCCJEA disupte don’t want to spend more than necessary on attorneys’ fees. However, because with any UCCJEA disputer there will be some level of legal activity in at least two states, it may be wise for parents to obtain legal counsel in both Illinois, and the other state.
  3. Improper testimony by the foreign parent: A parent may try to make statements which would be objectionable or improper if they were to be made during an official hearing.

Illinois UCCJEA attorneys

If you have an Illinois UCCJEA case, your future with your child hangs in the balance from the very outset of the case. You need legal advice, and you should contact an attorney licensed in Illinois. In fact, you might consider asking that attorney questions you develop based on reading this article; if the attorney gives uniformed, inaccurate or totally evasive answers, then you might consider finding someone else.

I am intimately familiar with the UCCJEA. If you have an interstate child custody dispute, contact me, Illionois UCCJEA attorney David Wolkowitz – I may be able to help.

Illinois child support: the basics

Whether you might be paying child support or receiving it on behalf of your child, there are certain basics facts you need to know about child support in Illinois. I’ve put together this overview of the Illinois law on child support as reflected in Section 505 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (the “IMDMA”)(750 ILCS 5/505).  [continue reading…]

Visitation interference is common in Illinois child custody disputes. It is also a crime in Illinois pursuant to Section 10-5.5 of the Criminal Code of 1961 (720 ILCS 5/10-5.5). Aside from committing a crime, a person who interferes with visitation would most likely be in violation of a court order; for more information about getting someone to follow a court order, see my post “Court orders: Get them enforced!

The law states that “Every person who, in violation of the visitation, parenting time, or custody time provisions of a court order relating to child custody, detains or conceals a child with the intent to deprive another person of his or her rights to visitation, parenting time, or custody time commits the offense of unlawful visitation or parenting time interference.”

Below are some important points about the crime of visitation interference:

  1. Getting prosecution is difficult: The crime of visitation interference is just that – a crime. And because private individuals do not prosecute crimes, the state’s attorney must bring charges. Unfortunately, the state’s attorney has no where near the capacity to pursue every parenting who has committed the crime of visitation interference.
  2. Joint custody creates difficulties with police: Although the statute does not say parents who share joint legal custody are exempt from the crime of visitation interference, many police departments believe that is that case because of their interpretation of an Illinois Supreme Court ruling. Further, police generally do not want to get involved in child custody disputes, so trying to avoid arresting someone for visitation interference is fairly consistent with their general attitudes towards child custody.
  3. Either parent can commit the crime: Traditionally, one parent is viewed as the “residential parent” and the other parent receives visitation, or “parenting time.” And although the law is most commonly though of as applying to interference with visitation specifically, it can also apply to the parent who receives visitation if he or she interferes with the other parent’s court-ordered time.
  4. A non-parent can commit the crime: Even a person who is not a parent can be convicted of the crime of visitation interference. For instance, if a friend of one parent does something to interfere with the other parent’s time with the child, that freind could be convicted of visitation interference.
If you are having a problem with visitation interference, contact me, Chicago divorce lawyer David Wolkowitz. I may be able to help.

Illinois Child Custody Factors

In Illinois, courts are to determine child custody questions “in accordance with the best interest of the child,” pursuant to Section 602 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (750 ILCS 5/602). While the court may consider any factor relevant to the child’s best interest, the legislature has directed courts to specifically consider the following factors: [continue reading…]

Simply put, an uncontested divorce in Illinois is a divorce where the spouses agree to every aspect of their divorce, or dissolution of marriage. But, marriage can be complicated. As a Chicago divorce lawyer and Illinois family law attorney, I suggest you peace sign for uncontested divorce in Illinoisbecome familiar with exactly what you will have to agree to in your divorce case.

For an uncontested divorce in Illinois, spouses will have to reach agreement in the following areas:

  1. Child custody: Will parents share “joint legal custody,” so that they are both legal guardians?
  2. Children’s residence: Where will be the children’s official residence?
  3. Child support: How much child support will be paid? And to who?
  4. Dividing assets: How will the marriage’s assets be divided? Who gets what? Should some of it be sold, and the proceeds distributed? Who gets the house?
  5. Dividing debt: Marriages can be dissolved easier than debt. Who’s going to pay the bills?
  6. Alimony: In Illinois, the legal term for alimony is “spousal maintenance.” How much alimony should be paid, if any, and for how long?
Even if your marriage has taken on a certain amount of acrimony, you and your spouse might be able to come to agreement for the benefit of everyone involved. In the end, an uncontested divorce is about pragmatics: putting the past behind you and moving ahead as quickly as possible.
If you think an uncontested divorce might be a possibility, I can help you develop an approach to use in bringing up the topic with your spouse. See the post I wrote titled Phases of an Uncontested Divorce in Illinois for a bit more information on the most affordable way to get divorced in Illinois.  I also wrote a reasonable comprehensive articled titled, “FAQ: Fast and Affordable Uncontested Divorce in Illinois.” Or, you can contact me for a free consultation.

A party to a legal proceeding, including an Illinois family law dispute, can be found to be in contempt of court when he or she disobeys a court order.Illinois family law judge, Chicago divorce court judge

If you are involved in an Illinois family law case and the other party is not obeying a court order, then you should take action to see that the court order is enforced. For instance, the other party may refuse to follow an order from visitation, may not be paying child support according to a court order, or may otherwise be in violation of an Illinois family law court order.

The good news about seeking to have another party held in contempt of court is that, if the court finds the other party to be in contempt of court, the other party often has to pay your attorney fees. In other words, you can hire an attorney to get your court order enforced, and often the other person has to pay for it!

If you are having problems getting the other parent to follow court orders, contact me – Chicago divorce lawyer David Wolkowitz. I may be able to help. Also, check out my post titled “The Crime of Visitation Interference in Illinois.”