What’s in a name?

Just across the river from St. Louis, in Illinois, divorce attorneys will have to speak to their clients differently. No more will they discuss child custody, but instead, the “allocation of parenting time and responsibility.” Their clients will be referred to as “spouses” and not “husbands and wives,” but rather “spouses.”

On the one hand, it may seem insubstantial. Does it really matter that the time a child spends with their parents is called “custody” or “parenting time?” In fact, it may. One of the problems with the law is that it is a product of its time. Divorces laws written in the 1960s or 1970s may no longer reflect the realities of the world today.

Custody implies a variety of value judgments, suggesting that one parent is better than another. Parenting time is factual and can drain some the highly emotional content from arguments that can easily develop in the contentious environment of a Missouri family law courtroom.

They have also separated out the elements of raising children to four decision-making areas, medical, education, extra-curricular and religious. There are also changes to issues like relocation and the ground for divorce.

Illinois used to require a two-year waiting period or an allegation of bad behavior on the part of one of the spouses, such as adultery or drug addiction. This was a problem in that one party could delay everything by refusing to waive the two-year period. Also, allegations of conduct, like adultery, simply increased the potential for drawn-out litigation.

Legislatures are attempting to reduce litigation in family law courts and help spouses move on and if they have children, serve as good parents even if they can no longer remain married.

Missouri has used parenting plan to describe the custody relationship of the parents after a divorce. A comprehensive parenting plan can help parents deal with joint custody situations, as it can lay out many of the interactions and responsibilities, and reduce the potential for conflict.

Source:, “Illinois divorce law: A change-up for the breakup,” BETH HUNDSDORFER, December 30, 2015

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