Chicago Finally Abolishes Dual-Track Family Law Court

Board Certified Family Law Specialist Matt Arnold answers the question: “What can I do to gain custody of my child in North Carolina?”


Legal battles over custody and child support are miserable for everyone involved. They take time, money and create enormous amounts of stress given the importance of the subject matter: your kids. Though unpleasant, the process should at least be uniformly unpleasant, meaning that everyone suffers equally as these issues are resolved. In Chicago, an outdated court system meant that not all family law issues were handled the same way, putting some families in a better position than others. Thankfully, that two-track system has finally been abolished and all family law matters will be resolved by one unified domestic relations court.


Jewelry-box-Charlotte-Divorce-Lawyer-Mooresville-Family-Attorney-300x200To understand the recent change, we should go back in time, way back to 1845 when Illinois ratified the Bastardy Act. The Bastardy Act is pretty much what it sounds like, a piece of legislation that deals with bastard children, a derogatory term used to describe those born of unwed mothers. The regressive law included some shocking provisions, including one that required mothers to give up custody of their children if the father agreed to pay child support. As part of the Bastard Law, two courts were conceived to resolve custody, visitation and child support matters: one for married couples or couples who were previously married and another for unwed parents. In Chicago, the former group would have their disputes heard before judges in the domestic relations court, the latter would be relegated to parentage court.


The differences between the two-court system was fairly stark. Years ago, unwed parents would have to try their disputes in a local police station. Eventually, parentage court was moved to a room in a building across the street from the regular Chicago courthouse. In 1993, this was the subject of a complaint by parents who resented the separate facilities and the courts were finally combined in the same building. Even then, the distinction was clear. The domestic relations court was upstairs, while the parentage court was in the basement. The domestic relations courtrooms were large and well equipped, often with windows. The parentage courtrooms were dark, small and, in some cases, former closets. Additionally, the parentage courts were understaffed. Of the 37 domestic relations judges in Daley Center (the Chicago courthouse complex), only 7 were assigned to hear disputes involving unwed parents.


The disparities left many litigants upset, hurt to feel like they were somehow of lesser value than those whose disputes were heard upstairs. This feeling was also imparted on the children of these couples who noticed the distinction and wondered why their families were relegated to the basement while others were not.


Beyond these issues, the parentage court was also beginning to sink under the weight of its docket, creating even worse inequality. Earlier this year, approximately half of Cook County (the county that Chicago is located in) custody cases involved unwed parents. That meant that half of these disputes were being heard in parentage court. As society has changed, the number of couples who never marry has exploded in recent years. This has resulted in increasingly exhausting workloads for parentage court judges. The 50 percent figure seems even more surprising when put into context: a few decades ago only about 5 percent of all custody cases involved unmarried parents.


Thankfully, Chicago sat up and took notice, realizing that the two-track court system was out of step with modern times. As the only large urban area with such a system in place, it was welcome news when the powers that be decided to officially abolish the parentage court earlier this year. From now one, all disputes involving child custody will be heard in the newly unified domestic relations court. Though this likely will not make the process any more pleasant, it will at least be fair.


If you find yourself facing a complicated family law matter, then you need the help of experienced family-law attorneys in Charlotte, North Carolina who can help guide you through the often confusing process of divorce. Please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828 or find additional resources here.







The family law practice group at Arnold & Smith, PLLC includes two Board-Certified Family Law specialists and several attorneys with many years of family law experience that are committed to providing a powerful voice to individuals facing the often-tumultuous issues in this area of law. The range of issues our family law clients may be facing include pre- and post-nuptial agreements; separation agreements; post-separation support; child support (both temporary and permanent); absolute divorce; divorce from bed and board; military divorce; equitable distribution of assets; child custody (both temporary and permanent); retirement benefits and divorce; alimony and spousal support; adoption; and emancipation. Because this area of the law is usually emotionally charged and complicated, the family law attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC act with the utmost dedication to ensure that each client understands his or her options, and then act to achieve the best result possible for that client’s particular situation.





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