Nontraditional families have been growing over the last few decades, but it is only now that Illinois legislation is catching up with these families by offering protection to the members who make up nontraditional families. Illinois is currently revising its Probate Code, as well as its Marriage and Dissolutions of Marriage Act, to assign specific roles to non-biological parents who have served as de-facto parents or psychological parents in children's lives. These third parties may be adoptive parents, unmarried biological fathers, stepparents, or same-sex partners. The status of “de-facto parent” allows these third parties to be treated as equal to the child's biological and custodial parents and provides standing for the third party to enforce parental rights such as visitation and custody.
Illinois Legislation for De-Facto Parents
New legislation has been included in Illinois to afford men and women who are not the legal or biological parent of the child to become a “de-facto” parent, but they must first satisfy the following elements:
- For the first two years of the child's life (birth until his or her second birthday), the de-facto parent must have lived in the same household as the child;
- The child must have only one legal parent recognized by the law;
- The de-facto parent must have acknowledged the child as his own within the community; and
- The legal parent must have consented to the de-facto parent holding the child out as his own.
The Importance of a Non-Legal Parent Establishing A Child-Parent Relationship
It is crucial for those non-legal parents who satisfy the requirements of a “de-facto” parent to go through the process of becoming the legal parent of the child. Even if the non-legal parent is in a happy and committed relationship, at the end of the day, he or she has little to no substantive, parental rights when it comes to the child. For example, in the event of a medical emergency, he or she may not be able to have a say in the best course of action for the child. In addition, in the event of a divorce, being the non-legal parent means that once the relationship has ended, he or she may have no rights to visitation or custody of the child. The parent-child relationship may be cut off with little to no recourse.
How to Prove a Parent-Child Relationship
It is important for a non-legal parent that is considering establishing themselves as a de-facto parent to make his or her status official by legally adopting the child. To prepare for the process, the non-legal parent should not only satisfy the abovementioned required elements, but also should describe and prove the role that the non-legal parent played in the child's life, as well as any parental responsibilities and obligations that he or she took on.
Finally, to gain standing to petition for any of these parental rights in court, the non-legal parent must show that there was a triggering event that led to a disruption of the child-parent relationship. This could be the end of the romantic relationship between the non-legal parent and the legal parent.
Ultimately, it will be up to the court to decide whether it is within the best interest of the child to grant parental rights to the non-legal parent. Showing that he or she was a de-facto parent will be the first step.
If you are interested in becoming the legal guardian or adopting the child of your significant other, please contact one of our experienced Naperville attorneys for more information on the adoption process.