Illinois has come to the realization that when the physical and/or emotional well-being of a child is at stake, expedited hearings are imperative. The new 900 Series of Illinois Supreme Court Rules was adopted February 10, 2006 and will become effective July 1, 2006, with the exception of Rule 905 which will go into effect January 1, 2007.
The purpose of this article (Rules 900 et seq.) is to expedite cases affecting the custody of a child, to ensure the coordination of custody matter filed under different statutory Acts, and to focus child custody proceedings on the best interests of the child, while protecting the rights of other parties to the proceedings. Article IX is broken down into three subparts: Part A (Rules 900 through 920) applies to all child custody proceedings covered in Article IX; Part B (Rules 921 through 940) applies to child custody proceedings brought under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act and the Illinois Parentage Act of 1984; and Part C (Rule 942) deals with child custody proceedings under Articles II, III, and IV of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987.
The purpose of this article is to provide a brief overview of the time limitations imposed by this new series of rules. Rule 901. General Rules Illinois trial court shall schedule and hear all child custody proceedings on an expedited basis and hearings shall be held in strict compliance with time guidelines established either by statute or Article IX of the Supreme Court Rules. In an effort to ensure expedited hearings, all child custody proceedings shall be scheduled at specific times. At each hearing the next hearing shall be scheduled. All parties to a child custody proceeding shall be notified of the date and time of the next hearing and a continuance of a child custody hearing shall not be granted without good cause shown. Good cause would be shown if consistent with the health, safety, and best interests of the child. It is the responsibility of the party seeking a continuance to document in or on the record the reasons said continuance has been requested. In cases where the trial judge chooses to take a child custody proceeding under advisement, a decision must be rendered by the trial judge no later than sixty (60) days after the completion of the trial or hearing.
What is a hearing? Arguably a hearing can include any or all of the following:
Pre-trial Conference; Case Management Conference; Grounds Hearing; Temporary Relief Hearing; Settlement Conference; and Trial.
It is recommended that, in an effort to avoid any confusion with application of these deadlines, parties to a child custody proceeding should seek clarification from the presiding trial court judge as to what is considered a hearing. Rule 922. Time Limitations ALL child custody proceedings shall be resolved at the trial court level within eighteen (18) months from the date of service of the initial pleadings to the entry of a final order. If said deadline is not met, the trial court shall make written findings as to why the case failed to meet said time limit. An extension shall be given if the parties, including a good divorce lawyer representing the child, the guardian ad litem or the child representative, agree in writing and the trial court concurs in writing that said extension is for good cause shown.
If the parties fail to agree to an extension then the trial court may consider whether said extension should be allowed for good cause shown. It is unlikely that the trial courts will allow an extension for any reason short of major health issues or physical and/or emotional issues affecting the child at issue. It is important to keep in mind that these time limitations apply only to child custody proceedings. In a parenting divorce case with both contested custody and property issues, the deadlines imposed by Article IX do not apply to the property aspects of the case. Child custody must be determined accordingly to these timelines even if the parties’ financial issues remain pending. This will arguably lead to an increased number of “piece meal” Orders, but may also inadvertently impose or coerce the timely resolution of all such divorce resource cases. Rule 923. Case Management Conferences Within ninety (90) days following service of the petition or complaint, the trial court shall schedule an initial case management conference.
At this initial conference, the trial court shall address the following:
1. Parenting Education: Both parents must present proof that they have completed an approved parenting education program (discussed in more detail in Rule 924), provide a deadline in which said compliance will be made, or show cause as to why compliance should be excused. An example of where compliance may be excused would be if one party resides outside the State of Illinois. However, it is still within the court’s discretion to order the nonresident party to attend an equivalent program, if one exists, in his/her state of residence.
2. Agreed Custody and Parenting Plan: Only when an agreement exists shall the parties present said custody order and parenting plan at the initial case management conference.
3. Mediation: If the parties are unable to reach an agreement on custody or a parenting plan or both, pursuant to Rule 905 (b) the trial court shall schedule mediation. The mediation provision of Rule 905 is arguably going to be the primary tool of the trial courts in their efforts to expedite the resolution of child custody proceedings in Illinois.
Part 2 of this overview will focus on Rule 905 and what goes into making this new mandated procedure effective.
Allison Cunningham is the Managing Attorney of the Fairview Heights, Illinois office of Cordell & Cordell, P.C.