When parents are divorced, the death of a parent can create a number of difficulties. If the deceased ex-spouse was the custodial parent, this will likely mean that the other parent will have more parenting time with their child. However, it is important to understand how Illinois courts address child custody in cases in which a parent dies.
The Courts Are Generally in Favor of the Surviving Parent
When a custodial parent dies, and the courts need to reassign custody of children (known as “allocation of parental responsibilities” in Illinois), they will generally give preference to the surviving parent. The court will typically assume that the surviving parent has a greater interest in the care, custody and control of the child than anyone else. This will generally hold true even when another person, such as a grandparent or stepparent, asserts rights over the child....
Taking care of a child is a monumental task that involves both physical caretaking and making decisions that impact a child’s daily and long-term life. While the specific duties shift over time as the child ages, the responsibilities of a parent never completely go away. Most parents perform these as simply a part of fulfilling this role, and a parent may never stop to consider whether he or she qualifies as a legal parent, or what this designation even means.
The designation of legal parent brings a number of rights and obligations that only certain people are eligible to receive, regardless of the love and care a person may give to a child. Specifically, legal parents are the only adults authorized to make decisions on behalf of the child, particularly those related to education and medical treatment. In addition, only a legal parent is permitted to request access to the child and parenting time in the event of divorce or separation. With all of the non-traditional family structures that make up society today, this status is not the given it was in the past.
Who Is a Legal Parent?
The law is fairly clear on who, when, and how a person is recognized as a legal parent, and practically speaking, fathers are the most affected by these laws. The reason for that dichotomy is that mothers automatically become a child’s legal parent upon giving birth to a child (aside from surrogacy situations), but fathers are not always so easily tied to the birth of a child. However, the law does recognize four situations in which a person is considered a legal parent:...
Paternity is a term used to describe the relationship between a father and his child. Legal paternity is established by law, and it gives a mother the right to seek child support from her child's father. Additionally, a father then has the right to seek custody and visitation.
In Illinois, when a married woman gives birth, her husband is the baby’s father. Or, if a mother is married at the time of conception, her ex-husband is assumed to be the child’s father. In both scenarios, a husband or ex-husband’s name is placed on a birth certificate and is therefore considered a baby’s legal father.
However, when a mother is not married at the time she gives birth, a father is not automatically considered a legal father — even if the couple is in a long-term relationship and there is no doubt the man is the child’s father. In these scenarios, a father must first establish paternity in order to become a child’s legal father and have his name placed on the birth certificate....