When a Colorado resident goes through divorce, that process is handled through a specific court that focuses on family law matters. Child custody issues will be handled as part of the overall divorce process. However, one state has long separated issues of divorce and child custody, at least for unmarried parents. Public outrage and numerous legal challenges have led to a change in that policy.
It is undeniable that unmarried parents have a different set of legal needs than those who are married. Issues of spousal support and property division are not normally a part of ending a relationship between unmarried parties. However, if those parties share one or more children, then child custody can certainly become a legal matter that requires the attention of a family court.
Illinois, the state in question decided to handle this matter by creating a separate "parentage" court for unmarried parties. It may not have been the fact that those cases were given a different classification, but the issue of where those cases were heard that led to the recent change. Parties who showed up at the large Cook County court complex to attend hearings in parentage court were directed down to the basement of the courthouse, where court proceedings took place in converted storage space.
Many parents who went through that experience felt that their legal issues were not given the same level of importance as those of married parties. Advocacy groups and even members of the local legal community spoke out about the issue, and called for a change in how the county approached child custody cases involving unmarried parents. As a result, the state will now hear all custody cases in the same courtrooms. For Colorado readers, this change seems like little more than common human courtesy.
Source: Chicago Tribune, "After legal challenges, Cook County's court for unwed parents quietly goes away", Steve Schmadeke, Sept. 18, 2017