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Should unmarried parents have separate child custody courtrooms?

In today's society, what was once considered the traditional American family is no longer the norm. A family unit comprised of a mother, father and one or more natural children is not the only socially acceptable option, in Pennsylvania or elsewhere. However, some courts across the country choose to handle child custody matters involving unwed parents differently from those in which the parties are or were married.

The state in question has a long history of disparity between married and unmarried litigants. In fact, state law once referred to the children of unmarried parents as "bastards." Until recently, one prominent Midwestern city held child custody hearings involving unwed parents in a completely separate courtroom.

That courtroom was located in the basement of a large court complex in Chicago. In actuality, the "courtroom" was converted storage space. Married litigants have their cases heard in well-appointed courtrooms on the main floors of the building. That left many unwed parents feeling as though their custody issues were not taken as seriously, simply because of their marital status.

After considerable public debate on the matter and numerous legal challenges, Cook County made the decision to close the "parentage" courtroom and have all cases heard in the more established courtrooms within the complex. Many in the area believe that this change more accurately reflects the growing acceptance of nontraditional family structures. Not all parents choose to marry, but all should have equal access to the court system.

Pennsylvania parents may find it hard to believe that these types of differentiations continue to be made in other parts of the nation. However, laws and legal procedures vary from state to state. Understanding how another state handles child custody and divorce matters is especially important to Pennsylvania residents who are contemplating a move to a different jurisdiction.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "After legal challenges, Cook County's court for unwed parents quietly goes away", Steve Schmadeke, Sept. 18, 2017

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