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Child custody ruling overruled after judge accepts friend request

Parents in Illinois often struggle to decide what is best for their children. This an be especially true for parents who are no longer in a romantic relationship. If their struggles result in a case heard before a court, both parents should be able to expect that their child custody case will be heard by an impartial judge. An appeals court in another state has recently ruled on the side of a father who claims a judge's social media friendship meant that he received an impartial hearing.

The mother and father shared joint custody of their son since 2011. However, after claiming abuse, the mother sought sole custody, child support and primary placement in 2016. Following an evidentiary hearing, the judge asked both parties to submit written arguments within 10 days. After the arguments were submitted, the judge reportedly accepted the mother's friend request on Facebook; the judge had not issued a ruling at that point.

Reports indicate that the mother liked several posts by the judge and even commented on two of them. Though the judge did not interact with any of the woman's posts, he does not deny seeing them, potentially including posts regarding domestic violence. Their social media relationship did not come to light until after a guardian ad litem for the son discovered it after the judge ruled in the mother's favor and posted about it.

The father then requested that the judge reconsider his ruling. He argued that the social media relationship meant that his decision was not impartial; however, the judge refused, arguing that he made his decision before accepting the friend request. The father appealed the decision; the Court of Appeals recently ruled on his behalf. According to the court, the social media relationship left the mother in a position to influence the judge. The fact that the father did not know about the relationship made the relationship even more problematic.

Though parents in Illinois are committed to making sure the needs of their children are met and preserving their relationship, they may not be entirely sure of all the ethical expectations of the judge ruling on their child custody case. If they have an experienced attorney on their side, parents may be better able to respond to actions that may be improper. Often taking further legal action is to best option to protecting a child.

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