Judges rule in favor of $5 fee for child custody exchange centers

News-DemocratNovember 19, 2013 

Appellate judges have ruled in favor of Madison and St. Clair counties in a lawsuit contesting fees used for neutral-site exchanges in child custody cases.

Since 2000, Illinois has allowed counties to charge a filing fee on all divorce cases to fund neutral-site custody exchange centers. When visitation exchanges between divorced parents become disruptive, these sites -- staffed by counselors and guards -- allow one parent to drop the child off and the other parent to pick the child up without seeing each other.

Madison and St. Clair counties both charge a $5 fee on all divorce filings to cover the costs of these neutral sites. The law allows up to $8.

Last year, Andrea Smith-Silk and Thomas Koziacki filed a lawsuit against both counties challenging the $5 fee. They wanted the collection stopped and previous fees refunded, arguing that the fee was actually a tax and was unconstitutional, funding a "general welfare program." In order to refund the fees to all litigants who had paid, it would have to have been reclassified as a class action suit, according to the court documents.

The trial court ruled against the plaintiffs in June 2012, and they had filed an appeal. Now the 5th District Appellate Court has ruled against them as well, stating that the money is deposited into a fund for the neutral site program, reducing the burden on the courts "caused by litigation stemming from custody exchanges run amok."

Smith-Silk and Koziacki could not be reached for comment about whether they will appeal the case again.

Madison County State's Attorney Tom Gibbons said the neutral site, called the Madison County Kids' Corner, provides a safe place for children to transition between their parents without witnessing conflict.

"Protecting children is one of the highest priorities of our justice system, and defending the constitutionality of neutral site fees that support Kids' Corner and our rights to collect them have been completely vindicated, not only at the trial court, but at the Appellate Court as well."

St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly could not be reached for comment.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at edonald@bnd.com or 239-2507.

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