Courts
Jonathan Miano, The Times

CHICAGO — Cook County's parentage court has been abolished in response to a new round of possible legal action over its constitutionality and an acknowledgment of larger social changes.

Experts say Cook County was the only large court jurisdiction in the U.S. that sent divorcing parents with custody issues through one set of courtrooms and single parents through another.

Cook County's Parentage and Child Support Court was abolished in February, the Chicago Tribune reported.

For years, it was held in police station courtrooms and other buildings separate from divorce court in downtown Chicago.

It began being held in the basement of the Loop's Daley Center court complex as part of an informal settlement in a 1993 federal discrimination lawsuit alleging single parents were treated differently than divorcing parents in child custody and support cases.

"There really was a disparate impact (on unmarried parents)," said Christine Hunt, a family law attorney and adjunct professor at John Marshall Law School, where she's a supervising attorney at the family and domestic violence legal clinic. "In some cases these courtrooms were converted closets."

Not everyone agrees that there were disparities between divorce and parentage court.

Laura Vallejo, the supervising attorney for Chicago Legal Clinic's parentage and child support desk, said clients were treated the same in both types of courtrooms. The nonprofit she works for provides legal advice and representation to people who can't afford to hire a lawyer.

Nearly half of the county's child support and custody cases are brought by unmarried parents. That number is up from about 5 percent several decades ago.

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