SYCAMORE — Anyone who files a lawsuit in DeKalb County Court beginning July 1 can expect an added $8 fee that will be used to fund a new program for child custody exchanges.
DeKalb County Board members voted Wednesday to approve the new fee for civil cases, which will also apply to defendants when they file a response.
The fees will fully fund the Neutral Exchange Program. Beginning Jan. 2, separated or divorced parents will be able to drop off their child at Family Service Agency, 14 Health Services Drive, DeKalb, to have the other parent pick the child up 5 to 10 minutes later to avoid potential conflicts or arguments, said Anthony Cvek, a Sycamore Republican.
"A lot times these visitation exchanges occur in cases where parents have the opportunity to interact in front of the kid," Cvek said. "Some of those circumstances are so emotionally charged, it could create a conflict."
Similar programs are already in place in other counties, including DuPage and Winnebago counties.
The DeKalb County program will be offered for free to parents, said Holly Peifer, Family Service Agency director of children's advocacy center.
Family Service Agency will hire security personnel and get more equipment before they offer the program Jan. 2, Peifer said.
"It's going to be a great program," she said. "We knew it was a much needed service in DeKalb County."
County Board Chairman John Frieders, R-Sandwich, was the only board member to vote against the $8 fee. He questioned the need for the program and said he had difficulty with the idea of imposing a fee on people who aren't going to use the program.
"These are parents of the children," Frieders said. "They ought to get along to exchange the children."
It is typical to charge fees for those filing a civil case. DeKalb County already has multiple fees that help pay for the courthouse's children's waiting room and court security, among other things, said Maureen Josh, DeKalb County Circuit Clerk.
People file about 3,000 civil cases each year in DeKalb County, Josh said, which would generate about $24,000. Civil cases include divorces, as well as anything other than traffic and criminal offenses.
The circuit clerk will collect and disburse the fees to the county treasurer's office, which then sends it to the correct agencies, Josh said.
Illinois law allows officials to use civil case fees to fund programs such as these, county officials said.