Going through a separation is a difficult and stressful process, especially when children are involved. When deciding how to divide up parenting time it is important to remember that decisions should be made in the best interests of the children. Couples going through a dissolution of marriage or separation can benefit from an experienced family law attorney to help them come up with a parenting plan that represents the best interests of everyone involved.
Under Illinois state law, “parenting time” is “the time during which a parent is responsible for exercising caretaking functions and non-significant decision-making responsibilities with respect to the child.”
In the past, after a dissolution or separation, parents would be allocated custody and visitation rights. However, after passage of new legislation, decision-making authority may be shared by both parents. Instead of allocating parenting authority to one parent or the other, a judge may decide that one or both parents are responsible for making a decision on various subject areas of the child's life.
If the parents can agree on how to share and divide responsibilities and duties for the children, they may be able to enter into an agreed- upon parenting agreement. The Court may review the parenting agreement and approve or suggest changes. However, if the parents cannot come up with a parenting agreement, the judge may develop a parenting plan based on a number of factors.
Creating a Parenting Plan
In most cases it is preferable for the parents to develop an agreed-upon parenting plan rather than leave it up to the Court. While developing a plan can be difficult for couples who are separating and are still emotional about the separation, an experienced Illinois family law attorney can help a couple develop a plan that is mutually agreeable so the parents can determine the best plan for themselves and their children.
Parenting plans should spell out the basics - how, when and where the parents will share or divide responsibilities for the child. This includes where the child will live during weekdays and weekends, plans for the holidays, and plans for the child's summer break. Parents should also determine how and where they can go on vacation with the child.
Decisions should also be made on how the child will be raised, including addressing issues of the child's education, religious upbringing and healthcare. A parenting plan should also plan for contingencies, such as where the child will go if an emergency arises and one parent cannot care for the child. This may include a so-called right of first refusal, where the other parent gets priority to care for the child before the child is placed in a child care situation.
Parenting Time Factors
There are a number of factors the Court will consider before coming up with a parenting plan. Rather than simply awarding custody to one parent and leaving the other parent with visitation rights, parenting time is a more flexible approach to dividing duties and responsibilities between parents.
“In determining the child's best interests for purposes of allocating parenting time, the Court shall consider all relevant factors, including”:
- The wishes of each parent;
- The wishes of the child;
- The amount of time each parent spent performing caretaking functions in the past;
- Any prior agreements between the parents;
- The interaction and interrelationship of the child, parents, and siblings;
- The child's adjustment to his or her home, school, and community;
- The mental and physical health of all individuals involved;
- The child's needs;
- The distance between parents and difficulty of travel;
- Whether restrictions are appropriate;
- The threat of physical violence;
- The willingness of each parent to prioritize the needs of the child;
- The willingness of each parent to encourage a close relationship with the other parent;
- The occurrence of abuse against the child or others in the household;
- Whether the parent is a convicted sex offender or lives with a sex offender;
- The parent's military care plan; and
- Any other factor the Court finds relevant.
How these factors are calculated depends on the specific situation and the individuals involved. Some cases involve shared parenting time and decision-making between both parents in all aspects of a child's life. Other situations may result in one parent holding the majority of parenting time and decision-making, with the other parent only having limited and supervised time with the child.
Once the Court approves a parenting time schedule, it will be entered as a court order. It is important to make sure the order best represents the best interests of everyone involved because it may be more difficult to change the order once it is entered.
Changes to the Parenting Plan
In most cases a parenting order cannot be modified for two years. This is done to reduce disputes and provide a sense of stability for the child. In some cases, however, changes can be made at any time. A parenting order can be modified if both parents agree to the modification, if both parents are seeking sole custody, or if the environment places the child in mental, moral or physical danger.
After the two-year waiting period a parenting order may be modified if a substantial change has occurred and a modification would be in the best interests of the child. Even without a substantial change a modification may be in order if the modification serves the best interests of the child.
If a parent disagrees with the parenting plan, that parent should not take matters into his or her own hands. Violating the parenting plan could result in court sanctions or penalties. If you want to change or modify the parenting plan, talk to an experienced family law attorney who can seek a modification through the court.
Illinois Family Law Attorneys
If you are going through a dissolution or separation, an experienced family law attorney can help you through the process, avoid unnecessary conflict, and resolve your disputes to develop the best parenting plan for you and your family. Our attorneys are here to help you through the difficult process and advise you of all your options, including a parenting time plan. At Benassi & Benassi, we are committed to getting the best for our clients and their families.