The law in Illinois governing what was formerly called child custody and visitation underwent a significant revision in 2016. The terms “custody” and “visitation” eliminated in favor of “allocation of parenting time and responsibility” or a parenting plan.
All parties to a divorce or parentage action in Illinois are required to submit a “proposed” parenting plan to the court. If the parties can reach an agreement, they may submit one parenting plan – if not, each parent is required to submit their separate plan.
A parenting plan will include two parts: First, the plan will include a schedule showing how much time the children will spend with each parent. Second, the plan will determine how certain parental decisions will be made. The non-essential decisions, such as bedtimes, meals, and leisure activities, will be the responsibility of the parent who has physical custody of the child, when the child is with that parent. These decisions are not required to be included in a parenting plan, unless the parents wish to include some of them.
What was formerly known as custody is now called the allocation of parental decision-making. Either one parent, or both jointly, make decisions for the child’s best interest in the matters of education, medical care, religion, and extracurricular activities. Parenting plans allocate one or more of these areas of decision-making to one parent or the other, or provide that both parents share responsibility for these decisions.
When Parents Cannot Agree
If the parents are unable to agree on a parenting plan, they are required first to try mediation, unless excused for good cause, such as a history of domestic violence. Working with a court-appointed mediator, parents try to come up with a plan on which they can both agree and if mediation fails the parents go back before the judge.
A second method for helping resolve parenting plan and decision- making differences is for the court to appoint a guardian ad litem for the children. A guardian ad litem is a specially trained attorney who will be an unbiased investigator on behalf of the children. The guardian will interview the children and possibly visit both parents’ homes, talk to the parents, and report back to the court with recommendations for a parenting plan and for decision-making. The court may also appoint other experts, such as a psychologist if necessary to provide an opinion on appropriate parenting. The court uses all options possible to bring a parenting matter to an agreed settlement but if absolutely necessary, there will be a trial to determine both the allocation of decision-making and the parenting plan for the child’s best interest.
Allocation of Parenting Time
If the parents cannot agree on a schedule for parenting time, the following factors may be considered by a court. No greater weight is given to one factor over the other because each parenting plan must be made in consideration of that family, and the child’s best interest. What school the children will attend and whether changing schools is in the child’s best interest.
- The work schedules of the parents
- The relationships of the child to each parent
- The health of the parents, and their ability to care for the child
- Whether daycare will be needed
- The living situation of each parent, including whether the parent is remarried or living with another person
- The wishes of the child, if the child is old enough to express them
- Whether a parent has been guilty of abuse toward the child or toward the other parent
- Any other factors that may help determine what arrangement will be in the child’s best interests.
Consult an Attorney
In any divorce or child custody case, it is advisable to talk to an Illinois family law attorney to learn your rights and responsibilities. Even when both parents agree on everything, each should have an attorney review any proposed parenting plan before it is submitted to the court to fully understand the rights the parent is assuming, or awarding to the other parent.