Allocated Parental Responsibilities and Parenting Time

Effective January 1, 2016, The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, which governs most family law matters in Illinois, was rewritten. The terms “child custody”, “sole custody”, and “joint custody” no longer appear in the divorce statute, are no longer used, and no longer have legal meaning. These terms have been replaced with “allocation of parental responsibilities” and include significant decision-making for parents regarding their children. Likewise, the term “visitation” no longer appears in the divorce statute, is no longer used and no longer has legal meaning. It has been replaced with “parenting time”.

The law is now focused on the allocation of parental responsibilities and the role each parent plays in his or her child’s life, rather than simply making determinations of child custody. The law now recognizes a parent’s right to parenting time rather than a right to visitation. The change in terminology acknowledges that non-residential parents (those who do not have the majority of parenting time) are not visiting their children, but rather, simply spending time parenting them. The amount of parenting time granted to a parent is independent of the number of any responsibilities that parent has been allocated.

There are four (4) categories of parental responsibilities that can be shared or individually allocated to one parent:

  • Education – Where the children will attend school and any other decisions related to the children’s educational needs.
  • Healthcare – Decisions about the children’s doctors and the medical treatment that will meet their medical, dental, and mental health needs.
  • Religion – Whether and where the children will receive any religious training or education.
  • Extracurricular activities – Decisions about the various activities the children participate in (for example, sports, music or art programs, gymnastics, dance classes, and clubs.

Susan stays up to date on significant changes in the law and will explain to you how these changes may affect your situation. Susan is knowledgeable and has the experience to protect your rights and interests in parenting matters, including parental responsibilities and parenting time.

In most cases, one parent will be designated as the primary residential parent in order to allocate child support, determine school district, and to provide stability for the child. Both parties are now required to agree to a Parenting Plan (formerly known as a Joint Parenting Agreement) and to submit it to the Court for review and approval. The Parenting Plan will include parenting time during: weekday and weekends, major holidays, spring break, summer break, and winter break, and birthdays. The parenting plan spells out each parent’s rights and responsibilities and parenting time relative to the parties’ children.

If the parents are unable to agree on a Parenting Plan, the Court will use its discretion to allocate the parental responsibilities and parenting time as it sees fit. The focus of all decisions related to a child remains the best interests of the child. The changes to the law were made with the intention of initiating a cooperative spirit to co-parenting and to minimize angry battles over child-related issues.

Child-related issues are the reason for so many contested matters in family law and divorce proceedings but they do not need to get out of hand. Whether these issues are part of divorce or paternity proceedings, or post divorce modifications, as long as the parents consider the best interests of their children, most of these matters will settle. When parents settle child-related disagreements between themselves, they are more likely to abide by their agreed Parenting Plans. However, if these issues inspire such strong emotions that the parties cannot resolve them, then Susan can provide the necessary aggressive legal skills. Susan has experience in advocating for her clients, keeping in mind their child’s best interests.

If parents cannot agree as to parenting issues, the Court will most like send them to mediation where a mediator (who is a neutral third-party) will help the parents reach an effective compromise as to unresolved parenting issues that is in the children’s best interests. If the parents cannot reach an agreement through mediation, a judge may then be required to make a decision about how parental responsibilities should be allocated and the best way to coordinate parenting time. When doing so, the Court will consider several factors to decide what is in the children’s best interests, including:

  • Children’s wishes (considering their maturity and ability to express themselves and any undue influence of either parent) and children’s needs.
  • Both parents’ wishes.
  • The physical and mental health of all parties involved.
  • Each parent’s past participation in making significant decisions regarding their children.
  • Any previous agreements or conduct between the parents about decision-making.
  • The parents’ ability and willingness to cooperate with each other in making decisions.
  • Whether conflict between the parents will affect their ability to share decision-making responsibilities.
  • Whether each parent will be willing to encourage their children to maintain a good relationship with the other parent.
  • How the distance between the parents’ separate homes will affect parents’ and children’s daily schedules, and whether parents are willing to cooperate in transporting children between their homes.
  • Whether children are in danger of physical violence or abuse when in the care of a parent, or if there is any other reason a parent’s decision-making responsibility should be restricted.

Issues regarding children are fraught with emotion and it can be overwhelming during a divorce or a paternity matter to put these emotions at bay and to enter into a legal document that dictates how and when you have time with your children. Susan understands how important and how emotional these issues are and she will work with you to find solutions that emphasizes the best interests of the children, keeping your concerns in mind. Susan will help you find solutions that work for you during this challenging adjustment period in your life.