Child custody can be incredibly complex and intricate. It is so important that parents and courts develop custody arrangements that are realistic and meet children’s needs. In Illinois, these formal arrangements are called parenting plans. Under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, a parenting plan is a “written agreement that allocates significant decision-making responsibilities, parenting time, or both.”
How Is a Parenting Plan Developed?
There are two ways for a parenting plan to be developed: by agreement or by court order. It is best for the children when parents can agree on a parenting plan, as an agreement is an indication that parents can work together on their children’s behalf. Courts will almost always approve these agreements. In addition, it is essential for the long-term success of a parenting plan that parents are making a voluntary decision for themselves as they have some ownership over it.
If parents cannot reach an agreement on their own, or through mediation, a judge will order a parenting plan into effect, based on the evidence presented at trial. This is less than ideal as a judge may order a plan that neither parent wants and that the parents may believe is not in the children’s best interest. However, this is the reality of the judicial process if parents cannot work out the agreement themselves.
What Should a Parenting Plan Account For?
The overriding consideration when parents and a court develop a parenting plan is the best interest of the child. Within this broad concept of “best interest”, the law assumes that it is in the best interest of children to have an ongoing relationship with both parents and that both parents should have adequate access to the child. An exception to this is if there is some sort of finding that the parent is unfit. With this in mind, a parenting plan must specify the following:
- Who will make the major decisions for the child? If decision-making authority is shared between the parents, how will disagreements be resolved?
- How will important information regarding the child be shared?
- With which parent is the child going to primarily live?
- What are the specific times that the child is going to be with each parent?
- With which parent will the child spend summers and holidays?
- The who, when, and where of how the child will be exchanged between the parents.
- Plans for make-up visitation or straying from the plan.
- A plan for effective communication between the parents, including conflict resolution.
- An agreement as to when the plan can be revisited for modification.
Overall, when developing a parenting plan, you are trying to establish a new sense of normal for the child that is consistent and predictable. Their world has already been completely disrupted, the goal is to minimize this disruption.
Are you separating from, or divorcing your children’s other parent? Call me to set up a consultation. Even if you and the other parent are in full agreement, it is critical that your parenting plan is specific enough to be legally enforceable. The Law Offices of Robert S. Thomas can help you get it right. Our team cares about you and your children and will work toward your goals. Call our office for a consultation at 847-392-5893 or visit our website to set up an appointment.