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IL family lawyerWhen it comes to children, the court’s job is to make sure that the children’s best interests are protected at all times. In some cases, this may mean that a parent loses custody of his or her children for a while, but in some cases, a person may lose their parental rights altogether. A parent can only lose their rights to their child if they are considered to be an “unfit” parent by the court’s standards. Unfortunately, this can be the outcome of many situations when custody is contested or when couples get divorced.

What Makes a Parent “Unfit?”

Unlike years ago, most people believe that a child grows up happiest and healthiest when they have a relationship with both their mother and father. In most cases, the goal of the court is to make sure that the child has a relationship with both parents by any means necessary. If a parent’s actions are of concern to the court, they may choose to restrict the amount of time that they spend with the child or restrict some of the decision-making responsibilities that they have.

In some cases, the court may determine that the best course of action is to cut ties between the parent and the child completely. In these cases, they must be able to come to a determination that the person is unfit to be a parent. A person can be considered unfit if they have:

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After a couple finalizes a divorce, they can often go their own separate ways, never having to see each other again. However, if children are involved, they will be co-parenting together. This can be difficult under any circumstances, but even more so during a global health crisis like COVID-19. In an effort to stop the spread of the contagious virus, many non-essential businesses have been closed, while students have been learning remotely and parents working from their homes. Navigating this new normal presents different challenges for co-parents. This means some divorced parents may need to modify their existing co-parenting arrangements or  parenting time orders.

Co-Parenting and Parenting Time Schedules

In Illinois divorces, parents must create a parenting plan that outlines how parental responsibilities (child custody) and parenting time (visitation) will be shared or divided. If spouses cannot agree to the terms of this plan before their divorce is finalized, the court will become involved. In these cases, a judge will make decisions on what is in the best interest of the children. Arrangements can be tailored to fit parents’ work schedules as well as children’s school schedules. Sharing may be in the form of one parent having the kids stay with him or her for one week, then the other parent having the kids the next week. In other situations, one parent may have the majority of parenting time with the co-parent only having the children every other weekend and one night a week.

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parenting time, DuPage County family lawyersWhen you and your child’s other parent are forced to come up with arrangements regarding for parenting time—previously known as visitation under Illinois law—it can be regrettably easy to get caught up in your own wants and needs. Some, of course, are entirely reasonable, such as building parenting time schedules around your career obligations, but many parents often forget to take their child’s wishes into account.

What the Law Says

While parents are encouraged to develop a parenting plan—including arrangements for parenting time—on their own, such a plan must be reasonable and serve the best interests of the child. If the parents cannot agree on a plan, arrangements may be made by the court. In doing so, the court is required by law to take a number of factors into account, including the wishes of the child in question. The child’s wishes are not necessarily binding but should factor into the court’s ultimate decision. Your son or daughter’s opinion is just one of many factors that the court will take into account during the process.

Your Child’s Understanding

The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (750 ILCS 5) specifies that a child’s wishes should be considered in the allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time proceedings. The law also provides, however, that the court must consider the child’s maturity and ability to understand the entire situation. A young child, for example, is likely to hold an opinion regarding which parent is more “fun,” and want to spend more time at that parent’s house. An older child, on the other hand, is more likely to understand the importance of fostering a healthy relationship with both parents and be more open to compromise.

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parenting plan, Wheaton child custody lawyerDivorcing parents in Illinois must submit a parenting plan or parenting agreement to the courts. The plan must explain how parental responsibilities and parenting time will be allocated to the parents and include other important child-related decisions. Parents are encouraged to create their own parenting plan, but parents cannot always come to an agreement about the issues addressed in the parenting plan. In these cases, the court will step in and assign a parenting plan that is in the child’s best interests, called an allocation judgment. If the parents need to make a post-decree change to their parenting plan, they will need to do so through the family court system.

Changing a Court-Ordered Parenting Schedule

Any change to the final divorce decree is called a post-decree modification. Divorced individuals cannot make a post-decree modification for just any reason. Although it is still sometimes referred to as “child custody,” Illinois uses the phrase “parental responsibilities” to refer to a parent’s decision-making authority and parenting schedule. You may request a modification to the court order allocating parental decision-making responsibilities if it has been two years after the order was established. However, the court may grant a modification before two years if there is reason to believe that the current child custody arrangements may endanger the child’s health or emotional development. Parenting time, formerly called visitation, may be revised if there is a substantial change in circumstances that requires a change to serve the best interests of the child.

A substantial change in circumstances could include a move by one parent to another city or state or either parent getting a new job. If the child or either parent suffers a severe injury or is diagnosed with a serious medical condition, this could also qualify as a substantial change in circumstances.

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custody, Wheaton family lawyersIf you are an Illinois parent who is considering ending your marriage through divorce, you probably have many questions about what the custody process will look like. Child custody and visitation are called the allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time in the law. Illinois courts will always do what they believe to be in the best interest of the child when it comes to decisions about parental responsibility and guardianship. Except in cases involving domestic violence or child abuse, it is assumed that having both parents involved in the child’s life is the ideal custody scenario.

Does the Court Always Decide Custody?

Unmarried parents or divorcing parents who wish to share custody of minor children are required to create a “parenting agreement” or parenting plan. This plan outlines what is expected from each parent in terms of custody, visitation, and involvement in the child’s upbringing. The court only intervenes when parents cannot reach such an agreement about parental responsibilities and parenting time.

Do Children Have a Say in Custody Decisions?

The answer to whether or not children can decide who they live with varies case by case. Courts are more likely to consider the desires of older children who can give a good reason for why they wish to live with a certain parent. Ultimately, the court will make the custody decision based on what is in the child’s best interest.

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