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IL parenting lawyerIn July of 2017, new laws went into effect changing the way Illinois courts handle child custody matters. Although the term child custody is still sometimes used informally, the law now describes child custody in terms of parenting time and parental responsibilities. Parenting time is the time that the child is in a parent’s physical custody.

If you are getting divorced or you are unmarried and your relationship is ending, it is important to understand your rights and responsibilities regarding parenting time.

How Is Parenting Time Divided Between the Parents?

Illinois parents are encouraged to work out an arrangement for sharing parenting time and formalize their decisions in their Parenting Plan. The court usually upholds Parenting Plans unless there is some aspect of the plan that is not in the child’s best interests. If the parents cannot reach an agreement, the court will determine an appropriate parenting time schedule for the parents based on factors including but not limited to:

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IL family lawyerDuring a case regarding child custody, a child may be appointed a guardian ad litem (GAL). GALs are court-appointed volunteer attorneys with legal or specially trained medical health experience. While some judges assign GALs to every case involving a child, other judges reserve this resource until requested by one of the involved parties. Certain circumstances that may benefit from a GAL include child custody, adoptions, child support, and the emancipation of a minor.

The main goal of GALs is to represent a minor’s best interests. The best interest of the child is the standard that must be used by both the GAL and the courts to make decisions regarding the child’s future living arrangements and parent relationships. This standard includes elements such as the child’s age, current relationship with their parents, and the stability of each parent’s living arrangements.

Each jurisdiction has its own requirements that determine when a GAL can and should be appointed as well as the GAL’s minimum qualifications and payment. The effectiveness and quality of a GAL depend on the jurisdiction’s available funding and regulations.

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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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