Divorcing parents in Illinois have to consider who will have the authority to make decisions about their child’s welfare and where the child will live. In the past, these decisions were known as “legal custody” and “visitation.” The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, however, which came into effect January 1st, 2016, did away with these terms. Now, Illinois parents who are undergoing a divorce are tasked with determining decision-making responsibilities and parenting time.
In your parenting plan, you and your co-parent will determine who will make certain decisions for your child. This parenting plan must be filed with the Illinois family court. Parental responsibility used to be called “custody,” but that term is no longer used in Illinois. Decision-making responsibilities can be divided into two categories: routine and significant.
Illinois law lists eight categories of routine child caretaking functions. They are:
- Managing a child’s nutrition, health, sleep schedule, hygiene, safety, extracurricular activities, and transportation
- Nurturing a child’s developmental needs, including motor skills, language skills, toilet training, and self-confidence
- Teaching discipline, behavioral control, and self-restraint
- Overseeing school attendance, homework, and parent-teacher communication
- Helping the child develop appropriate interpersonal relationships with peers, siblings, and other family members
- Ensuring the child attends medical appointments and that his or her medical needs are met
- Providing moral and ethical guidance for the child
- Arranging and supervising childcare
Parents are expected to fulfill these routine caretaking functions whenever the child is under their care.
Unlike with routine caretaking functions, Illinois co-parents are expected to come to an agreement regarding significant decisions regarding their child’s health, religion, education, and extracurricular activities, except in the case of an emergency. In some cases, the court may assign specific decision-making responsibilities to each parent.
For example, one parent may be responsible for making decisions regarding religion, and the other for medical care.
Illinois law protects the rights of parents to spend time with their children. At the same time, the court is also obligated to protect children from harm. As such, the only time an Illinois court will restrict, supervise, or deny parenting time is if the parent endangers the child’s physical, mental, moral, or emotional health. One such situation would be drunk driving with the child in the car.
Restricting Parenting Time
Contrary to popular belief, a failure to pay child support is not a valid reason to restrict parenting time. By the same token, it is not permissible to stop paying child support just because you are not being allowed parenting time.
In Illinois, there are serious consequences to denying a parent their court-ordered parenting time. You could be found in contempt of court, which means that you could lose your driver’s license, be put on probation, be temporarily imprisoned, or have to pay a fine of up to $500 per violation.
Remember, the court establishes child custody orders with the child’s best interest in mind, but it is also in your best interest to obey the orders.
Can Children Choose Where They Want to Live?
It is a common misconception that some states allow children to decide which parent they would like to live with. However, child custody is a legally binding decision, and minors under the age of 18 are not permitted to make legally binding decisions. Depending on the age and maturity of the child, the court may take the child’s preference into consideration, but the child will not be able to make the decision on his or her own.
Determining Parental Fitness
Because having access to both parents is generally in a child’s best interests, Illinois family courts do not frequently restrict children’s access to their parents. However, if a parent’s behavior begins to pose a danger to the child, the court must intervene in order to protect the child’s welfare.
If a parent is endangering the children, they may be accused of being an unfit parent. An unfit parent is a parent who does not have their child’s best interests at heart. If one parent is unfit to be with their children, the other parent might ask the court to grant them sole responsibility for the children.
A person might be deemed an unfit parent if he or she:
- Is in jail
- Has been convicted of multiple felonies
- Has a history of abusive behavior, mental illness, or drug/alcohol abuse
- Is moving far away and will not be able to visit regularly
- Fails to follow the recommendations of a social worker
The parent who is requesting sole responsibility must prove to the court that the other parent is not able to fulfill their parenting responsibilities. If sole responsibility is granted, the parent will receive most of the parenting time and the ability to make significant decisions for the children without consulting the other parent.
Modification of Existing Custody Arrangements
If it is necessary to change existing custody arrangements in order to continue serving the child’s best interests, the court will allow parents to request a modification to the existing arrangements. Two general situations where an existing custody arrangement might need to be modified are:
- The parent’s or child’s situation have changed substantially
- The existing arrangement endangers the child’s health
The court will also allow minor changes to existing arrangements without requiring proof that circumstances have changed. Changes that the parents and children have already been living with for a period of time, for instance, are not likely to be an issue with the court. Minor modifications that both parents agree on are also not likely to pose a problem.
Compassionate & Professional Child Custody Attorneys
Trying to come to an agreement with a co-parent on how you will raise your children can be frustrating and nerve-wracking, but you don’t have to do it alone. The hardworking and dedicated child custody attorneys at Schierer & Ritchie have been helping Peoria families for over a decade and we look forward to serving you. In your free initial consultation, we will discuss your situation, expected results, and costs, so you can decide whether our firm is a good fit for your needs. Please contact us today to get started.