Getting married and starting a family is one of life’s greatest joys. Unfortunately, not every relationship can stand the test of time, and you’ll need to consider what’s best for your children when you divorce or dissolve your civil union. 

Parental responsibility battles can be complex and fraught with emotional turmoil, so it’s wise to have an experienced family law advocate on your side. In Illinois, the law favors the best interests of the child, and there are several factors that the court considers when determining the parents’ obligations. 

Understanding the legal landscape is crucial to protect the well-being of your children. Let’s further explore the key aspects of Illinois laws regarding the allocation of parental responsibility and parenting time, the factors considered in determining parental rights, and other vital information for parents and families. 

What You Need to Know

Determining what’s right for your child and how to proceed starts with deciding who will have the authority to make important decisions about the child’s upbringing, such as education, healthcare, and religious practices, as well as who will provide the majority of day-to-day guidance and care. 

While many states recognize a difference between physical custody and legal custody, the state of Illinois no longer uses these terms. Per the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, the courts focus on the allocation of parental responsibilities, including decision-making and parenting time. 

The law defines differences between joint and sole allocation of parental decision-making. In general, courts usually encourage shared decision-making between both parents as long as it’s better for the child. And in a joint situation, the court typically assigns one parent to serve as the primary residential custodian even though the two share equal parental responsibility.

Joint parental responsibility doesn’t necessarily mean a 50-50 split of time and resources. It might be more advantageous for children to live in a certain area during the week to receive the best educational or medical care access and visit the other parent during the weekend and/or holidays and summer break.

Sole parental responsibility is when one parent is awarded full authority over the child and can make major choices without input or approval from the other parent. However, the non-custodial parent may still be awarded parenting time commensurate with the best interest of the children.

When a couple divorces or separates, one party should file a request for allocation of parental responsibilities within the Petition for Dissolution, in the county in which the child resides. A written notice must be served, along with a copy of the petition, to the other parent or within 30 days. 

If there is no response in a certain timeframe, the petitioner can seek a default judgment.

Filing divorce or parental responsibility paperwork takes time and costs money. If you can’t afford the court fees, contact the clerk of your county’s court to submit an Application for Waiver of Court Fees

Planning and Mediation

Once a response to the petition has been recorded by the court, the involved parties have 90 days to discuss a parenting plan and attend an initial case management conference. 

Illinois parents should cover a range of topics to create a comprehensive parenting plan, including these considerations:

  • The allocation of decision-making
  • Access to medical records
  • What will happen if one parent or guardian moves out of state
  • A procedure for emergency situations
  • Where the child will be educated
  • Who is responsible for the child’s transportation and when
  • The process for finding alternative childcare providers

If the parents cannot agree on a fair and conscionable arrangement, or have difficulties formulating their parenting plan, the court will order mandatory mediation. Illinois Supreme Court Rule 923(a)(3) establishes a confidential process where a neutral and highly trained third party will work with both parties to try and resolve the dispute.

Supreme Court Rule 905(b)(iv) exempts certain cases from the mediation process — those with impediments such as drug or alcohol abuse, domestic violence, or mental and physical health problems. In these situations, your family law attorney should file an objection to mediation before the initial case management conference.

Either jointly or individually written, a detailed parenting plan must be prepared and submitted to the court within 120 days of filing the petition. A hearing may be called to conduct an evidentiary review and issue an allocation judgment that is determined to be in the best interest of the child. 

Important Factors

What the court decides is in the best interest of the child may not be exactly what the parents would like to happen. These decisions are guided by the goal of protecting a minor child’s physical, emotional, and developmental needs. 

The wishes of the child are taken into account according to their maturity and ability to express them. The state of the relationship between each parent and child is carefully considered, as is each parent’s to provide and make well-reasoned family decisions.

Mental and physical fitness, criminal records or a history of violence or abuse, and the employment history of both involved parties will all be evaluated. Orders of allocation of parental responsibility and allocation of parenting time typically try to maintain the child’s stability in regard to their school, community, and support system. 

The petitioner and respondent are hopefully able to address potential conflicts, peacefully resolve any arguments, and create a secure environment for their child. If parental allocation orders need to be modified or a dispute arises, you’ll need to demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances to the court. 

Even in an amicable collaborative divorce, it can be difficult to navigate the complexities of custody arrangements without emotional distress. Seeking professional legal advice from an experienced family law advocate will provide you with the personalized guidance you need during a lengthy and legally intricate process.

At the Law Offices of J. Jeltes, our dedicated team is here to support you every step of the way. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and safeguard the well-being of your child.