Over 30,000 Illinois couples chose to divorce in 2009, according to the United States Census Bureau. Each of those couples were faced with tough decisions regarding a wide range of issues, but those with children were confronted with the task of creating a new lifestyle for their family. A parenting plan can help divorcing parents come up with a plan that works for everyone.
A DuPage family law attorney knows that it can often be difficult for divorcing parents to work together, since that inability may have led to the breakup of the marriage in the first place. However, children may fare better when going through the intense life change that divorce brings when parents can compromise and put aside their differences for a time.
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What Is a Parenting Plan?
Many experts agree that shared custody (responsibility) is the best divorce outcome for families. In order for both parents to be as involved in their children’s lives as possible, many turn to parenting plans. A well-drafted parenting plan has the ability to put in writing the agreements made by both parties regarding the raising and care of a couple’s children. An effective parenting plan should cover a wide range of factors and information that reflect the specific needs of the family, but there are five general components that every plan should contain.
Schedules of Contact
Whether a couple decides their children’s child custody (parental responsibility) arrangement together or it is determined by a judge in a courtroom, a schedule of contact is an essential part of a good parenting plan. Parents should take the age of their children into account when creating a schedule that provides consistency and familiarity. Having the schedule down in writing keeps both parents committed to respecting it and the other parent. While flexibility is important, specific Illinois parenting time guidelines can help reduce conflict over issues that could otherwise arise, including the following:
- Childcare and babysitting
- Handling a child’s personal belongings
- A child’s social life
- Changes to the parenting schedule
For some couples, the process of transferring children between residences can become complicated. It may be a good idea to include an outline for how transfers are to be handled as part of the visitation (parenting time) schedule, including which parent will pick up the child, where the transfers will take place and how long each parent should wait at the pickup.
Schedules for Holidays and School Breaks
Holidays and summer breaks should take precedence over the regular visitation schedule, and a separate schedule should be included in a parenting plan as guidance for how and where children should spend the special days. Family traditions are an important part of children’s lives, and parents should do as much as possible to ensure that the extended family members from both sides are included.
When setting up a holiday or school break schedule parents should utilize their children’s school schedule. Some parents choose to swap years for the bigger holidays, such as Christmas or Easter, while others prefer to split the day, allowing the children time with each parent for a portion of the holiday. It can be difficult for parents to be away from their children on special occasions when the family was together in the past, but a DuPage family law attorney knows that what is more important is that children are able to experience safe and enjoyable holidays.
Expectations for Parental Communication
Co-parenting is more successful when both parties are able to communicate well. Parents should avoid using children as go-between messengers and should instead decide together on the best means of communication. Some parents prefer to speak directly, over the phone, through text messages or via email. Whatever works best for the couple should be stated in writing so that the expectation is there and will be followed.
Included in communication arrangements should be measures for dispute resolution. If parents find that there is an issue that they cannot resolve and that their plan does not outline, it may be beneficial to consider the use of an outside source for help. The parenting plan should include how and when dispute resolution is needed and guidelines for solving problems.
Handling Important Decisions
If parents have shared legal custody (parental responsibility), they both have the right to make decisions regarding the welfare of their children. When possible, parents should agree ahead of time how these decisions should be handled. Healthcare considerations, such as vaccinations, emergency medical treatment and regular checkups, should be outlined in the plan in order to avoid confusion when the need arises. Educational decisions, including where children attend school, how records should be shared and attendance at school functions, should also be covered.
In Illinois, financial arrangements, such as child support, are generally handled separately from child custody (parental responsibility), but setting up provisions in a parenting plan for parental responsibility for other financial needs may be beneficial if parents do not want to share all expenses. Which parent pays for clothing, gifts and other extra expenses may need to be covered in the plan to help avoid misunderstanding or conflict. Parents may want to outline what expenses are considered separate from child support, like daycare, extracurricular activities or tutoring.
When drafting a parenting plan, it is important to be as specific as possible. Many parents choose to work with a DuPage family law attorney in order to prevent leaving out significant information. By obtaining legal assistance, parents may be able to come up with a parenting plan that meets the needs of all involved parties.
When You Can’t Settle on a Parenting Plan in Illinois
When parents who are divorcing cannot come to an agreement on their parenting plan, the courts will take a series of steps to help them come to an agreement. Those steps typically include sending the couple to mediation, appointing a child representative, and appointing a parenting coordinator. The goal in these cases is to help the parents come to a decision about their parenting plan, all while protecting the child and the child’s relationship with both parents.
Step 1 – Mediation
The first step in resolving disputes regarding the allocation of parenting time and responsibilities is mediation. In mediation, the parties meet with a private mediator to discuss their parenting agreement. The mediator will listen to both parties, then provide a recommendation for the parenting plan. The parents and each child custody lawyer can use those recommendations to draft the final parenting plan.
Step 2 – Child Representative
If mediation fails, the courts may appoint a child representative or Guardian Ad Litem, which is an attorney that represents the best interests of the children in the case. After meeting with both parents and all the children to learn about the family dynamic and recommended parenting arrangement, these professionals will make their own parenting time and child custody recommendations. Often the judge will adopt these recommendations in an official court order.
Step 3 – Parenting Coordinator
If mediation and the assistance of the child representative fail to help the parents agree on a parenting plan, the final step by the Illinois courts will be the appointment of a parenting coordinator. The parenting coordinator does the same job as the Guardian Ad Litem or child representative but uses many more hours to try to understand the needs and desires of all parties. These professionals may have legal training and will have mediation training.
The recommendations of the parenting coordinator are not legally binding. However, they can make temporary decisions on behalf of the child while the plan is still in discussion. Throughout the process, the parenting coordinator’s goal is to shield the child from conflict and protect the child’s relationship with both parents as long as it is safe to do so. They provide a fresh point of view to the courts to help with decision-making in cases involving difficult family disputes.