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naperville child custody lawyerIn divorce and family law cases involving children, it is usually assumed that both parents will continue to play an active role in their children’s lives. Parents will need to work together to provide for their children’s needs, and as part of their divorce decree or child custody order, they will be required to create a parenting plan. This document will set down all of the decisions that are made about how parents will share custody of their children, and it will be a legally binding court order that they will both be required to follow. By understanding the issues addressed in their parenting plan, parents can ensure that they know their rights and responsibilities toward their children.

Allocation of Parental Responsibilities

Some of the key issues that a parenting plan will address will involve the parents’ responsibilities in making decisions about how their children will be raised. Illinois law specifies that parents may divide or share decision-making responsibilities in the areas of education, healthcare, religion, and extracurricular activities. In many cases, parents will share these responsibilities equally, but depending on the roles that each parent has played when making decisions for their children in the past and the parents’ ability to work together to make these decisions, different areas of responsibility may be allocated solely or primarily to one parent.

Parenting Time Schedules and Related Terms

What is sometimes referred to as physical custody or visitation is known in Illinois as parenting time. A parenting plan will fully detail the amount of time children will spend in each parent’s care, either by including a schedule for parenting time or a formula to be used to determine how parenting time will be allocated. A parenting time schedule should specify when children will be staying at each parent’s home on weekdays and weekends during the school year, and it should also address days that fall outside of that regular schedule, including school vacations, major holidays, and any other special days, such as children’s or parents’ birthdays.

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Lombard family law attorney for child custody evaluationsChild custody is comprised of two main components in Illinois. “Parental responsibilities” refers to a parent’s authority to make major decisions about the child. “Parenting time,” which used to be called visitation, is the time that a parent spends with their child. Many parents disagree about the allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time. In some cases, a child custody evaluation is used to gather information about the situation so that the court can make an informed decision regarding child custody. In these cases, parents will want to do the following:

Cooperate With the Evaluation Process

For some parents, being the subject of a child custody evaluation can feel like their parenting skills are being called into question. Some parents may even feel like their love for their child is being questioned. Understandably, this can lead to strong emotions. It is important to remember that the purpose of a child custody evaluation is to gather information about the child’s best interests. You are not being accused of anything. It is best to cooperate with the child custody evaluator and remain respectful.

Freely Provide Information and Answer Questions Truthfully

The child custody evaluator may require access to medical records and financial documents. He or she may ask you personal questions about topics that you rarely discuss with strangers. If you are a private person, you may feel uncomfortable about some parts of the evaluation process. While this is understandable, it is important to provide the information and documents that are requested. Answer the evaluator’s questions honestly and show that your child’s well-being is your top priority.

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Elmhurst child custody attorney for GAL investigationsChildren are not capable of advocating for themselves the way that adults can. Whenever children are involved in a legal dispute, courts are very concerned with how possible resolutions will affect the children’s well-being. Illinois courts make decisions about child custody, adoption, parental rights, and other child-related issues based on what is in the child’s best interests. To determine what is in the child’s best interests, the court may assign a guardian ad litem (GAL).

The Aim of a Guardian Ad Litem

A GAL is often an attorney, but some GALs are social workers or other types of professionals. The GAL’s job is to investigate the case, gather information about the parents’ relationships with their child, and use this information to make a recommendation to the court about what is in the child’s best interests. The court does not have to follow the GAL’s recommendations, but their opinion does carry substantial weight. GALs are neutral third parties who do not choose one person’s side or represent one of the parties in the dispute. The GAL represents the child’s best interests. Either party in the dispute may request a GAL, or a GAL may be assigned to the case if a judge deems it necessary.

When gathering information to form an opinion about the child’s best interests, the guardian ad litem may:

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Lombard family law attorney for parenting time restrictionsIf you are a parent who is unmarried or getting divorced, you and your child’s other parent will need to determine a child custody arrangement. If you are unable to agree upon child custody terms, the court may intervene and decide for you. Parents have a legal right to spend time with their child and to be involved in major child-related decisions. However, a parent’s rights may be restricted by the court if doing so is in the child’s best interests.

There is a Rebuttable Presumption That Parents Are Fit

The term “fit” is used to describe parents who are willing and capable of providing for their child’s needs and keeping their child safe. Illinois courts assume that parents are fit unless there is sufficient evidence to the contrary. The top priority in any child custody dispute is the child’s safety and well-being. Per Illinois law, Illinois courts can restrict a parent’s child-related rights and authority if the parent has acted in a way that endangered the child or significantly harmed the child’s emotional development.

Orders the Court May Enter to Protect a Child’s Well-Being

Illinois courts have the authority to restrict a parent’s parenting time if the court determines that unrestricted parenting time would seriously endanger the child physically, mentally, or psychologically. There are many different ways that the courts may restrict parenting time. The court may:

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Naperville child custody attorneyWhen unmarried parents have a child together or married parents get divorced, a decision must be made about how to divide parental responsibilities and parenting time. Many parents choose to co-parent their children—the child spends time at both homes and the parents share responsibility for making major decisions about their child. In other cases, one parent is responsible for all or nearly all of the parental responsibilities and parenting time. There are countless issues that can influence child custody decisions. One concern that many parents have is whether or not their mental illness will impact these custody determinations.

Will I Be Denied Parenting Time Because of My Mental Illness?

Whether you suffer from depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, or another type of mental illness, you are not alone. Just under 20 percent of the U.S. adult population has at least one mental illness. A mental health diagnosis alone cannot prevent you from spending time with your child. However, there are many different ways that a mental illness can impact child custody determinations.

Mental Health Concerns and a Child’s Best Interests

When Illinois parents divorce, they have 120 days to file a parenting plan with the court. The parenting plan describes each parent’s rights and explains how the parents will share parenting responsibilities and parenting time. If the parents cannot reach an agreement about the terms of the parenting plan, the court may intervene and make a decision on the parent’s behalf. Illinois courts make decisions about parental responsibilities and parenting time by evaluating the facts of the case and determining what would be in the child’s best interests. The court may require supervised parenting time or deny a parent parenting time altogether if his or her mental illness causes the parent to:

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