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IL divorce lawyerAny family law issue can become hostile and non-productive. When a family law concern involving children becomes contentious, both the adults and the children involved in the dispute can suffer. In order to reduce contention and promote out-of-court resolutions to child custody issues, many Illinois courts require parents to attend mediation.

Why Are We Being Forced to Go to Mediation?

Child custody disputes are often some of the most difficult family law cases to resolve. Parents understandably have strong beliefs about their children and what is best for them. When parents cannot reach an agreement about the allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time, the court may have to intervene. However, Illinois courts try to avoid child custody trials whenever possible. These trials can place a great strain on children and their parents. The adversarial nature of a court trial also pits parents against each other, making it even harder for them to build a cooperative co-parenting relationship in the future.

That being said, there are some situations in which mediation is not a viable solution. For example, mediation is not required or even recommended in cases involving domestic violence or child abuse.

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IL divorce lawyerEnding a marriage can be a complex process emotionally, legally, and financially. This is especially true when parents divorce. If you share children with your soon-to-be-ex, it is important to educate yourself about the way Illinois handles child custody. The state revamped several major divorce and child custody laws in 2016. Now, parents are asked to create a parenting plan that describes each parent’s parental responsibilities and parenting time.

Child Custody Laws in Illinois

When parents file for divorce, they are asked to create a “parenting plan” or parenting agreement that describes child custody issues. While the terms “child custody” and “visitation” are still sometimes used informally, the law no longer uses these terms. Instead, child custody is broken down into two major components:

  • Parental responsibilities –The parents will determine who has authority to make decisions about their child’s education, extracurricular activities, medical care, and religion.
  • Parenting time – The time that each parent spends taking care of the child.

What Must Be Included in the Parenting Plan

There are 15 specific requirements for Illinois parenting plans. The parents must decide how major decisions about the child will be made. Sometimes, one parent takes charge of all major decision-making. Other times, parents share these responsibilities. Parents must also include either a parenting time schedule or a detailed method for allocating parenting time – including parenting time during holidays, school breaks, and other special circumstances. The parenting time schedule or method must be detailed enough to be enforceable in any future legal proceeding. The parents are also asked to include information about how the child will be transported between homes and what should happen if a parent wishes to modify parental responsibilities or parenting time in the future.

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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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