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DuPage County divorce attorney child custody

Illinois divorce law states that if a couple cannot agree on the allocation of parental responsibilities, the court will make a decision based on the couple’s child’s best interests. These decision-making rights allow either one or both parents to make determinations regarding a child’s education, health (both physical and mental), and if and how religion will be incorporated into their child’s upbringing. The law continues to define what a child’s best interests are in the eyes of the court. Certain factors, including psychological issues, can play a role in making child custody decisions.

A Child’s Well-Being

The overall goal of child-related decisions in a divorce is to do what is in the child’s best interest. Some of the most significant considerations when deciding child custody in an Illinois divorce may include:

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Naperville child custody lawyerUnmarried and divorced parents have a legal right to parenting time with their children. However, if the court finds that a parent’s involvement in a child’s life puts the child in danger or has a negative effect on his or her wellbeing, the parent can lose this right. One issue that can sometimes lead to the loss of parenting time is parental alienation. Parental alienation occurs when a parent or other family member attempts to destroy the relationship between a parent and a child.

Turning a Child Against His or Her Parent

Sharing a child with someone you used to be in a relationship with can be a very challenging situation. Parents may hold grudges against each other and harbor resentment because of disagreements that happened while they were in a romantic relationship. Some parents may also feel bitterness toward their child’s other parent because they do not want to be away from their child during the other parent’s parenting time. Whatever the reason, the tension between parents can have a major impact on children’s mental wellbeing. When a parent makes an intentional effort to break down the relationship between their child and the child’s other parent, this may be considered parental alienation. Actions such as refusing to share essential information about the child with the other parent, telling a child that the other parent does not love them, or using lies to convince a child that the other parent is evil may cause a child significant psychological harm.  

Consequences of Parental Alienation

It should be noted that making mildly disparaging comments to a child about a parent such as, “Your father is always late!” or “Your mother should get you to bed earlier,” will likely not be considered parental alienation. However, if there is an intentional aim to ruin a child’s relationship with his or her other parent through the use of manipulation or deceit, the courts will likely consider this conduct that impairs the child’s mental health and emotional development. This may result in the reduction or elimination of his or her parenting responsibilities, mandatory supervision during parenting time, and other consequences. Proving parental alienation can be very difficult. Physical evidence such as text messages or voicemails as well as expert witness testimonies from child psychologists or social workers may help a parent prove that parental alienation exists and is harmful to the child.

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DuPage County child custody lawyerIn 2016, sweeping reforms were made to the family law statutes in the state of Illinois. One of the most notable changes was the elimination of the old idea of child custody and the introduction of a new way of thinking. This new approach is called the “allocation of parental responsibilities,” and it focuses in a positive way on how each parent will contribute to raising their children in the wake of a divorce or breakup.

Understanding Parenting Plans

Today, parents who are involved in a divorce—or, in fact, any proceedings that address the allocation of parental responsibilities—are expected by law to create a written parenting plan proposal. This expectation is set forth in the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA). The IMDMA recognizes that an agreement between the parents is almost always preferable to litigation in the courtroom, so parents are statutorily encouraged to develop a workable agreement if at all possible. The parenting plan agreement must address a number of required concerns, including but not limited to:

  • Each parent’s authority for making significant decisions about the child’s upbringing;
  • How much parenting time each parent will have and when;
  • The child’s primary address for school registration and similar purposes;
  • Each parent’s rights and access to health records, school records, and other documents regarding the child;
  • The process through which the parenting plan may be amended;
  • How parental moves or relocations are to be handled; and
  • The right of first refusal of additional parenting time.

Presenting the Plan

Each parent has 120 days from the notice of filing to submit a proposed parenting plan to the court. Upon a showing of good cause, the deadline may be extended. Each parent may create and file their own plan, or the parents can work together on a single proposal. If the two separate plans are dramatically different and the parents cannot reach an agreement, the court may order the parents to participate in mediation to come up with a reasonable compromise. If mediation is unsuccessful, or if both parents refuse to file a proposal, the court will create a parenting plan for them.

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