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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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Naperville child custody attorneyIn Illinois, child custody is broken down into two main components: parental responsibilities and parenting time. Formerly known as visitation, parenting time refers to the time a parent spends directly caring for his or her child. Illinois courts make all child custody decisions based on the child’s best interests. In some cases, the court may decide that supervised parenting time is necessary to ensure the safety of the child.  

When is Supervised Visitation Required?

Supervised visits may be ordered anytime that there is concern about a parent’s ability to adequately care for a child and ensure the child’s safety. Often, supervised visitation is required because the parent has been accused of domestic violence or abuse. This abuse may have been directed at the child, the other parent, or another party. Supervised visitation may also be required if a parent has a severe mental illness, substance abuse problem, or addiction that could endanger the child. The court may also require supervised visits if the parent has previously neglected the child or there is a concern that the parent could attempt to kidnap the child.

What Happens During Supervised Parenting Time?

If you are required to have supervised parenting time, you may be unsure of what to expect. It can be awkward and uncomfortable to have someone watch you spend time with your child. Often, the best way to deal with supervised parenting time is to pretend that the supervisor is not there. Spend time with your child like you normally would. Do not feel like you must “put on a show” for the supervisor or act differently. Demonstrate your commitment to being a good parent by showing up for your visitation period on time. Never consume drugs or alcohol prior to your visit, even if drug or alcohol use is not the specific reason for the supervision requirements. During the visitation, find something to do with your child that you both enjoy. This could be playing a game, reading a story together, working on a craft or project, or another type of age-appropriate activity.

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Naperville divorce lawyerDivorcing parents are expected to create a “parenting plan” that addresses how they plan to allocate child-related responsibilities within 120 days of filing for divorce. However, many couples struggle to reach an agreement about the numerous issues addressed in a parenting plan. Because most parents have strong opinions about what is best for their children, disagreements about child custody concerns during divorce can quickly become contentious. If you and your spouse do not see eye-to-eye about child custody concerns, one option that may help you reach an agreement is collaborative law.

What is the Collaborative Law Process for Family Law Issues?

Family law deals with issues such as divorce, the allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time, and child support. One alternative resolution method that may help individuals settle family law issues without taking the case to trial is collaborative law or collaborative divorce. The collaborative law process involves the parties and their respective attorneys meeting together to negotiate the unresolved issues, find common ground, and explore potential solutions. The end goal of the collaborative process is to reach a mutually-agreeable decision about the issue at hand.

Benefits of Using Collaborative Law to Resolve Child Custody Issues

Collaborative law differs from mediation in that the spouses retain attorneys who provide legal representation, guidance, and advice during the collaborative process. The goal of the collaborative process is not to “win” or “lose” but instead to find solutions that are reasonable, sustainable, and mutually- beneficial.  This can help parents remain on good terms and set the foundation for a respectful, pragmatic co-parenting relationship in the future. Although each spouse retains their own attorney, all of the parties involved in the collaborative process agree to negotiate in good faith, keep discussions confidential, and freely exchange information. The parties also agree not to take the case to litigation. If the parties cannot resolve their issues and the case goes to trial, the lawyers involved in the collaborative process are prohibited from representing the parties in court. This ensures that everyone is highly motivated to reach a resolution.

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