Illinois law requires divorcing parents to prepare a plan for parenting their children after the divorce. The plan must be presented to the judge for approval within 90 days of the case filing. Many work out the details without the help of lawyers or mediators. By working together parents can avoid conflict and save money. Both mom and dad know their children better than anyone and are in the best position to resolve issues without others’ input. This article summarizes some of the main talking points for parents seeking to resolve as many issues as they can on their own.
1. Parenting time
There are four categories of parenting time to discuss: typical school week periods, summer, school vacations, and major holidays.
School week parenting time
In determining the schedule for school nights consider your children’s temperament and ability to shuttle back and forth mid-week, their age, participation in activities, academic obligations and any disabilities (e.g. an ADHD child may need a more structured residential schedule).
Some parents choose a shared arrangement, allowing a roughly 50/50 schedule throughout the year including school nights. That schedule might provide, for example, Dad with Monday and Tuesday each week and Mom with time on Wednesday and Thursday, with the parties alternating the weekends. Again this type of schedule should consider the needs, routine and aptitude of the child or children.
A more traditional schedule provides for a primary residence for the children, with alternate weekend parenting time and mid-week time with the non-residential parent. That time may or may not include overnights.
Weekend parenting time on school weeks typically starts either after school ends on Friday or a set time (5:00 pm, e.g.). The weekend ends either at a set time on Sunday night or the parent who has the child for the weekend could keep the child overnight on Sunday and take the child to school Monday morning.
School breaks and holidays
There are many school breaks during the year. Most school months (September through May) have a three day weekend incorporating a Monday or Friday holiday or a teacher institute. You may want to consider allocating time on these special “days off.” Extended school breaks such as spring break or Christmas break are usually divided equally. Christmas is divided in half (one parent takes the first half and the other the second, alternating each year) and Spring break is usually divided in alternate years so that the parent has the whole break to travel.
Summer is either maintained at the school year schedule or a different schedule is used. Some parents who use a traditional schedule during the school year agree to more extended time/overnights for the non- residential parent during the summer break. Parents frequently negotiate periods for summer vacations.
Major holidays are usually divided in kind. This means that the parents alternate spending time with the children on each holiday. So in alternate years, the parent would celebrate the holiday. The major holidays are: New Year’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
Christmas poses some unique challenges due to its significance for most families. Customarily the parents alternate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Usually, the parent who has the first half of the school break celebrates Christmas Eve with the children and vice versa. Some families celebrate on Eve or Day every year and one parent may seek to negotiate to have that holiday every year. Other families value Thanksgiving and want to trade Christmas day for Thanksgiving each year. Each family is different and there are no fixed formulas. If the parents have certain special religious holidays (Passover, e.g.) those holidays should be addressed as well.
Other parenting time issues to consider
While a primary residence does not need to be determined (for example, when using a 50/50 schedule), but the parents do need to agree on which residence is to be used for the purposes of school registration.
Transportation arrangements need to be addressed. It is customary that the parent picking up the children at the beginning of parenting time drives to receive them and at the end of the time, the receiving parent picks the children up. But again this is not absolute and alternative arrangements may be negotiated. This issue becomes more significant the farther away the parents reside from each other.
Some parents agree to a very loose schedule where they agree to time “on the fly.” This may work with an older child but is difficult for younger children who may need more routine. This type of agreement provides that the child will primarily reside with one parent and the other parent will have time as agreed upon considering the child’s schedule and desires.
Some parents anticipate future relocation. The parties may agree in advance to terms if some future move happen. Transportation may need to be revisited in that event. Some parents may try to restrict future moves as part of the parenting plan. Generally, if there is a future unexpected relocation that impacts parenting time, it should be left to the court to address rather than predetermining the issue now.
Behavioral issues may need addressing. Some parents seek prohibitions on the other parent’s use of drugs or alcohol if it has been a problem. Other times people are concerned about the other parent having boyfriends or girlfriends spending the night. These are just two examples of issues that some parents address in their parenting plan. Any issue about the other parent that concerns you should be discussed, and if necessary, safety terms should be considered.
If there are significant safety issues, you may need to provide for supervised or monitored parenting time. The law generally allows normalized parenting time unless one parent can show that the children will be in serious danger in the other parent’s care. These sorts of issues are rarely resolved amicably and the need for intervention by the court is likely necessary.
2. Decision making
The second component of developing a parenting plan involves decision making in the following categories: religion, education, medical and extracurricular activities. The parents can agree to make these decisions jointly in the future or allocate responsibility for decision making for one parent. For example, the parties can agree to decide religious and educational decisions jointly, with mom deciding medical and dad deciding extracurricular. Usually, where there is good cooperation between the parents they make all decisions jointly.
Parties can decide certain issues in the parenting plan in advance. For example, the parents can decide that the children will remain in public school or decide in advance what activities the children participate in.
At the point that you complete an outline of your agreement, a formal plan will need to be drafted. This probably will require a lawyer or mediator but some ingenious people can draft their own from forms at a local law library. After you prepare and sign the plan, it needs to be submitted to be the judge to approve. This is not done at the end of the case and the judge will require the plan to be presented as soon as possible. If no agreement can be reached, the case will move into a more contested mode and may require the appointment of a guardian ad litem to investigate the contested issues.
If you are uncomfortable speaking with your spouse or your spouse becomes aggressive, terminate the negotiation and call a lawyer for advice.
Good luck with your discussions. Your children will benefit if their parents can resolve issues amicably from the start.