Tips for Negotiating Parenting Time Schedules
A Brief Overview of Parenting Time in Illinois
When a divorcing family with children tries to enter an Allocation Judgment finalizing all of the issues relative to the minor children, without a doubt, the parenting time schedule is one of the more difficult topics. Parenting time is what we now refer to what we used to call “residential custody”. The parenting time schedule dictates where the children will be on any given day of the week, where they sleep each night, who the minor children are with for school breaks, summer vacations and holidays. The parents have to determine a schedule for the minor children prior to their divorce being finalized.
Over the years, the parenting time schedules have evolved to give both parents more time, based upon certain factors relevant to their situation.
The court will often look at what the status quo parenting time has been for the twenty-four (24) months prior to filing. We are living in a different world than we were living in ten years ago. More parents than ever are working from home, or doing a hybrid work schedule. This allows parents who used to have to commute every day to reasonably accommodate school drop off and pick up on certain days of the week, to transport to activities and sports after school, and to all around be more involved with their children. It is allowing parents who were formerly stay-at-home parents to get back into the workforce through virtual employment during hours when their children are in school. As a result, parents are much more available for parenting time than they were, say, when they were spending 3 hours a day commuting prior to the pandemic, which opens up a new realm of possibility for more parenting time.
What are the common parenting time schedules in Illinois?
Some of the more common parenting time schedules give the majority of parenting time to one parent, with liberal parenting time to the other parent. Stereotypically, there used to be an “every other weekend” type schedule with the non-custodial parent, along with nights for dinner visits during the week. We can do better than this now in the world we are living in, so long as it serves the best interests of the minor children. In Chicago family courts, more and more we are seeing schedules where the parent with less parenting time will have overnight parenting time during weeknights. Of course, this only works when the parents live in close proximity to the school, to avoid an increase in commute times for the minor children. We are seeing a shift to more and more 40/60 parenting time schedules, and even some 50/50 parenting time schedules. Even the “every other weekend” parent will have substantial parenting time during the week; or they may have more summer parenting time, etc.
Overall, parenting time is not a “one size fits all” situation. The schedule is always determined based upon:
— what is in the best interests of the minor children;
— looking at the status quo parenting time/parent who dealt with day to day caretaking for the children;
— what is the best fit for a particular family; and
— geographic issues, such as proximity to school/work, hours of same, and other logistical issues.
Can my child’s other parent deny me access to my children?
In sum, absent an order which precludes access to the minor children, such as an order of protection, or another court order, the other parent should not deny access by one parent to the minor children. In fact, that could reflect badly on the parent who is denying access once the matter is before a Judge when it is not otherwise warranted. There are some limited exceptions, though, particularly when the parents were never married and the second parent did not sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity/Parentage and is not listed on the birth certificate. In those situations, you’d need a parentage order before a court would allow parenting time, and that would need to be adjudicated. If you were to contact the police to try and see your children in that situation, they legally cannot do anything about the other parent withholding the children because legally you aren’t recognized as their second parent until a parentage order is entered. Parents who are married at the time a child is born, or a parent who appears on a birth certificate for a minor child, should not be denied access. (Realistically, though, in our experience, if there is no parenting time order and the parties are arguing about who can spend time with he children and the police are called, most of the time the police will tell the parties to go to court and get a court order before they will intervene.)
It is best to negotiate a temporary parenting time schedule in any divorce or parentage matter with minor children so that there is a governing interim court order explaining exactly what the parenting time looks like. The order is enforceable in the event of a disagreement and it helps everyone have rules which govern the parenting time schedule so that everyone has the same expectations. These temporary orders can be entered in the interim during a divorce or parentage case before a final order is entered and are extremely helpful for managing the parent and children’s expectations and keeping them on a schedule.
How often should I speak with my children when it isn’t my parenting time?
Sometimes access to the minor children can be a problem in divorce and parentage cases. Usually, a final Allocation Judgment allows children to contact their parent whenever they want to (within reason) and sets forth some sort of phone or video chat access schedule for younger children who are old enough to sit with an iPad or on a phone for a small period of time. This does not work with younger children as well because they cannot sit still long enough to have a phone call. There are some limited exceptions, such as when parents live out of state from a young child, though — the calls just generally cannot be very long and both parents have to cooperate to effectuate them. Having carved out time in an Allocation Judgment for older kids, such as teenagers, also can be a bad idea, but depends on the situation. A teen who has a great relationship with both parents is probably going to call them often without having a “schedule” in place. A teen who is working to repair a relationship with a parent might need some coercion or a schedule in a court order for the calls to take place. It completely depends upon the situation.