What is an Illinois Parenting Plan?

An Illinois parenting plan may be the most important document that results from a divorce proceeding.  It focuses exclusively on the children.  It pushes emotional and economic issues to the side and places the spotlight on what is best for the children.

A parenting plan attempts to set certain standards and procedures for the relationship between the divorced parents and their children.  The best parenting plan is one that is developed by the parents.  There are occasions where the court decides what will be in the plan or in those portions of the plan where the parents cannot agree.

The parenting plan becomes an official order of the court and the parents are required to comply with all of its terms.  Each parent is subject to being held in contempt of court if he or she does not follow the directive of the court.  In determining what should be included in the parenting plan, the parents and the court always should be guided by what is in the best interests of the children.

What Does a Illinois Parenting Plan Include?

The parenting plan can be as extensive as the parents or the court deems necessary.  The more details that are included in the parenting plan, the less likely disputes are to arise in the future.  The plan will certainly include all of the main aspects of the relationship between the divorced parents and their children.  Some of the basic day-to-day parenting duties will typically be left to the parents with the hope that they can agree. Typical parenting plan provisions include:

Decision Making Responsibility. The parenting plan will state which parent will make the final decision on such items as education, religion, extracurricular activities and non-emergency health issues in the event that the parties do not agree.  This may be the most important, and often the most contentious, element of the parenting plan.  Control and ego are often at play when making this determination.  There are occasions when one parent may have the final say on some decisions and the other parent may have the final say on other matters.

Access to Children’s Records. The plan should include a provision permitting each parent full access to the children’s health and educational records.

Parenting Time in General. The parenting plan will define the parenting time for each parent.  It will state what days of the month each parent will be with the children as well as the times.  For example, if one parent has a weekend visitation time, the parenting plan may state that his or her visitation will be from “6 pm Friday until 6 pm Sunday.”  There may be a provision that if one parent has not arrived within 30 minutes of the specified time, he or she will forfeit that specific parenting time.

Vacations, Birthdays, and Holidays. The plan will state who has parenting time on the birthdays of the parents and the children.  Holiday parenting time is often divided by alternating from one year to the next.  For example, mother may have the children on Christmas in even numbered years and father may have them on Christmas in odd numbered years. With whom the children are to spend school and summer vacations is also spelled out.  Often the summer vacation is given to the parent with less parenting time during the school year.  The plan can even be so specific as to state the arrangements for Halloween when the children are younger.

Exchange of Children. The parenting plan will include provisions about how the children will be exchanged.  It will state who will be transporting the children and where the exchange is to take place.  If the parents do not have a harmonious relationship after the divorce, the plan will often provide that the exchange take place at a public location away from each parent’s house to reduce the chance of tension or arguments in front of the children.

Notice of Inability to Exercise Parenting Time. A parent should be required to give notice if he or she cannot exercise parenting time.  In such a situation, the other parent is often given the option of having that parenting time as opposed to placing the children with a babysitter or other family member.

Parents’ Conduct during Parenting Time. A frequent provision in a parenting plan is that neither parent shall consume alcohol or illegal drugs during their parenting time.  Some parents agree not to have overnight guests with whom they are romantically involved when the children are present.

Children’s Communication with Absent Parent. The plan should contain a clear statement as to how the children can communicate with one parent when they are with the other parent.  Sometimes specific times are stated and sometimes there are no restrictions.  Given the technology available, communication can be by telephone, text, Skype and FaceTime.

Travel with Children. Each parent is often required to give the other all travel information and itineraries when they take the children on out-of-town trips.

Parent’s Change of Address. A parent will be required to give notice to the other if he or she will be moving to a new address.

Protecting Children from Parental Conflict. Some provisions may seem obvious but should be included nevertheless.  Parents should be directed to not disparage each other in front of their children.  The children should not be placed in the middle of disagreements that the parents are having.  The children should not be used to relay messages between their parents.

What a Parenting Plan Does Not Do

The parenting plan does not attempt to micromanage how each parent raises his or her children.  A court will not get involved, for example, with setting a child’s bedtime or with what a parent decides to feed a child.

Other than a prohibition on overnight visits by romantic partners, the parenting plan will usually not restrict those with whom the parents may associate while with the children.  This is often a matter of contention and the hope is always that each parent will expose the children only to people of good character.  In many cases, one parent objects to the children being around a family member of the other parent that he or she does not like.  A court will be loath to intervene absent hard evidence that the children are in danger.

Enforcement and Amendment of a Parenting Plan

The remedy for a violation of the parenting plan is to bring an action for contempt of court.  The judge may decide to order the parent who is violating the plan to undergo counseling or parenting education; have less time with the children; and/or pay the other parent’s attorney fees.  A contempt proceeding can be costly and time consuming and should be considered only for the most serious violations, as it can make the conflict between the parents worse.

The parenting plan is not written in stone.  As the children grow and schedules change, the parenting plan may need to be amended.  Parents may agree to alter the plan without going back to court.  The amendment may be in writing, oral, or simply a tacit agreement based on what the parents are actually doing.  However, the alteration is not official if it does not work as anticipated.

The purpose of the parenting plan is to place as much structure into the relationship of the divorced parents as possible as it relates to the raising of their children.  It is intended to prevent disputes that will have an impact on the children.  It is not foolproof, but is one component in the key role of each parent— acting in the best interest of the children.

For assistance in developing your parenting plan, or any other divorce-related issue, call the Stetler Law Group at (815) 529-4554.