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Illinois Parenting Agreements and the New Guidelines

Rolling Meadows Child Custody Attorneys

Recently, we explored some of the sweeping changes to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act ("Act") that took effect as of January 1, 2016. Today, we want to zoom in on one particularly important change that affects divorcing couples with children. What was previously referred to in the Act as "custody" is now broadly recognized as "allocation of parental responsibilities," which is determined largely by a parenting plan submitted to the judge by the parties. This new section seeks to remove some of the seemingly harsh labels associated with the division of parental rights, including the determination of who has decision-making authority as well as living arrangements. Including as many contingencies as possible in your parenting plan can eliminate the need for post-divorce decree modifications and ensure that the divorce transition is as smooth as possible for your child.

What is a Parenting Agreement?

According to 735 ILCS 5/602.10 under Illinois law, the parenting plan is a "written agreement that allocates significant decision-making responsibilities, parenting time, or both." This plan must be submitted by each party to a divorce within 120 days of filing for an allocation of parental responsibilities (which is typically done simultaneously when filing for divorce when children are in the picture). Note that this new law also allows for an order to be entered regarding the allocation of parental responsibilities for non-divorcing, but separated, couples as well.

The plan must be submitted by each party or, ideally, jointly by both parties. While the court will consider the plan as it is presented, the court may make modifications in the interest of the best interests of the child. Otherwise, the court will not accept the agreement only if the agreement is considered "unconscionable," a very high standard that suggests there was wrongdoing or impropriety in crafting the agreement. Thus, if the parents can agree on a parenting plan and they sign and indicate such, it is likely binding upon the parties. The parties may be susceptible to an evidentiary hearing regarding the terms of the agreement if there are concerns that the parenting plan may not be in the best interests of the child or children. As with all child-related divorce matters, the best interests of the child is always the forefront consideration.

Failure to timely submit a joint parenting plan or failure of each party to submit their own parenting agreement may lead to evidentiary hearings regarding the best interests of the child as well, in addition to potential mediation and subsequent court appearances. The parenting agreement need not be submitted if the parties intend on mediating the terms of the parenting plan.

What Happens if My Spouse Fails to Comply With the Parenting Agreement?

Though under a different title, violation of parenting agreements has the same effect as violating a custody arrangement. Failure to comply with court orders, particularly when children are involved, can have significant consequences. Failing to abide by the rules and limitations of your parenting plan may lead to fines or civil contempt of court charges. Some parents try to monopolize their parenting time by "over-scheduling" their children to disproportionately spend time with one parent, even if technically in compliance with provisions of the parenting plan. These seemingly innocent technicalities can have serious consequences ranging from contempt to modification of parenting plans in a manner you may not find favorable. Thus, it is the best practice to come up with an agreeable plan up front, stick with it, and communicate frustrations or proposed modifications right away if they arise.

Rolling Meadows, Illinois Parenting Plan Divorce Attorneys

As a parent going through a divorce, the best thing you can do is ensure that your parenting plan is amicable, fair, and, most importantly, in the best interests of your child. Coming to an agreement with your spouse from the beginning will ensure a faster and more agreeable process and also hopefully limit or eradicate the need to modify the parenting plan in the future. At the Law Offices of Donald J. Cosley, we have the legal experience necessary to help you navigate your divorce involving children from start to finish. Regardless of whether you are considering divorce, in the middle of a divorce, or are having problems agreeing to a parenting plan with your spouse, skilled Rolling Meadows family law attorney Donald J. Cosley can help.

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