In this article, we explain how to enforce a parenting agreement in Illinois. We discuss the ramifications of a party not complying with the terms of an allocation of parental responsibilities judgment under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. While a party may think, “If I don’t exercise my parenting time, my ex-spouse will have more time with the children and therefore everyone wins,” the act of not exercising allotted parenting time can have various consequences ranging from financial penalties to loss of future parenting time. Those consequences are discussed herein.
When individuals file for a dissolution of marriage involving minor children, the eventual outcome of said dissolution will include some form of allocation judgment allotting parenting time and parenting responsibilities between each party. These judgments typically include schedules for parenting time on regular days as well as during school breaks, holidays, and other specific dates such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. The goal of all allocation judgments is to facilitate an easy, peaceable transfer of the children between the parties, all the while considering the children’s best interests.
Occasionally an issue arises where one of the parents to an allocation judgment abuses either their own parenting time or the other parent’s parenting time. Whether this occurs due to ill will between the parties or a simple misunderstanding can only be determined on a case-by-case basis. However, when one parent feels that the other has abused parenting time, the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (“IMDMA”)(which governs the allocation of parental responsibilities in the event of a dissolution) has proscribed a remedy.
Section 607.5 of the IMDMA allows a party to bring an action for the enforcement of parenting time by a parent (or person appointed under Section 506 of the IMDMA to represent the child(ren)) by filing a petition which alleges specific information, including the following:
(a) The name and residential or mailing address of the petitioner;
(b) The name and residential, mailing, or employment address of respondent;
(c) The terms of the parenting plan or allocation judgment in effect;
(d) The nature of the violation of the allocation of parenting time;
a. Requires specific information (dates, time, and allegations of specific conduct)
b. For example: Parent A was to have parenting time on April 5, 2018 to take the children to the White Sox home opener. However, Parent B refused to bring the children to Parent A or allow Parent A to pick the children up. As a result, Parent A lost its parenting time on April 5, 2018.
(e) That a reasonable attempt was made to resolve the dispute.
If, after hearing all evidence, the court decides that the petitioning party is correct in its assertion that a violation of parenting time has occurred, the court can issue an order including one or more of the following:
(1) Additional terms or conditions consistent with the court’s previous allocation of parenting time order;
a. Such as that the pick-up or drop-off of the children must occur at a specific place and time (if not previously addressed)
(2) Require one or both parents to attend a parental education program at the expense of the non-compliant parent;
(3) Require the parties participate in family or individual counseling;
a. The court determines how to apportion the expenses for this; and
b. This is often used in cases with a history, or a possibility, of domestic violence.
(4) Require the non-compliant parent to post a cash bond (or other security) that may be forfeited to the other parent for payment of expenses on behalf of the child;
(5) Make-up parenting time;
a. So long as the make-up time is of the same type and duration as the parenting time that was denied; and
i. Example: Parent A was to have parenting time Friday through Sunday but Parent B refused to provide the children for that period of time. The court may order Parent A receives the next Friday through Sunday period of make-up parenting time.
b. Ordered within six (6) months of the denied parenting time
i. Unless the denied parenting time was a holiday, in which case make-up time must occur within one (1) year.
ii. Example: Parent A has the children for Christmas and Parent B is to have the children for New Year’s. Parent A keeps the children for the entire Christmas and New Year’s period. As this cannot be resolved until the following winter, Parent B will be required to wait one year for make-up parenting time.
(6) Finding the non-compliant parent in contempt of court;
(7) Impose civil fines;
(8) Require the non-complying parent reimburse the other parent for reasonable expenses incurred as a result of the violation;
a. Example: Using the above example of Parent A taking the children to a White Sox game – if Parent A spent $200 on tickets and Parent B refused to allow Parent A to take the children, Parent B may be ordered to reimburse the ticket expense.
(9) Any other provision which may benefit the child.
In addition to the above consequences of abusing parenting time, a court can order the parent who either failed to exercise parenting time or to provide parenting time to the pay the reasonable attorney’s fees, court costs, and expenses incurred by the aggrieved party. However, if the court determines the party bringing the action to enforce parenting time has brought a frivolous claim, that party (the petitioner) will be required to pay the respondent’s attorney’s fees, court costs, and expenses.
If the Court determines a party who has violated the parenting time judgment is in contempt of court, it may order consequences in addition to those outlined above. Namely, a party may lose his or her driver’s license (with the exception of a financial responsibility driving permit to go to and from their place of employment), the party may be put on probation, sentenced to periodic imprisonment (daily release for work), and/or order a fine not to exceed $500 per parenting time violation. Additionally, any contempt order issued by a court is transmitted to the State Police for record keeping and available to law enforcement during traffic stops.
In the eyes of the law, and specifically the courts, the key determination in any and all parenting time and parenting responsibilities matters are the best interests of the child(ren). In setting visitation schedules, support orders, and the like, the court always considers the best interests of the child. When parties enter into parenting agreements and subsequently do not follow their obligations therein, the court views this essentially as disregardful to the care and needs of the child(ren). The court is strict in its application of the law and of the proscribed remedies. Therefore, it is always in a person’s best interest to respect their obligations and rights, and the obligations and rights of the other parent, in parenting agreements.