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Kevin O'Flaherty

In this article we will explain Illinois parenting laws, including allocation of parenting time and responsibility.  We will discuss Illinois’ change from child custody and visitation to allocation of parenting time and responsibility.  We will explain Illinois parenting plans as well as what happens if the parents can’t agree on a parenting plan.  Finally, we will explain how parenting time and parental decision making power are determined in Illinois. This article has been updated for 2019.

Child Custody and Visitation Versus Allocation of Parenting Time and Responsibility in Illinois

Prior to 2016, the determination of parenting time and responsibility  was referred to by Illinois law in terms of “child custody” and “visitation.”   However, in 2016 the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act was updated to remove the terms “custody” and “visitation” and replace this terminology with “allocation of parenting time and responsibility.”  The purpose of the change was to reduce the amount and intensity of disputes between parents over who would be the “custodial parent,” allowing parenting time and responsibility to be viewed as a spectrum rather than as a black and white decision with a clear winner and a loser.  

For more on the 2016 changes to Illinois family law, check out our article: Recent Changes to Illinois Divorce Law.

Illinois Parenting Plans Explained

Ideally, parents in a divorce or paternity case will negotiate in good faith to come to an agreement as to how parenting time and responsibility for parenting decisions will be allocated between them.  If the parents are able to come to an agreement, they will put the agreement into writing in the form of a Parenting Plan.  The parenting plan will include which days of the year each parent will be responsible for physical custody of the children, and which parent(s) will have responsibility for each type of major decision about the child’s life.  

For more on parenting plans, check out our article: Illinois Parenting Plans Explained and How to Enforce a Parenting Agreement in Illinois.

What if the Parents Can’t Agree On Allocation of Parenting Time and Responsibility?

If the parents are unable to reach an agreement on a parenting plan even after mediation, the court will decide how parenting time and responsibility will be divided in an “allocation judgment.”  The court will decide parenting time and responsibility based on the best interests of the children.   Usually, the court will appoint experienceds to evaluate the parents, the child, and the living situation and submit a report to the court with a recommendation.  The court may also appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child’s best interests in court.  

A trial will then be held, during which each side presents testimony and other evidence supporting its position.   At the conclusion of the trial, the court will enter its allocation judgment setting forth its allocation of parenting time and responsibility.

For more, check out our article: What Happens When a Divorce Goes to Trial in Illinois?

How is Parenting Time Determined In Illinois?

Illinois does not make a presumption in favor of the mother when deciding parenting time.  Rather, the best interests of the child are determined on a gender-neutral basis.  However, courts will weigh which parent has previously been the primary care-taking parent in determining parenting time.

If the parties are unable to agree to a parenting schedule, the court will determine a parenting schedule based on the best interest of the child after weighing a number of factors including the wishes of each parent, the wishes of the child, how far the parents live from one another, the child’s school situation and extracurricular activities, and the parents’ work schedule.  For more on how courts make this determination check out: Allocation of Parenting Time and Responsibility Explained and Illinois Child Custody Factors.

Although every situation is unique, a common parenting time allocation is to give each parent time with the children on alternating weekends, holidays, and breaks from school, as well as dividing school day evenings and weeks during the summer as evenly as possible.  

Even once the child is a teenager, the child does not have the power to independently determine parenting time until he or she turns 18.  However, the older the child is, the more weight the court will give his or her wishes when deciding parenting time.

How Are Parental Decision-Making Responsibilities Determined in Illinois?

Parental decision-making responsibilities are divided into two primary categories: caretaking functions and non-significant decision-making on the one hand and significant decision-making responsibilities on the other hand.  

Significant decision-making responsibilities include decisions about:

  • Education;
  • Religion;
  • Medical Care; and
  • Extra-Curricular Activities.  

Whether through a parenting agreement or allocation judgment, each of these four types of significant decision-making responsibility can be shared by the parent or granted exclusively to one parent or the other.  

Sole responsibility for non-significant decisions or caretaking functions is given to the parent who has physical custody of the child at the time that the decision needs to be made unless parenting time is explicitly restricted by court order.  

What Are Caretaking Functions in Illinois Parenting Law?

The parent with physical custody of the child at any given time is responsible for caretaking functions, which include:

  • Ensuring that the child is properly fed;
  • Managing bedtime and morning wake-up routines;
  • Caring for the child when he or she is ill or injured;
  • Physical hygiene;
  • Ensuring attendance at scheduled extracurricular activities;
  • Ensuring physical safety;
  • Providing transportation;
  • Managing developmental needs, such as toilet training, self-confidence, and language skills;
  • Providing discipline, supervising chores, and teaching behavioral self-restraint;
  • Ensuring that the child attend school and communicating with the child’s teachers;
  • Supervising homework;
  • Helping the child maintain interpersonal relationships;
  • Meeting the medical needs of the child;
  • Providing moral guidance for the child;
  • Arranging for and supervising babysitting arrangements or alternative care when necessary.  
Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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