Allocation of Parental Responsibilities

When couples who have children together divorce, or couples who are not married have a child together, they need to determine the division of parenting time and decision making for the children following their split.In 2016, Illinois made changes to its laws regarding parenting time for parents who have divorced or separated, or for co-parents who have had a child together and are not married.Prior to 2016, Illinois used the term “custody” to refer to both physical custody of the children and legal custody for decision making.Since the 2016 revisions to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA,) Illinois uses the term “allocation of parental responsibilities” which splits into decision-making responsibilities and parenting time.The change was made with the goal of recognizing modern trends in parenting and forming a more progressive approach to parental responsibilities.

The 2016 changes to the IMDMA strip away use of the words “custody” and “visitation” to describe the responsibilities and relationships between parents and their children after a divorce or separation or for unmarried co-parents.Illinois now uses the term “parenting time” to determine the time each parent spends with the child and “allocation of parental responsibilities: decision-making” to determine which parent will make decisions regarding significant decisions for the child.Parenting time was formerly known as “physical custody” or “visitation” and decision-making was formerly known as “legal custody.”Decision-making is then split into four subcategories: healthcare, religious upbringing, education and extracurricular activities.The law allows for a specific delineation of decision making for each area.For example, the mother can have sole decision-making responsibility in the area of religion, while the father has sole decision-making responsibility for healthcare and both parents have joint decision-making responsibility for education and extracurricular activities.

The use of the phrase “parenting time” to replace “physical custody” or “visitation” is a push towards recognizing both parents as equal parents to the children.Using the term “visitation” to refer to one parent’s time with the child led to a negative implication that there was one “primary” parent and one “secondary” parent.The “secondary” parent was seen as merely “visiting” with the children rather than seen as taking on an active role in parenting the child.Use of the phrase “parenting time” to refer to the time parents spend with their children implies a more equal playing field for the parents in each being one of two parents to the child.Similarly, the parent seen as the “primary” parent would be seen as the primary decision maker for the child.If parents could not agree on joint decision making, the parent with primary custody would be given that designation and responsibility.All parents, even those who are not granted decision making rights, have a right to reasonable parenting time.Restrictions on parenting time are reserved only in those circumstances where, after a hearing, there has been a finding by the Court of a serious endangerment to the child.

The change in terminology is in line with changing societal norms.Illinois wants to encourage the maximum involvement and cooperation of both parents in the upbringing of their children.In many situations, the mother is no longer the primary care-taking parent as she traditionally once was.More women return to full-time employment while their children are still young, and more fathers choose to be stay-at-home dads taking on larger roles in child-care.More families have both parents working full-time out of the house, necessitating the need for both parents to play an active role in raising the children. Additionally, the rise of remote work opportunities and flexible work schedules have changed the way mothers and fathers are able to parent, allowing for both parents to have more opportunities to engage in more equal amounts of parenting time with the children.The move away from the traditional terms of “custody” and “visitation” reflect the changing dynamics in many families and a shift towards more modern parenting norms and realities.

With the 2016 changes on parenting time and allocation of parental responsibilities, parties no longer enter into a “custody judgment” regarding their parental responsibilities.Instead, a Parenting Plan is entered by the Court.The Parenting Plan can either be agreed to by the parties or, if the parties cannot agree, the Parenting Plan will be determined by the Court.The Parenting Plan will set forth each party’s parenting time for weekdays, weekends, holidays and vacations and which party is designated to make significant decisions in each of the four major decision-making areas.Unless otherwise stated in the Parenting Plan, each parent will make day-to-day decisions for the children during their parenting time including routine discipline, minor medical treatment, chores and hygiene.Both parents are given access to the children’s school records, medical records and activity schedules.Unless otherwise stated in the Parenting Plan, both parents are mandated to notify the other parent as soon as possible of emergencies or other significant child-related issues that occur during their individual parenting time.

Similar to the IMDMA prior to the 2016 changes, all decisions, both with regard to parenting time and decision-making, are made based on the best interests of the children.Courts will weigh and consider a number of factors related to the best interests of the children including but not limited to: the parents wishes, the child’s wishes (depending on the age and maturity of the child,) the interrelationships of the parents and child, the child’s adjustment to their home, school and community, the mental and physical health of all individuals involved, any occurrence of abuse against the child or a member of the child’s household, ability of the parents to cooperate and co-parent, the residential circumstances of each parent and the level of each parent’s prior involvement in parenting the child and decision-making for the child.