Illinois has modified its statutes wherein parents are now allocated “parental responsibilities” and “parenting time” instead of “custody”. The purpose of these changes was to try and give the parents less to fight over. You can win “custody” but winning “parental responsibilities” doesn’t have the same allure. “Parental responsibilities” refers to the major decisions pertaining to a child’s education, medical care, religion and extra-curricular activities. Parents can jointly be allocated all of these responsibilities (what we used to call “joint custody”) or they can be divided between the parties, or one parent can be awarded all decision-making in all of these areas. While the intention is to resolve these types of cases, a lot of them end up in court, and it is good to be prepared for the legal process that lies ahead.
Here are five (5) tips to help you know what to look out for when facing a child custody or parenting time battle.
1. The status quo is important, so be the parent you want to be.
The court is mandated to look at the 24 months prior when determining what the status quo has been for parenting time and allocation of parental responsibilities, and when there is a disagreement, the status quo often rules. So, for example, if the parties have lived separate and apart for a year and mom has seen the children 50% of the time and dad has seen the children 50% of the time, and that seems to work, the court will likely allocated the parenting time 50/50 between the parties in an order. If this is not working, though, the court may re-evaluate the status quo. The same goes for decision making/allocation of parental responsibilities. If mom has always scheduled and attended all doctor’s appointments, and that has worked, that will likely continue. If both parents have always attended parent-teacher conferences, that will likely continue. The court is not likely to allow a mom who has never made any educational decisions for their children the sudden right to be the sole parent who makes educational decisions. So, managing your expectations and understanding the status quo is important when there are no serious endangerments or other issues. If you want half the parenting time, exercise half the parenting time, even if you aren’t in court yet. If you want a say in extra-curricular activity selection, get involved now. The court usually does not re-write the history of the family, unless there was a serious issue with how things were operating.
2. Keep records and documentation.
Keep all records and documentation so that you are prepared when your attorney asks for them.
- If you have concerns about how your child is doing in school and the report cards substantiate the concerns, gather and keep the last few years of report cards.
- If you are concerned about contribution to the costs of the children’s expenses, keep detailed receipts.
- If you believe the child’s other parent will try to argue that they do everything for the minor children, you can keep a diary or a log of everything you did that day.
- Attend the doctor’s appointments and keep the after-visit summaries, and keep notes in your diary or log that you attended.
- If there are text message conversations, or email conversations, or parenting application conversations that would prove your points or concerns, keep them, and keep them organized. Document everything.
3. If you have not yet, don’t leave the children’s residence.
If you are still living with your children and their other parent, it may be a good idea to stay in the same residence as your children until your case is over, so long as there are no dangers. A lot of times courts will keep the children in their residence when there is a dispute, so if one parent moves out, they may not be able to take the children with them, especially when dealing with the school year and transportation to school, completion of homework, etc. The court does not like the children to have a large amount of travel time and tend to keep the children in their own home environment.
If one parent moves out, then they are subject to only seeing their children on a set schedule, which may not reflect the amount of time they want to spend with their kids in the end. It is best to try and stay living with them, as long as there are no reasons to move because then both parents are spending an equal amount of time with the children in the marital residence. Now, this is not always possible and sometimes it is best for certain family members to move, such as in situations with domestic violence. Speak to your attorney before you move out of the residence, however.
4. Prepare your residence for your children if you have already moved out.
If a parent has already moved out of the children’s residence it is best to prepare your new residence for the child/children. This means ensuring they have their own private place to sleep. For example, if a dad moves into a studio apartment but has three children, that is not a setup where the children can spend much (if any) overnight time on a permanent basis because it just isn’t feasible. If dad moves into a place where the children have their own beds and a private place to sleep, and which is near their school, that is a scenario where the court might consider more overnight parenting time.
Also, be sure to try and help your children adjust to your new home. Get them excited by taking them shopping for their sheets and bedding, keep toys and clothes for them at your house, buy them toiletries for your house. The less they have to “pack” to spend time with you, the more the new residence will feel like home.
5. Prepare financially for parental responsibilities and parenting time battles.
Allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time battles (formerly called “custody” battles) are extremely expensive. They often involve a Guardian Ad Litem or a Child Representative being appointed, or even a 604.10(b) Custody Evaluator. The legal process is long and draining both financially and emotionally. Be prepared to pay a lot of money in attorney’s fees and evaluator fees when embarking on this journey and save and plan accordingly.
Seek Advice from a Chicago Child Custody Attorney
If you are anticipating a child custody or parenting time battle, be sure to seek legal advice about your options. At Anderson & Boback, our attorneys have helped hundreds of parents and families in Chicago resolve child custody and visitation issues, including complex child custody battles. Contact us today for a free consultation to discuss your situation.