Parenting time, formerly called visitation, is one of the largest issues divorcing or separating parties have in Illinois. Parenting time refers to the schedule regarding where the minor children spend their time. In most cases, parties will have to attend mediation to try and work out a parenting time schedule, unless their case has special circumstances barring mediation, such as an active Order of Protection. Parenting time schedule also refer to school breaks, holidays, vacation time, birthdays, and more. In this article, we detail out some of the common issues with parenting time schedules and items to give special consideration to when drafting these documents, called Allocation Judgments (formerly called Joint Parenting Agreements or Custody Judgments).
Regular Parenting Time Schedule
Regular Parenting time refers to the normal, everyday, weekly schedule for the minor child or children. It refers to where they will be sleeping at night on a regular basis. Some parents choose to only exercise weekend or alternating weekend parenting time and visits during the week. This works ideally for a parent who lives far away from the other parent or a parent who perhaps works long hours and is unable to secure their own childcare. Some parents simply choose this schedule because it works for them and it works for their children.
Equal or “Fifty-Fifty” Parenting Time
Other parents want fifty percent (50%) of all parenting time. Actually, many parents seek to get this sort of schedule. However, there are many factors which contribute to whether or not this sort of arrangement is in the best interests of the minor children since they will be shuffling back and forth quite a bit, during the week, during school nights, etc.
One consideration is how far away the parents live from one another. If the drive to take the minor children to school in the mornings is not too long, or, if better yet, the parents live in the same school district, then a schedule that provides for school night overnights is not necessarily a bad idea. The children will need their own space in each home, adequate privacy, adequate space to do homework, etc.
So, for example, someone with three children who lives in a one-bedroom apartment probably wouldn’t be an ideal candidate for a 50/50 schedule, even if the person lives in the children’s school district if the other parent has a four-bedroom home.
Childcare is also a consideration. It is best for children to have as little change as possible. If giving the parents an equal parenting time schedule would mean two separate childcare arrangements, it may not be in their best interests, unless it is someone the children know and are familiar with. Two separate daycares would not be ideal. Sharing the same sitter between both parents is often an alternative which works well, so long as the parents do not put the sitter in the middle or try to pin the sitter against the other parent. Generally speaking, for the parties to have equal parenting time, there has to be at least a cordial relationship and decent parental communication.
Vacation Parenting Time
There are a lot of factors to consider when allocating vacation parenting time in an agreement. One consideration is, do the parties agree that children can be removed from school for vacations, or will vacations only take place when school is in session? Most parties don’t agree to remove their children from school for vacations in their Allocation Judgment, but in some circumstances that is what the status quo has been, and the parents are fine with it. Another consideration is will a week of vacation consist of 5 week days added on to the weekend already allocated to them (for a total of 7 days) or, would they be entitled to any 7 days they want for vacation, irrespective of when their weekend falls (for a total of 9 days). This has to be made clear when weeks are allocated in an agreement, as parties often disagree about what constitutes a “week”. Another issue to consider is if the vacation weeks will be consecutive or nonconsecutive, or consecutive up to a cap of two weeks, for example.
Holiday Parenting Time
Holiday Parenting Time can be very tricky. It is important to think about which holidays are important to your family when contemplating this schedule. For example, if one family always celebrates Easter but never Thanksgiving, and the other party’s family is the opposite, then the parties may want to each take their respective holiday in all years. Or, they may want to alternate them. Thinking about major holiday such as Christmas is also important, and can be tricky because it falls, typically, over a break from school. Is this a holiday that you want to travel during? If so, it wouldn’t make sense to agree to give one parent Christmas Eve and the other parent Christmas Day every year, it may need to be a package deal and alternate years. Jewish and Muslim holidays also have special considerations when drafting these agreements because they change every year. Pay attention to issues such as holiday overlaps. Does the Eid typically fall on one of the children’s birthdays? Does Rosh Hashana ever overlap with the Fall break from school? All of this should be considered based upon past experiences.
Summer Parenting Time
Some parties choose to divide the summer equally. If parties live in different states, often the parent not living in Illinois will receive a larger portion of the summer, depending upon their relationship with the children and the children’s ages, etc. Special considerations for summer parenting time include, whether or not the children go to summer camp or plan to go to summer camp in the future, Father’s Day holiday, the July 4th holiday, and whether the summer parenting time will be taken in consecutive weeks or broken up. Some parties opt to keep the same schedule as usual but add a number of weeks for vacation parenting time.
Winter Break, Spring Break, Fall Break and other School Break Parenting Time
The biggest items to account for with school break is any holidays which fall over said breaks. The holiday schedule and school break schedule should match up, or, it should be stated somewhere which has precedence over the other in case of any issue (usually holidays take precedence over school breaks). Winter Break is generally long enough to divide in half. Spring Break and Fall Break, if only a week, are usually allocated in their entirety to allow for travel, but parties can do whatever works for them.
School Holiday Parenting Time
These issues are mostly addressed in other areas of the parenting agreement, but some holidays when there is no school can be allocated when the parties have flexible work schedules. For example, President’s Day may not be a “holiday” in a parenting time schedule, nor Columbus Day, nor Veteran’s Day. Teacher institute days also may not be in the schedule. But, these holidays can be allocated, or a simple catch all can be added to these agreements indicating that these miscellaneous holidays from school can be “tacked on” to whoever’s weekend attaches to the holiday. That gives the parents more flexibility for small trips and travel, and additional time with their children.
Whether you are in the process of divorce or separation and contemplating optimal parenting time schedules for your family or your current agreements may not be working for you, it is always a good idea to work with a trusted attorney with a thorough understanding of the Illinois parental responsibilities laws to work through the issues. Let us help you craft optimal Allocation Agreements that work for you and your children.