Changes to Illinois Custody Law: Allocation of Parenting Responsibilities & A Parenting Plan, Part 1

The Illinois legislature’s recent changes to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (“the Act”) is an attempt to adapt to the ever-evolving parenting roles in today’s society.  While there have been many revisions to the Act as of January 1, 2016, arguably the most drastic changes relate to child custody, visitation, and relocation.  It is fair to say that the revisions to the Act reflect an intention to ease the negative effect that divorce has on children.

The most notable change is the elimination of the terms “custody” and “visitation.”  Instead, a judge must make a determination of the “allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time.”   A judge now must review a “proposed parenting plan” submitted by the parents.  This parenting plan will include proposed parental responsibilities and a parenting time schedule.  However, the change in terminology does not change the basic nature of what judges must do, which is to determine what is in the best interests of the child.

Allocation of Parental Responsibilities

“Parental decision-making responsibilities,” formerly known as “custody,” include four (4) categories of responsibility: health, education, extracurricular activities, and religion.  750 ILCS 5/602.5(b).  These four categories are known as “significant decision-making responsibilities.”

Extracurricular activities is a recent addition to the list of parental responsibilities, formerly known as custody.  For example, do I have to enroll the children in these activities? Can the other parent enroll the children in activities during my parenting time?  Do I also have to take the children to the practice or lesson?  Can my new spouse or significant other attend these activities?  The addition of extracurricular activities to the statute reflects ongoing battles between parents over these issues.

Religion was previously considered an element of “custody.” The new Act, however, adds the requirement that there must be some evidence of an established religious tradition during the marriage before a court will make a decision about the child’s future religious upbringing, or a parent’s responsibility in continuing that tradition.  This is an important change because it tells the court to keep a “hands off” approach unless there was an express or implied agreement between the parents regarding the child’s religion before their divorce.

Determining a Child’s Best Interests

There are also new factors to consider when a judge determines the child’s best interests.  These new factors are: the ability of the parents to cooperate to make new decisions, level of conflict between parties to share decision-making, the distances between the parties’ residences, and the cost and difficulty of travel.  These are important considerations for a judge when determining parental responsibilities.

Caretaking Functions

Another significant change to the Act is the addition of the term “caretaking functions.”  Some of these caretaking functions include:  giving your child a bath, making sure your child goes to school and has good hygiene, providing moral and ethical guidance, and more.  750 ILCS 5/600(c).  The newly added caretaking functions could cause more litigation.  For example, will a parent be held liable if he or she omits or fails to supervise one or more of the elements described under “caretaking functions”?  A parent could be subject to criticism in a court proceeding and subject to potential liability if another parent were to use failure to perform a caretaking function as evidence of deficient parenting skills.

Understanding More about the new Act

Contact the experienced and caring family law attorneys at Conniff Law Offices to discuss how you can craft a parenting plan that meets your family’s needs and the requirements of the new Act.

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