Illinois Fathers at the Bottom of Parenting Time Awards
Studies repeatedly support the fact that continuous engagement with both parents is key to a child’s long-term development and wellbeing. Divorced parents in Illinois are expected to divide parenting responsibilities (absent issues of danger or neglect), including childcare duties; however, this mandate does not necessarily translate into equal time for both parents. While a growing number of states at least state a strong preference for, if not outright demand, equal parenting time, Illinois has no such provision and merely says both parents are presumed fit and some amount of parenting time should be allocated to each.
A recent study by Custody X Change that looked at how states divided parenting time between mothers and fathers found that Illinois ranked among the bottom, only surpassed by Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Specifically, Illinois fathers, on average, get 23.1 percent of time with their children. Obviously, this number is low, and does not bode well for fathers who must rely on the Court system to make this decision. Consider the following on how Courts evaluate parenting time questions, as well as strategies to boost a father’s chance at receiving more parenting time.
Court’s Assessment of Parenting Time
Any child-based decision is driven by the best interests of the child standard. This legal standard instructs Courts to view all child-related decisions through the lens of the alternative that would best promote the child’s needs and welfare. Consequently, the analysis is very fact specific, thus making the outcome somewhat difficult to predict. However, Illinois’ statute does include a list of factors Courts must use as a central part of this evaluation, which may be supplemented by reports and testimony from psychologists and family mental health experts, as well as interviews of the child by the Court.
Some of the pivotal factors that tend to sway a Court in favor of one parent over the other include that that:
amount of time each parent spent in the previous 24 months caring for the child;
previous conduct or agreements about the division of caretaking responsibilities;
quality of the relationship the child has with each parent;
distance between the parents’ homes, the logistics of transporting the child between them, and parents’ ability to cooperate in the facilitation of child exchanges;
ability of each parent to put the child’s needs before their own; and
ability of each parent to foster and encourage a meaningful relationship between the child and the other parent.
Increasing the Chance at More Parenting Time
As the above factors reveal, Courts will focus on the amount of time each parent invests in the child’s daily routine, and how well the parents get along. Courts are instructed to award reasonable amounts of parenting time, but what constitutes reasonable will vary by the judge and the circumstances of a particular case.
Given that the trend in Illinois is away from awarding fathers substantial parenting time, requesting a modification after the initial parenting plan is ordered may be necessary to secure more time. To increase chances of being successful and meet the requirements that a change in circumstances and the child’s best interest would be served, the following strategy should be implemented:
Document all instances an ex-spouse attempts to alienate a child from the other parent or inappropriately involves the child in adult disputes;
Be respectful to the other parent and refrain from discussing parenting issues in the front of the child;
Remain actively involved with the child, especially by using all forms of communication allowable under the parenting plan, and presenting a united front with the other parent when conflicts with the child arise; and
Consistently exercise all parenting time to demonstrate reliability and full investment in the child.
Talk with an Illinois Family Law Attorney
Receiving a fair amount of parenting time is the only reasonable way a parent can play an active and meaningful role in his or her child’s life. If you have questions or concerns about your parenting time award, or need advice about negotiating your own parenting plan, talk to the Law Office of Nicholas W. Richardson, P.C. With extensive experience handling a wide variety of family law matters, dedicated Barrington family law attorney Nicholas W. Richardson can thoroughly address all your needs. Contact the office for a free initial consultation.