When Allowing Parenting Time May Endanger Your Child
Protecting a child from harm is the number one priority for parents. Rarely does this danger come from within a family, but when it does, a parent may be forced to make hard choices to ensure the child is properly protected.
Parents are presumed to have a fundamental right to spend time with and make decisions for their children, and this is reflected in the child custody laws that govern divorce cases in Illinois. As a result, in the vast majority of divorces, both parents will receive some amount of parenting time on a consistent basis. Unfortunately, this arrangement is not always appropriate, and in some cases, corrective action needs to be taken to ensure the child’s safety.
The normal way to address children’s safety involves requesting a modification of the family’s parenting plan, but this process takes time, and that is something a parent concerned about his/her child’s safety may not have. However, refusing to allow parenting time that has been allocated in a divorce decree is a direct violation of court order, and this can have serious consequences. Parents may wonder what to do if circumstances exist that would negate this rule for the child’s sake.
What Does Parenting Time Normally Include?
Looking strictly at the definition provided in Illinois law, parenting time refers to the time in which a parent is responsible for providing caretaking functions and making non-significant decisions related to the child. Note that fulfilling caretaking duties does not necessarily require the parent do the tasks themselves, but simply to ensure the child is properly supervised and care is appropriately arranged if the parent cannot provide it directly. Caretaking functions are also defined in Illinois divorce law, and these form the bulk of the duties a parent must undertake when the child is with him/her. These duties include:
- Feeding the child, keeping a consistent bedtime and wake up routine, attending to the child’s personal hygiene needs, taking the child to extracurricular activities, protecting the child’s physical safety, and providing transportation.
- Acting to help the child achieve his/her developmental needs (language, motor skills, etc.).
- Teaching the child behavioral control and restraint through discipline, assigning chores, and teaching manners.
- Making sure the child goes to school.
- Meeting the child’s medical needs and taking him/her to necessary doctor’s appointments.
- Arranging alternate caregivers when the parent is unavailable.
Denying Parenting Time to Safeguard Your Child
Normally, if there is concern that a parent’s parenting time poses a risk to a child, a petition to modify the parenting plan that asks for restricted parenting time is the baseline response. However, courts are generally reluctant to infringe on a parent’s rights, and before imposing restrictions on parenting time, the other parent will be required to provide convincing evidence that a child’s physical, mental, or emotional health would be endangered if parenting time was exercised as defined in the parenting plan.
Some examples of conduct that has met this standard in past cases include drunk driving, drug use, physical or sexual abuse, or the substantial threat a parent will take the child out of the state or country without notifying the other parent.
While a parent may believe that he/she should protect the child by refusing to allow parenting time, the potential consequences for denying parenting time include being held in civil contempt or being charged with a crime. However, if the denial was rooted in protecting the child’s best interests because the other parent was engaging in behavior likely to harm the child, a reasonable argument can be made that any action taken was not meant to arbitrarily punish or block access to the other parent but was truly intended to protect the child’s safety. In these cases, a parent who has denied parenting time may be able to persuade a judge not to impose the sanctions mentioned above.
Speak With a Schaumburg Family Law Attorney
Your child’s safety is always a priority, and if you know or suspect that your former spouse is unable or unwilling to provide a safe environment for your child, swift action needs to be taken to address these issues. Dedicated Inverness child custody attorney Nicholas W. Richardson understands your dilemma, and he will use his years of experience to protect your child’s safety while helping you avoid the legal consequences of acting outside the law. Contact our law firm at 847.873.6741 to schedule your free initial consultation.