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Drafting an Effective Illinois Parenting Plan

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Are you facing the challenge of creating an Illinois parenting plan that fits your family? Did the judge ask you to submit a proposed parenting plan by a certain deadline? Do you have a parenting plan that needs to be updated? Whether it’s a post-divorce case or an initial determination of parentage, the parenting plan is what contains your expectations as well as those of the other parent. When one parent is awarded custody and the other parent is awarded visitation, that is usually found in the parenting plan. This includes the times for pick-up and drop-off as well as the exchange location. It is essentially the “rules of the road” ‘for both parties to a custody or divorce case.

The parenting plan is an Order of Court, which both parents are legally bound to follow. Establishing co-parenting responsibilities through a well-structured plan is important for your child’s well-being and often required by law. An effective parenting plan outlines decision-making authority, living arrangements, and parenting time schedules, ensuring each parent’s role in the child’s life is clear and actionable. The parenting plan is about parental rights, because it provides the guidelines and requirements of both parties pertaining to their co-parenting relationship. There are ways to customize your parenting plan to the unique facts of your case, but their are also general guidelines that are extremely helpful for almost every co-parenting relationship.

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Understanding Illinois Parenting Plans

Navigating the transition from a single household to two separate homes can be a stressful undertaking for parents after a divorce. It is during these types of challenging situations that an Illinois parenting plan serves as the guiding light of stability. Parents are typically free to deviate from the parenting plan language, such as by reaching a temporary agreement between the parties outside of the plan terms. This is not uncommon, but the important part is to know that the parenting plan is what the parties must follow in the event of a disagreement. Parenting plans address and award parental rights, including but not limited to the right to:

An Illinois parenting plan delineates the individuals accountable for making decisions for a child and how these pivotal decisions will be executed. It serves to outline child custody, visitation, and decision-making responsibilities for their children. Importantly, it paves the way for each parent to share responsibilities and remain actively involved with their child. In the aftermath of a separation or divorce, this plan offers a much-needed sense of structure and normalcy, providing a framework for the child’s custody. Even in the best of co-parenting relationship, it’s hard to imagine that there will be no disagreements or that no misunderstandings will ever occur. To put it simply, everyone should have a parenting plan because you cannot be on the same page without the agreement being written down.

In Illinois, parents are encouraged to decide their own parenting plans, because the parents are far more knowledgeable about the needs of the children than the judge. Judges have only a short number of hours to usually determine what has occurred over the course of years in the family. Parents deciding their own parenting plans allows them to choose own their destiny, and the parents are significantly more likely to reach a parenting plan that contains workable terms that will be followed. The parents should work together to integrate tailored provisions to accommodate any distinctive situations of the parties, to address the specific needs of the children involved, and establish an optimal parenting arrangement tailored to the specific circumstances of the family.

Defining Parental Responsibilities

While the phrase ‘parental responsibilities’ might seem confusing in the context of parenting plans or custody cases, it’s actually a simple concept. Illinois law has generally eliminated the term “custody” and replaced the term with “parental rights and responsibilities” as well as the term “parenting time.” Lawyers commonly use the phrase “custody” as short hand to explain what is described as “parental rights and responsibilities.” Although the concept of custody is still utilized in family courts, the language is used much less frequently. Traditionally, the Court previously awarded one parent “custody” and awarded the other parent “visitation.” With the advent of the “parental responsibilities” language, the Court provides each parent with “parenting time” rather than providing “custody” to one parent and “visitation” to the other parent. This was a good development for non-custodial parents that previously were considered to be “visiting” their children.

Parental responsibilities also encompass decision-making authority and day-to-day care for the child. This includes decisions related to the child’s education, health, religion, and extracurricular activities. Prior to Illinois eliminating the word “custody” from the statute, the decision-making authority was called “legal custody.” Decision-making authority is also sometimes referred to as “parental responsibilities.” Although the term custody is not utilized as commonly in Illinois, there is still the option for one parent to have the majority of parenting time in Illinois and sole or joint significant decision making authority. In Illinois, joint parenting responsibility results in both parents making significant decisions about the child together, whereas sole parenting responsibility involves one parent having the exclusive right to make these significant decisions. Importantly, even a parent lacking decision making authority is still authorized to make emergency decisions while the child is under their care. Note that a parent being awarded sole custody or sole decision making does not mean that the parent can deny parenting time or move or relocate out-of-state, but that is a common misconception.

Outlining Parenting Time

Parenting time refers to the schedule that determines each parent’s placement or physical custody of the child. Under a shared parenting time setup, the parent who is allocated more time for parenting duties is usually considered the primary caregiver. The parenting time schedule should be specific and straight forward, meaning the start time and end time of each party’s placement should be clearly defined. There should be only exceedingly rare instances where the parenting time is not defined but arranged by the agreement of the parties or contingent on another event. If the parties were able to reach an agreement on parenting time on their own, perhaps they would not need a parenting plan to begin with. The parenting plan should also specify the exchange location for the parenting time transitions, and the parties should have clear expectations of their responsibilities regarding transportation.

Is the pick-up location the home of the parent ending parenting time or the parent starting parenting time? If the arrangement is to pick-up or drop-off the child at school, what location do the parties use when school is not in session? Is there a meeting point half way for visitation exchanges? Should the pick-up and drop-off occur at well lit public place, or even take place at the police station? How long does the parent dropping off the child have to wait if the other parent does not come to the visitation exchange on time? Does the parent starting visitation have to be the parent that actually receives the child? Can the parent with custody have a boyfriend or another third party pick up the child? Do the parties have to offer the child to the other parent if the party designated to have parenting time is unavailable during their designated parenting time? Is the schedule the same during the summer as it is during the school year? Does a parent with sole decision making have to talk to the other parent before making the decision, even though they still have the final say? Answers to all of these questions can be included in the parenting plan, and doing so would lesson the likelihood of a conflict between the parties in the future.

Successful co-parenting is much like a ship that needs a compass for direction, because it relies on consistent channels of communication. Establishing a preferred method of communication with your co-parent can help streamline discussions on issues and sharing of schedules, forming the fundamental basis for successful co-parenting relationships.

Importance of a Well-Structured Plan

A well-structured parenting plan serves as a guiding compass, much like how it navigates a ship through rough seas. It aids in conflict resolution and puts the child’s interests first. By fostering consistency and reducing conflict, it helps to reduce stress for separated parents. Considering the needs and routine of the child is crucial when drafting a successful parenting plan. Moreover, it’s important to take into account the child’s existing commitments and routines when creating the parenting plan to maintain their ongoing participation in activities and events.

Although parenting plans can and should be customized to the needs of the children, be advised that there is some danger that accompanies extremely lengthy parenting plans. There are often unintended consequences and increased opportunities for confusion or ambiguity in the language, when there is language that is meant to account for nearly every possible future scenario. This is especially problematic when one parent is particularly controlling or not working in good faith. Simply put: the more language contained in a parenting plan, the more language there is to fight over.

Key Components of an Illinois Parenting Plan

Parenting plans normally should include detailed information about each parent. This includes personal contact information and employment details. Having this information at hand not only facilitates communication and coordination but also aids in problem-solving situations. Illinois parenting plans must include the names or initials of all children involved, their birthdates, and should also include their special needs and other considerations. The parts of the child’s upbringing that the parties agree on should also be included in the parenting plan. For example, if the parties agree that it is necessary that the child stick with the same medical specialist, that can be provided for as an agreed provision in the parenting plan. Similarly, if both parents agree that the minor child should be kept in public school through high school, that provision can also be included in the parenting plan of the parties.

Decision-Making Provisions

The decision-making provisions form another critical aspect of an Illinois parenting plan. Decision-making authority can be allocated between the parties as sole decisions to one party, sole decisions to the other party, or as joint decisions made by both parties. These provisions delineate the parent responsible for making substantial decisions concerning the child’s wellbeing, including:

This clarity in roles and responsibilities for significant decision-making authority serves as a safeguard to ensure the child’s best interests continue to be served following the separation of parents. Illinois custody law permits sole decisions to be divided between the parties, such as one parent having sole significant decision-making for healthcare decisions and the other parent having sole significant decision-making for educational decisions. Rather than dividing up the various categories of decision-making between the two parents, the more common approach is allocate all of the decision-making in the same manner across the various decision-making categories. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, each and every determination of decision-making authority must be in furtherance of the minor child’s best interests.

Establishing Regular and Holiday Parenting Time Schedules

Regular and holiday schedules are the foundation of your parenting time arrangement. The Court typically awards substantial parenting time to both parents, except in cases where the other parent is unable to be located, is unwilling to spend time with the child, or is extremely abusive and neglectful. Parenting plans are highly customizable. Every parenting plan is different, and the terms of the parenting plan should be crafted based on the needs of your children. When determining an optimal parenting schedule in custody cases, both parents need to take into account the child’s physical and emotional needs without causing significant disruption to the minor child’s routines.

Generally, parenting plans should not be undefined and should not leave the parties to sort out the details themselves. Rather, the schedule should be a “fixed schedule” or defined with specific times and days for when parenting time begins for one parent and ends for the other. The parenting time schedule may need variances and flexibility. However, if possible, the schedule should be a reliable and non-variable schedule. The parenting time schedule should encompass the allocation of time during weekdays, weekends, and the distribution of specific significant holidays and school vacations between the parents.

Holiday schedules should also prioritize family time and should contemplate the future plans and past practices of the parties. For example, if the mother’s side of the family traditionally celebrates on Christmas Day and the father’s side of the family traditionally celebrates on Christmas Eve, the holiday parenting time in the parenting plan should be allocated in that same manner. Otherwise, holidays should be split in an equal or equitable manner between the two parents. You also should give serious consideration as to whether most holidays in your parenting plan include an overnight or whether most holidays in your parenting plan include only a daytime visit.

There are various possible arrangements for the equal division of holiday parenting time. The most common approach is that each major holiday is awarded one, every other year. For example, the parent who has Christmas Day in even years would receive Christmas Eve in odd years, and vice versa. This is not ideal for some families, because each parent would have to go two years without celebrating on holidays with the child before it’s their year again.

Splitting the day itself is also a common approach for sharing holiday parenting time. In this instance one parent would have all morning or until the middle of the day, the other parent would have all afternoon into the evening on the holiday. Which parent has the morning and which parent has the afternoon can either stay the same each year or rotate every other year. The benefit of this approach is that each parent gets to see the child on every major holiday.

Parenting plans can also include birthdays, graduations, weddings, family reunions, other situations that would require special parenting time for one of the two parents. You should not go overboard on customizing your special day parenting time, but everyone should be allowed to include any day that is special and important to them as a day for parenting time in their parenting plan. The key here is to strike a balance that ensures fair parenting time with each parent and respects the child’s physical and psychological needs without significant disruption.

Types of Parenting Plan Schedules

Regular or routine parenting time is arguably as important as holiday parenting time, if not more important. Historically, the prevalent custody schedule provided one parent having twelve nights every two weeks, and the other parent having two nights every two weeks. This was commonly referred to as the every-other-weekend schedule. In addition to the every other weekend schedule, the custody judges are periodically inclined to apply parenting time schedules that allocate equal parenting time. This includes a “7-7” schedule, a “3-4-4-3” schedule, and a “5-5-2-2” schedule, each of which describe the number of days of parenting time that is provided to each parent over the course of 14 days. These, like most parenting time schedules, start over again after the completion of every two week period.

The “7-7” schedule is where each parent rotates parenting time weekly. Pick-up and drop-off usually occur at the same time every Sunday, and this schedule allows for the fewest number of visitation exchanges. It’s good to have fewer exchanges, because transitions can be hard on the child, and each visitation exchange is an opportunity for conflict to possibly occur between the parents in front of the child.

The “3-4-4-3” schedule is where each parent has four of seven days in one week, and three of seven days the following weeks. Like all of these examples, this is another schedule that starts over every 14 days. In a “3-4-4-3” situation, one parent has Monday and Tuesday of every week and the other parent has Thursday and Friday every week. In addition, each parent receives every other weekend, and every other Wednesday.

The “5-5-2-2” schedule is where one parent has five of seven days the first week, followed by two of seven days the following week. The benefit of a “5-5-2-2 schedule is that it allows for extended parenting time each week, without either parenting having to go a week without seeing their children. Note that all of these parenting time arrangements result in each parenting having the children every other weekend. The non-custodial parent having extra weekday visitation during the week that does not include the non-custodial parent’s weekend visitation is another common approach to parenting time schedules.

The Right of First Refusal

The right of first refusal is also a common parenting time provision found in Illinois parenting plans. The right of first refusal is not automatic, but the Court has the discretion to order both parties to follow it. The right of first refusal is the principle that the child or children should be with one parent when the child cannot be with the other parent. In other words, the right of first refusal stands for the notion that a child should be with one of the child’s two parents whenever possible. The terms of the parenting plan would state, for example, the following language: When either parent is designated to have parenting time but is unable to exercise their parenting time during their scheduled time, then the parent designated to have parenting time shall offer the child to the other parent.

The right of first refusal does not apply in all cases, but it is becoming a more common tool used by family law and custody judges. In determining whether the right of first refusal will apply, the Court considers the history of the parents’ relationship, the likelihood of the parents encountering a disagreement, and the ability of the parents to resolve their disputes when disagreements arise.


Once you’ve submitted your proposed plan that is signed and agreed upon by both parents, you will need to obtain the Court’s approval. Your parenting plan will not be official until adopted and approved by the Court. The Court’s approval is contingent upon the proposed parenting plan being in the best interests of the child. The Court’s primary goal is ensuring the well-being of the child is maintained. Remember that if you need to make any modifications to your parenting plan after it’s adopted by the Court and entered, those changes will also require Court approval. Court approval is required, because the Court’s approval and adoption of the parenting plan is what gives the Court the power to enforce the parenting plan through Contempt of Court. The Court will always be required to consider the best interests of the children in deciding or approving the terms of the parenting plan.

Comprehensive parenting plans are made up of several key pieces that come together to form a cohesive whole. You need to understand these components to create an effective parenting plan that caters to the unique needs of your family. In conclusion, crafting an effective Illinois parenting plan is a journey that requires thoughtful consideration, open communication about plans for the future, and a commitment to prioritizing the child’s best interests. With these tools and resources at your disposal, you will be more empowered to navigate your co-parenting journey. Remember, the journey may be challenging, but the destination is worth the effort.

Frequently Asked Questions

What to do when your ex refuses to co-parent?

It may be time to consult a custody attorney if your ex is refusing to co-parent and follow the details outlined in your parenting agreement. The judge cannot make your ex become a decent person, but there are parenting plan modifications and other tangible remedies at the Court’s disposal to curb the aggressive behavior of your ex when the conduct is abusive or harmful for the child.

What happens if parents don’t agree on parenting plan?

If parents don’t agree on a parenting plan, the parties will likely be required to attend mediation. By providing a platform for parents to engage in constructive and amicable discussions, mediation can help resolve disputes regarding provisions of the plan and avoid litigation. If the parents are still unable to reach an agreement together, the next step is for each parent to provide their own proposed parenting plan so the judge knows the positions of each party. A judge will then consider both proposed parenting plans and conduct a custody trial before issuing a final court order based on the evidence, which should be determined in a manner consistent with the child’s best interests.

How do I get a parenting plan?

The first step in obtaining a parenting plan is petitioning for parental responsibilities, which is a formal written request filed with the appropriate state Court. This involves filing a petition for allocation of parental responsibilities with the clerk of the circuit court in the county where the child resides. The parties will then need to determine whether they will be deciding the parenting plan together, or whether the parenting plan will be decided by the judge over one or both party’s objections. You cannot have a parenting plan enter without first petitioning for parental responsibilities or having a Court case on filed in the appropriate jurisdiction.

Consult with Family Law Attorney Zachary Townsend

Call or text today – (815) 200-8802

During your consultation, Attorney Townsend will go over the history of your legal matter, ascertain your goals, and help you develop a new path forward for you and your family.
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