On January 1, 2016, new laws regarding divorce and child custody went into effect in Illinois. At first glance, these new laws appear to have significantly changed child custody in the state. In fact, the very concept of “custody” has been replaced by the concept of “allocating parental responsibility” under the new legislature.
In application, however, the law is still essentially the same. What the legislature has done is to update the statute to shift focus to what is in the best interests of the children. In the past, custody of parties’ children was considered something to be “won” or “lost”, therefore encouraging parties to argue over it. In the end, however, the vast majority of parents settle on a parenting agreement that provides for both parents having parenting time with their children, and both parents taking responsibility for certain day-to-day decisions and activities.
By removing the idea of “custody” from the statute, the legislature has aimed to change attitudes when negotiating a parenting agreement. Parenting agreements will now deal primarily with the allocation of parenting time and of responsibilities as a parent. Children involved in a divorce benefit if the parties can work together to determine how to care for the child, rather than taking the position that every issue is “winner takes all” in a fight for custody.
When creating a parenting plan as part of a divorce, parties must be able to candidly discuss and agree on almost every aspect of their children’s lives. This begins with where the children will reside at different times of the week or while on vacation from school. Parents also need to agree on what school the children will attend, in what extracurricular activities the children will participate, the doctors they will see, who will transport the children to activities, and who any third-party daycare providers may be. While parents may believe these are things can be “worked out later,” it is important to remember that constant uncertainty and “ping-ponging” of the children between two households deprives them of the consistency that they will need during this time, which is why having a parenting plan in place is so important.
If parties spend time and effort on arguing over the basic custody of their children, the real issues that affect the children and their needs can often be left ignored. At the end of a divorce, when all agreements have been reached and paperwork filed, a child only requires the security of knowing they will see both parents, and that their daily lives are going to be impacted as little as possible. With this fact in mind, the Illinois legislature enacted changes that encourage cooperation between divorcing parties and place the well-being of their children above all else.