FREE INITIAL CONSULTATION 630-505-1515

How The Illinois Parental Responsibility Law Impacts Child Custody

Before the new Illinois Parental Responsibility Law, Illinois courts would award child custody to one or both parents. Under the old system, Illinois courts could award sole or joint legal custody (sole legal custody to one parent or joint legal custody to both parents), and sole or joint physical custody (sole physical custody to one parent or joint physical custody to both parents with visitation).

However, Illinois legislators made significant changes to child custody laws in 2018. The terms child custody and visitation were replaced with “parental responsibilities,” which include both significant decision-making responsibilities and parenting time.

It is critical for parents in Naperville and Bolingbrook and throughout the state to understand how the new Illinois parental responsibility law can impact child custody. If you have questions about how current child custody laws are likely to affect your case, you should seek advice from our child custody lawyers in Naperville.

What Is Parental Responsibility in Illinois?

In order to understand how the Illinois parental responsibility law will impact child custody, it is essential to learn more about how parental responsibilities are defined in the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA). According to the IMDMA, parental responsibilities “means both parenting time and significant decision-making responsibilities with respect to a child.”

The law clarifies that significant decision-making “means deciding issues of long-term importance in the life of a child,” while parenting time “means the time during which a parent is responsible for exercising caretaking functions and non-significant decision-making responsibilities with respect to the child.”

What kinds of decisions fall into the category of significant decision-making responsibilities? Generally speaking, Illinois courts recognize the following as matters that must be considered and decided by the parent or parents who are allocated significant decision-making responsibilities:

  • Education issues, including where the child attends school, what kinds of tutors the child has for a particular subject, and what kind of education the child receives;
  • Health care, including which health care providers the child sees (such as a pediatrician, psychologist, and/or a dentist), what type of health care the child does or does not receive, and other matters pertaining to the physical and mental health and well-being of the child; and
  • Religious upbringing, including decisions about whether or not the child has any kind of religious upbringing, what religious schooling or education the child will receive, where the child attends worship services, and how and where the child engages in other religious activities.

Caretaking Functions

Caretaking functions are much different from these significant decision-making responsibilities. According to the IMDMA, caretaking functions “means tasks that involve interaction with a child or that direct, arrange, and supervise the interaction with and care of a child provided by others, or for obtaining the resources allowing for the provision of these functions.” In practical terms, the IMDMA explains that caretaking functions can include but are not limited to the following tasks:

  • Providing for the child’s nutritional needs
  • Ensuring that the child has an appropriate bedtime and wake-up time and routine
  • Providing care for the child when the child becomes sick or injured
  • Ensuring that the child’s personal hygiene needs are met
  • Making sure the child attends scheduled extracurricular activities
  • Protecting the child’s physical safety
  • Directing the child’s developmental needs, such as language skills or toilet training
  • Providing discipline
  • Instructing the child in manners
  • Assigning and supervising the child’s chores
  • Making sure the child attends school
  • Communicating with the child’s teachers as needed
  • Helping the child to develop appropriate relationships with peers and family members
  • Taking the child to scheduled medical appointments
  • Providing the child with moral and ethical guidance
  • Arranging for childcare as necessary

Parental Responsibility Allows More Flexibility in Child Custody

Now that you know more about how Illinois law defines parental responsibilities, it is important to understand how these changes to the law will affect a child custody arrangement in your divorce or separation. Generally speaking, Illinois lawmakers revised the IMDMA in order to provide more flexibility to parents.

They recognize that a one-size-fits-all model for child custody is not always effective given the variations in family needs and experiences. Accordingly, the new law allows for a much more flexible allocation of parental responsibilities.

To be clear, the court will no longer award either sole or joint legal or physical custody. Instead, the court might determine that it is in the child’s best interests for parents to share significant decision-making responsibilities and for one parent to handle medical decisions.

It may allow for the other parent to handle the child’s religious upbringing, and for the parents to make joint decisions about the child’s education. Or, in another family situation, the court might determine that it is in the child’s best interests for the parents to make all of these decisions together.

The new model allows the court to be flexible in determining how parents will share in their responsibilities. Similarly, when it comes to parenting time, the court might decide that it is in the child’s best interests for the parents to have 50/50 parenting time split equally each week, or with each parent having the child every other week.

Or, in another family situation, one parent’s complicated work schedule might mean that it is in the child’s best interests for the parents to share parenting time generally, but for one parent to have a greater number of overnights with the child.

Allocating Significant Decision-Making Responsibilities and Parenting Time

You should know that Illinois law concerning parental responsibilities does mean that there are now two ways in which parental responsibilities can be allocated: through a parenting plan or through an allocation judgment.

When both parents are able to reach an agreement about the allocation of parental responsibilities and develop a plan that is in the best interests of their child, they can create a parenting plan in which they allocate parental responsibilities themselves. Then, they can present the parenting plan to the court, and if the court agrees that the plan is in the best interests of the child, it can approve the plan so that it becomes law.

In the parenting plan, parents can allocate significant decision-making responsibilities and parenting time, or just one of the two. In other words, if the parents can only reach an agreement about the allocation of significant decision-making responsibilities or parenting time, they can allocate that portion of parental responsibilities and the court can allocate the other portion in an allocation judgment.

If parents cannot reach an agreement about the allocation of parental responsibilities, or if they can only reach an agreement about significant decision-making responsibilities or parenting time, then the court will allocate all of the remaining portions of parental responsibilities in an allocation judgment. An allocation judgment is similar to what used to be known as a child custody order.

However, rather than awarding child custody to one or both parents, the allocation judgment will outline the allocation of various and specific parental responsibilities to each parent with the type of flexibility we discussed above.

Best Interests of the Child Still Guides Custody Decisions

Although courts will no longer award child custody in sole or joint fashion under the Illinois parental responsibility laws, courts still rely on the “best interests of the child” standard in allocation parental responsibilities. When the court allocates parental responsibilities through an allocation judgment, there are a wide variety of factors that can be considered in determining what type of arrangement is in the best interests of the child.

The same applies when parents allocate parental responsibilities themselves through a parenting plan. Examples of factors cited by the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act include but are not limited to the following:

  • Child’s wishes when the child is old enough or mature enough to be able to voice a reasoned and independent preference concerning the allocation of significant decision-making responsibilities or parenting time;
  • Child’s current adjustment to his or her home, school, and community;
  • Mental and physical health of the parents and the child;
  • Parents’ ability to cooperate with one another when making significant decisions about the child’s upbringing and well-being;
  • Each parent’s past participation in significant decision-making responsibilities or parenting time;
  • Prior agreement between the parents;
  • Prior course of conduct concerning significant decision-making responsibilities and/or parenting time;
  • Parents’ wishes;
  • Specific needs of the child;
  • Distance between the parents’ residences;
  • Each parent’s willingness to help facilitate an ongoing relationship between the child and the other parent; and
  • Whether there are any reasons to restrict a parent’s parental responsibilities, such as a history of violence or conviction for a sex offense.

Contact Our Naperville and Bolingbrook Child Custody Attorneys

If you have any questions or concerns about Illinois child custody law or the allocation of parental responsibilities, an experienced Naperville and Bolingbrook child custody lawyer at our firm can answer your questions today and can provide you with more information about the current laws.

Do not hesitate to get in touch with our firm to learn more about how parental responsibilities can be allocated in your child custody case. Contact Keller Legal Services online or call us at 630-505-1515 for more information. We offer a free initial consultation.