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St. Charles parenting plan attorneysThe COVID-19 pandemic has affected millions of people on a global scale, from China to Italy to the United States, as well as many other countries. This novel (new) coronavirus is highly contagious and results in respiratory illness that can range from mild to life-threatening. Those who have pre-existing medical conditions or who are over the age of 65 are reportedly at a higher risk of fatalities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is aggressively responding to the worldwide outbreak of the virus, with updates and guidelines for citizens to follow. Some of these directives include isolation or quarantine orders if someone tests positive for the virus. During this unsettling time, parents who are divorced may be worried how it will affect their parenting plans

Illinois’ Response to Coronavirus 

Here in Illinois, Governor J.B. Pritzker and his administration are committed to the health and safety of citizens across the state. In an effort to flatten the curve on the number of new cases, Pritzker issued a “stay at home” order that began March 21 and tentatively runs through April 7. This means that all “non-essential” businesses are closed, including schools, restaurants (dine-in service), bars, casinos, shopping malls, salons, and more. Students are doing online schooling and people who can work from home are doing so. Government offices, medical facilities, gas stations, and grocery stores are still open. Health and county officials are urging people everywhere to practice social distancing. This means keeping six feet away from others and refraining from large gatherings or traveling unless absolutely necessary.   

Child-Related Issues Amidst the Outbreak

In an Illinois divorce, one parent is typically awarded the majority of the parental responsibilities (child custody). The non-custodial parent has designated parenting time (visitation), which is outlined in a parenting plan. This document is basically a schedule of when the children are with which parent. For example, some parents alternate weeks or weekends and holidays. However, what happens when the kids are off school for a prolonged period of time, such as during the COVID-19 outbreak?  

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St. Charles family law attorneysMany couples who are unhappy put off filing for divorce if they have children together. The thought of hurting their kids by breaking up the family can be overwhelming. However, ending a dysfunctional marriage may benefit everyone in the long run. In Illinois, parenting time (visitation) refers to when a parent sees his or her child after a divorce or breakup. Parents can develop their own arrangement for parenting time, but a judge will still have to approve the schedule. When a couple cannot reach an agreement, the court will determine an appropriate parenting time schedule for the parents.

Illinois Divorce Laws

According to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, the allocation of parental responsibilities (child custody) is divided into two main elements. The first aspect involves decision-making authority for important issues, such as education, religion, and healthcare. The second basic element of parental responsibility is parenting time, which may include the right of first refusal. This means that if a parent intends to leave a child with a caregiver for a substantial amount of time, that parent must first offer the other parent an opportunity to take care of the child. Examples of third parties include a babysitter, relative, stepparent, friend, or daycare facility. 

First Refusal Rights

When divorcing parents or the court includes the right of first refusal in a parenting plan, the plan must address details of how the right can be exercised. This includes:

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Kane County divorce lawyerAlthough it would be nice if all divorces were amicable, that is rarely the case. Even if a couple mutually decides to end their marriage, they may disagree on many of the marital issues that need to be resolved when divorcing. Some typical points of contention include dividing assets or property, determining spousal support, and creating a parenting time schedule. When children are involved, it can be hard for parents to reach common ground, especially for the allocation of parental responsibilities. Child custody disputes during the divorce process can cause both parents and children to feel anxiety and guilt. In some situations, it may be necessary to seek the professional opinions of subject matter experts in addition to a skilled divorce attorney to come to a resolution.   

How Can a Professional Evaluation Help?

When determining which parent will be awarded the majority of the parenting time, the court will consider what is in the best interest of the children when making any decisions. A judge may order one or both parents to undergo a mental health evaluation. This is often the case when one parent is worried that the other parent may pose a risk to their children due to a mental illness, substance abuse problem, or similar psychological issues. The judge then uses the findings to determine whether one parent is better equipped to care for the children. In certain cases, the results can affect parenting time rights. 

A psychologist or a licensed clinical social worker can conduct an evaluation using different personality tests and interviews. He or she then submits recommendations to help the court decide what would be best for the children’s emotional well-being. This third-party evaluation will address the developmental needs of the children and the capacity of each parent to meet those needs. He or she will consider several factors regarding the parents, including: 

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St. Charles family law attorneysParenting children under the same roof can be challenging in and of itself, but parenting them from separate homes almost always requires an even greater amount of effort. Yet, studies have consistently shown that children usually fare best in a divorce if they have the continued support of both parents. Illinois’ family laws encourage parents to work together in meeting the mental, emotional, and financial needs of their kids during and after their divorce. Most often, this goal is met through the drafting of a parenting plan, which contains two major components: the allocation of parental responsibilities (formerly known as child custody) and parenting time (previously referred to as visitation). 

Allocation of Parental Responsibilities 

Throughout the course of a normal day, parents make multiple decisions about their children’s lives and future. While most decisions are relatively minor and require no prior “clearance” or approval from the other parent, there are certain aspects of their kids’ well-being that are considered “protected.” Examples include choices regarding education and religion. Parents also have certain legal obligations to their children, such as ensuring that the children’s medical needs are met. These issues are covered under the allocation of parental responsibilities. 

Under the Illinois Marriage and Marriage Dissolution Act (IMDMA), the law seeks to ease the often difficult transition related to the division of parental rights and responsibilities, including the decision-making authority between the parents in addition to where the children will live. In handling these sections of their parenting plan, some divorcing parents may reach an agreement easily. However, they must also figure out how disagreements will be handled, should they arise in the future. 

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Kane County family law attorneysFrom big-time publications such as The New York Times and Forbes to hundreds of parenting blogs across the internet, the media is littered with strong opinions - and equally strong judgements - on the subject of divorce and stay-at-home parenting. Society, it seems, is especially hard on stay-at-home mothers who wish to remain at home after a divorce is finalized. Oddly enough, though, stay-at-home parents are bombarded with judgement no matter which path they decide to take. For many, choosing to stay at home is simply not a luxury they can afford. However, for those truly desiring to maintain their homemaker role after a divorce, even when finances are tight, the option can be explored and may still be a possibility, regardless of what critics have to say.

Stay-at-Home Parenting Preparation for Divorcing Couples

As you begin the divorce process, many factors need to be considered when deciding who will stay at home with the children or whether or not the stay-at-home parent will enter the workforce once the dissolution is final. Depending on the nature of your relationship with your ex-spouse, this can either be a contentious battle or a team effort to protect the best interests of the children and the family as a whole.

Whatever your circumstances, ask yourself the following questions as you move forward with your plans:

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