Allocation of Parental Responsibilities
The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act no longer uses the term “custody” to describe the physical possession of a minor child or children. The legislature has changed the focus of the Act away from “possession” of the children, and redirected it to the parental responsibility of meeting the children’s needs. Therefore, in most instances, matters pertaining to the residency and care of the children is referred to as the “Allocation of Parental Responsibilities,” and the “Allocation of Parenting Time.”
Matters to be Determined:
- Decision-Making Authority - Which of the parents will be granted the authority to make major decisions for the best interests of the children, in the areas of education, healthcare, religious upbringing, and extracurricular activities. Traditionally, this decision-making authority would have been granted to one parent under a “sole custody” arrangement, or to both parents by say of a “joint custody” arrangement. Pursuant to the current Illinois statutes, the decision-making authority for each major area may be allocated separately. For instance, the Mother may have a better ability to make decisions concerning health care, while the Father may have a better ability to make decisions concerning religious activities for the children. Nevertheless, in many instances, it is in the best interests of the children that both parents have equal input and equal authority in making major decisions for their well-being.
- Allocation of Parenting Time – How the children will spend their time, living with each of their parents. In typical cases, the children would live the majority of the time with one parent, subject to reasonable parenting time, or visitation, with the other parent. Some families elect to have a more expansive parenting schedule for the non-residential parent, and some elect to arrange a schedule which involves the children spending equal time with both parents.
If the parents are unable to agree either to the allocation of parental responsibility or to the allocation of parenting time, then the matter will be determined by the court.
Often, if the allocation of parental responsibility or parenting time are disputed, the court will appoint an attorney, known as a Guardian ad Litem (“GAL”), to represent the best interests of the children. The GAL will conduct an investigation, usually involving interviews of the children and all parties involved, as well as home visits and review of documents such as medical records, school records, counseling reports, and the like. The GAL will then make recommendations to the court as to the parenting arrangement best suited to the best interests of the children.
In other cases, a court may order a parental responsibility evaluation, to be conducted by a professional psychologist/psychiatrist, which can include the following: interviews with all the parties and children involved; psychological testing of both parents and the child; review of legal records; interviews with neighbors, friends, family, child’s teachers, etc. He or she will also provide the court with recommendations as to the children’s best interests.
While the court will give serious consideration to the recommendations of the Guardian ad Litem and/or the evaluator, the court will have the final decision as to the allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time.
Regardless of disputed or undisputed parenting issues, in making its determinations, the a court will ALWAYS look to what is in the “best interests of the child”, this includes the consideration of many factors, which may include, but are not limited to the parent’s wishes, the child’s wishes, the mental and physical health of everyone involved, presence of abuse, and the ability of the parents to encourage a relationship between the child and the other parent.