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What is Parenting Time?

Little girl and father enjoying book together, laying on floor

Different states use different terminology when it comes to defining parental rights under the law. Even within states, the terminology has changed over the last handful of years. For parents approaching divorce or other custody matters, the varied terminology can be confusing and add unnecessary additional stress to an already difficult situation. Below, we explain parenting time and other child custody terms in order to alleviate some of the mystery. If you have an Illinois child custody matter or other family law dispute, call a seasoned Chicago child custody and divorce attorney for help.

Parenting Time vs. Visitation vs. Custody

Historically, it was common for the law to distinguish between “custody” and “visitation.” The custodial parent was the parent with whom the child lived most or all of the time, while the other, non-custodial parent, was entitled to visitation. In recent years, there’s been a shift toward terminology that more appropriately reflects the roles of both parents, limiting the stigma of terms like “visitation.”

In Illinois, parental rights are broadly described as “Allocation of Parental Responsibilities.” Within those responsibilities, Illinois courts distinguish between “parenting time” and “decision-making” rights. In other states, these would be called “residential” or “physical” custody and “legal” custody.

Decision-making rights refer to the rights of each parent to make important decisions regarding the child’s upbringing. These include decisions about education, religious upbringing, medical care, and other things. The court may award certain decision-making rights to both parents, such as the right to make medical decisions for the child, and award other rights to one parent, such as the right to decide which religious education a child will receive.

Parenting time, on the other hand, covers all physical time spent with the child. This includes both where the child will reside (what other states call “residential custody”) and who gets to spend other time with the child and when (previously and elsewhere referred to as “visitation”). Broadly, parenting time refers to the schedule of time the child spends with each parent.

How is Parenting Time Allocated by the Illinois Courts

Ideally, the parties can come to an agreement on a parenting plan or parenting time schedule. The parties can then submit that plan to the court, which will review and consider whether it is appropriate. If the court approves of the plan, the court can incorporate the plan into a divorce judgment or other court order, giving it the force of law.

If the parties cannot agree, then each can present their preferred plan and the court will make the final resolution. The plan should account for weekdays, weekends, holidays, summer break, vacations, and other special occasions. In Illinois, the court is required to consider several factors before making an ultimate determination regarding the best interests of the child as well as the parents. The court will look at several specific factors prescribed by statute, including things like:

  • How much time the child has been spending with each parent in the last two years
  • The time each parent wants to spend with the child
  • The needs of the child
  • The practicality of any proposed arrangement given the distance between each parent’s home and daily schedules (school, etc.)
  • The parents’ willingness and capacity to work together to make a parenting plan work

In addition to more than a dozen specific factors, the court may consider “any other factor” that the court decides is relevant to the inquiry. Illinois courts presume the child will benefit most from spending time with both parents unless there’s good reason to restrict time with one parent (such as a history of abuse or criminal activity). A seasoned Illinois child custody attorney can help you understand your rights and how to present the strongest case for your preferred parenting time arrangement.

Call for Assistance With Your Illinois Child Custody Matter

If you are dealing with divorce, child custody, allocation of parental responsibilities, spousal support, or any other family law issue in Illinois, contact the compassionate and dedicated Carol Stream family law attorneys at Johnson, Westra, Broecker, Whittaker & Newitt for a consultation on your case at 630-665-9600.

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