By Amy Silberstein, Divorce and Family Law Attorney
Traditionally, when two parents got a divorce or were never married, and one parent had less parenting time than the other, the parent with the lesser amount of parenting time only was awarded every other weekend, sometimes with a weeknight overnight or dinner during the week when the parent did not have parenting time. This was often the case regardless of how close together the parents lived and where the child’s school was located in relation to both parents’ homes, and irrespective of the child’s age. An every other weekend parenting time schedule seemed to be the standard model that many parenting plans were based upon.
What type of parenting schedule allows me to see my child more often?
Throughout the last few years, however, there seems to be less of an emphasis on a parent having only every other weekend. Instead, there has more of an emphasis on a parent with less parenting time having a more expanded parenting role and parenting time schedule. In recent years, when a Child Representative or Guardian Ad Litem has been appointed to investigate a child’s best interests and parenting time, as long as there are no serious concerns or limitations about the parent with less parenting time, attorneys looking into a child’s best interests have more and more often been recommending more parenting time than every other weekend and a few hours during the week for the parent with less parenting time. This kind of recommendation does not always mean more overnight time, but often it means more after school or evening parenting time.
How can I make it easier for my child to live in two places?
The movement towards a more expanded parenting time schedule is that it is often in a child’s best interests to see their parent more frequently than just two or three nights in a two-week period. The expectation is that more frequent parenting time between the child and parent will give the parent and child a chance to grow a stronger bond than would develop when the child only sees a parent every other weekend and one weeknight a week. It also gives that parent the opportunity to participate in more of the day-to-day activities of the child, including participating in extracurricular and school-related activities, as well as helping with the completion of homework.
Of course, there are always exceptions. Even if a Guardian Ad Litem or Child Representative makes a recommendation for a parent to have more time as that is in the child’s best interests, not every parent wants more parenting time than every other weekend and a few hours during the week in between the weekend time. If that is the case and the parent does not want additional time, or cannot handle the additional time, the court will not force that parent to have more time.
What can prevent expanded parenting time?
There may also be other hurdles standing in the way of a parent having more parenting time than every other weekend, besides a parent not wanting more time. Even if a parent wants more time and it is in the child’s best interests in theory to spend more time with a parent, it may not always be possible in practice for a number of reasons.
Other possible impediments to a more expanded parenting time schedule include if there is a significant distance between the two parents’ homes, or between one parent’s home and a child’s school, or if a parent has a unique work schedule that does not allow for regular weekday parenting time.
Sometimes, an expanded parenting time schedule is not in a child’s best interests, such as if there are concerns about a parent’s ability to adequately care for the child, whether physically and/or emotionally, or if a parent is unwilling to do homework or help with the child’s day-to-day needs, including facilitating things like attendance at activities.
It is encouraging when a parent with less parenting time, regardless of the reason for the less amount of time, is able to have a more expanded parenting time schedule than every other weekend, and it is clearly in the minor child’s best interests when the expanded schedule works out. Again, it is not always in a child’s best interests for a parent to have expanded parenting time and it is not always possible for the parent with less time to exercise an expanded parenting time schedule.
Why Every Parenting Time Schedule Is Unique
Although recent trends in recommendations by professionals (Guardian Ad Litem or Child Representative) investigating a child’s best interests, have seemed to be moving towards recommendations of more frequent contact between a parent and the child, it is important to remember that every family situation is different, and just because expanded parenting time schedules often work out, they are not always the right schedule for every family. Every child has different needs, and every parent has a different capacity to meet their child’s needs.
The above article was originally published in the Illinois State Bar Association’s Section on Child Law Newsletter, May 2022.
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