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DuPage County parenting plan lawyerA divorce is never a walk in the park. However, if you and your spouse have children, it can make the ordeal even more complex. In Illinois, you are required to create a parenting plan that describes how you and the other parent will take care of your kids after your divorce is finalized. Including the right elements is critical to promoting your children’s well-being, and it can also help you maintain a positive co-parenting relationship with your former spouse.

Elements You Must Include in Your Parenting Plan

According to Illinois law, there are certain elements that should be included in your parenting plan, including:

dupage county divorce lawyerIn recent weeks, we have looked at some of the common challenges that arise for parents of infants and toddlers and elementary-aged children during the divorce process. This week, we continue with helpful information for parents of teenagers. Parenting teenage children can be challenging even under the best circumstances, and it can be especially difficult to help them cope with your divorce. It is important to make an effort to understand their needs and to address them through your child support order and the allocation of parental responsibilities.

The Effects of Divorce on Teenagers

Teenagers are likely to cope with divorce very differently when compared to younger age groups. On the one hand, their advanced maturity level may help them better understand the reasons for your divorce, and you may be able to have more meaningful conversations with them about the process. However, you should still try to keep the parent-child relationship in mind and avoid treating your child like a friend or confidant, especially when it comes to complaining about their other parent.

On the other hand, teenagers may also turn to unhealthy or destructive coping mechanisms if the divorce process is particularly hard on them. They may be susceptible to substance abuse and other risk-taking behavior, and they could struggle to maintain healthy relationships with their friends or romantic partners. Many teens also see their academic performance suffer during the divorce process, and they could even begin to show symptoms of serious mental health issues like anxiety and depression. If you see that your child is having a difficult time, make yourself available to talk and consider seeking help from a professional therapist if necessary.

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dupage county child custody lawyerIn our last blog, we discussed some of the challenges that Illinois parents of infants and toddlers often face when getting a divorce. We know that parents of children of all ages need support during the divorce process, and we continue this week by addressing some important considerations for parents of children who are in elementary school. The unique needs of children of this age require special attention when it comes to issues like child custody and child support.

How Do Elementary-Aged Children Respond to Divorce?

By the time children reach the age of 5, they are starting to form more lasting memories and become more aware of the world around them. This awareness only increases as time goes on. Elementary-aged children may pick up on signs of the divorce, especially if there is visible conflict between their parents, but they are unlikely to fully understand what is happening and why. As a result, they may have many questions about the divorce, most of which revolve around their concerns that they are at fault. They may be worried that their behavior is making one of the parents want to leave, or even that their parents do not love them anymore. The stress of the divorce can also affect a child’s relationships with their friends and peers, as well as their performance in school and their general mood. In many cases, a child psychologist or family therapist can be beneficial to help children of this age cope.

Providing for Elementary-Aged Children in Your Divorce Resolution

Children between the ages of 5 and 10 are often more amenable to shared parenting time arrangements, and this is an important consideration when you and your spouse are working out a parenting plan. However, elementary school children also have a school routine to consider, and they are often starting to get involved in sports, clubs, and other extracurricular activities.

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wheaton divorce lawyerThe birth of a child is often cause for celebration, and many parents find that their relationship grows stronger as they work together to raise their child. Unfortunately, however, some parents decide that their marriage is no longer working soon after their child is born. Getting a divorce when you have an infant or toddler can be especially hard, and it is important to think carefully about your child’s needs and best interests as you work to resolve divorce issues.

How Does Divorce Affect Infants and Toddlers?

Children under the age of three will not understand the reasons for a divorce, and research suggests that they may not even form lasting memories of the events surrounding the divorce. However, because these years are so important to a child’s development, divorce can still affect them significantly. Hurtful conflict between parents and constant interruptions to the child’s routine can cause trauma with effects that resurface as the child gets older. There may also be more immediately noticeable effects. For example, your child may become more dependent on you or the other parent or regress in their development with regard to sleep routines and potty training.

Parental Responsibility and Child Support Considerations

Often, the best way to support your infant or toddler throughout the divorce process is to commit to working together with your spouse to create a parenting plan that considers their best interests. Consistency is especially important for young children, so it may be best to create a parenting time schedule in which your child mostly stays with one parent while the other parent has scheduled visitation time.

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Wheaton family law attorneysWhether or not a child’s parents are married, the child often benefits from having both parents involved in his or her life. Many parents are also invested in securing and maintaining a relationship with their child. Unfortunately, for unmarried fathers, such a relationship is not necessarily guaranteed. However, there is a legal process that unmarried fathers can follow to secure the basic rights of parentage, along with an allocated share of parenting time and parental responsibilities in many cases.

Establishing Legal Paternity

Before an unmarried father can ask for parenting time or parental responsibilities, he will need to be recognized as the child’s legal parent. In Illinois, there is more than one way for a man to establish legal paternity. First, along with the child’s mother, he can sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity (VAP) and file it with the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. Provided that there are no objections or competing claims from other alleged fathers, this is usually the most simple method of securing parental rights.

If a VAP is not possible, perhaps because the mother is not in agreement or there is uncertainty regarding the child’s biological father, a man can petition the court for an adjudication of paternity. As part of this process, the man can submit to genetic testing and present other evidence and testimony to support his claim of fatherhood. If the results of the test show that the man is most likely the child’s father, the court can issue a judicial order of parentage, providing the father with basic rights and an obligation to contribute to child support.

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Wheaton divorce attorneysAs a parent, one of your biggest concerns in the divorce process is likely how the divorce will affect your relationship with your children, especially if they will not be living with you full-time. Fortunately, in most cases the court will try to establish an arrangement that allocates substantial parenting time to both parents, provided that doing so is in the children’s best interests. However, there are circumstances in which parenting time can be restricted, and it is important to understand whether they may apply to your case. 

Reasons for Restricting Parenting Time

The primary reason an Illinois court will order restrictions on parenting time is a finding that time with a parent is likely to put the children’s physical, emotional, mental, or moral health in danger. The decision to restrict parenting time is not taken lightly and requires substantial evidence of dangerous behavior on the part of a parent. Possible behaviors that may be considered to endanger a child’s health include:

  • Abandonment or neglect of the child
  • Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse of the child or another person in the household
  • Criminal acts including sex offenses and other violent crimes
  • Substance abuse that interferes with parenting abilities
  • Relationships with other people who pose a danger to the child
  • Attempts to interfere with the other parent’s access to the child

In some cases, restrictions are included in the initial allocation of parenting time established during the divorce process. In other cases, events after the divorce necessitate restrictions or conditions on parenting time. This could be the case if new evidence comes to light, new behavior surfaces, or a parent violates or abuses the parenting time order. 

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Wheaton family law attorneysIf you have been through a divorce, it is understandable that you may want a break from the legal process after working tirelessly to reach a resolution on important decisions including your parenting agreement. However, it is important to realize that circumstances change over time, and what worked for you, your children, and your former spouse at the time of the divorce may not be as effective a few years later. If you find that your situation has changed substantially, it may be best to petition for a modification of your parenting plan.

Modifying Parenting Time in Illinois

Perhaps the most likely element of your parenting plan that may require modification is your parenting time arrangement. As circumstances and preferences change, it may be best to adjust either the distribution of time spent with each parent, the specific schedule of days, or both. You can modify parenting time at any point after your divorce as long as it is in your children’s best interests and you can demonstrate that one or more of the following is true:

  • The circumstances of you, your ex, or your children have changed. Possible examples include a change in your work schedule or your children’s school schedule, a relocation of one or both parents, or a change in your children’s preferences as they get older.
  • The requested modification is consistent with the actual care arrangement for the past six months. This means that in practice, you and your ex have begun to deviate from the original schedule with neither of you objecting.
  • The modification is minor, perhaps involving a simple schedule change or an update to holiday agreements.
  • The modification is necessary based on something that the court was not aware of at the time of the original agreement.
  • Both parents are in agreement on the modification.

Modifying Parental Decision-Making Responsibilities

On the other hand, decision-making responsibilities related to your children’s education, religion, health, and extracurricular activities can usually not be modified for the first two years after your original agreement, unless the modification is necessary to protect the children from harm or dangerous influences. After two years, decision-making responsibilities can be modified for the same reasons as parenting time.

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DuPage County divorce attorney parental relocation

After a divorce, it can be challenging to co-parent between two different households, and the challenge is bound to increase the farther apart the two parents live. Nevertheless, you may find yourself in a situation in which you need to move for career or personal reasons and want your children to come with you. Illinois law allows for a parent’s relocation under certain circumstances, but if you are planning to move more than 25 or 50 miles away from your children’s other parent, depending on the county where you currently live, you will be required to present your case to the court for approval.

Preparing for Questions in Your Relocation Hearing

As the court considers your relocation request, they will ask you a variety of questions to determine whether the move is in your children’s best interests. These questions may include:

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Illinois parental alienation attorneysWhile most parents only want what is best for their children, there are those who are more focused on “winning” than the child’s best interest. Some may even go so far as to commit parental alienation. In today’s post, you will learn more about parental alienation, including how to determine if your child may be a victim, and what actions can be taken to protect the child. 

What is Parental Alienation?

Minor issues, such as arguments in front of the kids and ill-spoken words are fairly common in the initial stages of a divorce or separation. Though still harmful, these negative behaviors typically dissipate over time. Each parent heals from their grief or anger, sees the nature of their wrongs, and strives to improve for the benefit of the child. 

Parental alienation is different, specifically in terms of severity and the long-term continuance of the offending parent’s poor behavior. Their reasons behind it are varied (i.e. a need or desire to control, fear of losing the child’s love or affection, wanting to hurt or get even with the other parent), but the results are often devastatingly similar. The child suffers mentally and emotionally and, as a result, they may develop maladjustment issues, such as an identity crisis, depression, or even outright hatred toward a parent that they once loved dearly. 

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Wheaton family law attorneysIn an ideal world, every divorced or separate couple would put their differences aside and make great efforts to effectively co-parent their children. Unfortunately, the world is quite far from ideal. Some parents are narcissistic or vengeful. Some are abusive. In either case, the healthy parent is hindered in their co-parenting efforts, and the child may suffer. Parallel parenting may be a solution to these difficult situations. 

What is Parallel Parenting?

Parallel parenting requires each parent to focus on their own interactions with the child. You do not concern yourself with the rules at your ex’s house. You let go of concerns over diet, bedtimes, and discipline (unless there is abuse, in which case you are encouraged to talk to an attorney about your options). In short, you do you and allow the other parent to do the same.

While it may seem strange to let go of what happens when your child is away, odds are, the other parent also wants what is best for the child. They may not make the same decisions that you would, and their rules may be different, but that does not necessarily make them wrong. 

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Illinois parenting plan attorneysWhen parents divorce, they must prioritize what is best for their children. More often than not, this means that each parent should stay emotionally and physically involved in their child’s day-to-day life. How do you do that while living in separate households? In most cases, the details are outlined in a document known as a parenting plan

What is a Parenting Plan?

Parenting plans are legal court documents that are used to outline each parent’s roles and responsibilities as it pertains to meeting the needs of their child. 

What is Included in a Parenting Plan? 

Parenting plans cover more than just parenting time allotment. Designed to address all the needs of a child during the divorce, parenting plans cover a host of child-related issues, including:

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Wheaton parenting time attorneysMatters pertaining to children tend to be some of the most sensitive issues in divorce - and rightfully so. The child’s mental and emotional state, academic performance, and future potential are all at risk. Thankfully, studies show that ample time and continued support from each parent can improve the outcome for children of divorce. 

Not sure how to determine how much time each of you should have? Afraid you may be selling yourself (or your child) short? Check out these eight factors and consider them when drafting your Illinois parenting plan for some guidance. Also, learn how a seasoned family law attorney can protect the best interests of both you and your child. 

1. Age and Temperament of the Child

While studies suggest that children of all ages can handle overnight stays away from home, infants and toddlers may struggle to adjust in the beginning. Younger, school-aged children may need a consistent and reliable schedule that minimizes stress and allows them to focus on their studies. Older children may have their own preferences regarding where they will live day-to-day, which should also be considered. However, they may not need the same regularity in their schedules as younger kids, so parents may be able to do more frequent exchanges.

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Illinois parenting time lawyersThe entire country is being advised to practice social distancing and quarantine procedures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Parents who share children but live in separate households are both concerned and unnerved about what this could mean for their families. Check out these options for divorced, legally separated, and non-wed families parenting in separate households. 

Keeping Visitation Schedules the Same 

Many of the families that have not been affected by the virus are opting to keep their visitation schedule the same for now. Their children continue to transition between homes. As long as nothing changes, and each household practices social distancing or in-home quarantine, this should not be an issue, so long as no one becomes infected. Parents who continue visitation their schedules as they are may want to also develop a plan for handling a positive COVID-19 case within the family. Some things to consider include:

  • Where the child will stay if one or both parents become infected,
  • Who will care for the child if they end up contracting COVID-19, and
  • How the family can still bond if forced to quarantine in separate households. 

Changing Visitation Schedules Under Quarantine

Families under full quarantine (mostly in high-risk areas) may want to consider changing their visitation schedule to reduce the chances of sending the virus to both homes. Incubation for COVID-19 is anywhere from seven to 11 days, so the most prudent schedule would likely be a two-week exchange. Parents can verbally make such an agreement verbally, but it is better to have a legal document in place, just to be safe. Your family law attorney can help. 

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Wheaton divorce lawyersDivorce can be painful and confusing for any child, but most of them do eventually adjust. In contrast, children with special needs sometimes struggle to comprehend the reason why their family is fracturing. Worse yet, all the changes in their lives may cause them to regress or suffer from mental, emotional, or behavioral problems. Thankfully, parents can help ease the transition for their special needs children by carefully protecting their interests. 

Start with Communication 

When divorcing with a special needs child, communication is critical - and not just with your child. You also need to communicate with your spouse in a healthy, non-combative way. It is also important for you to effectively communicate with your attorney so that they can help you in drafting a parenting plan to suit your child’s specific needs. 

Implement Change Slowly (and Change as Little as Possible) 

Change can be difficult for children with special needs, and depending on the situation, it can lead to regression and other issues. Slow and gradual change can reduce the risk. It may also be possible to eliminate some changes. For example, parents might want to consider bird nesting - or, at the very least, keeping the child in the same home - until they have adjusted to the first set of major changes in their lives. 

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Illinois parenting plan attorneysWhen married parents decide to divorce, they must develop a parenting plan that addresses both the allocation of parental rights (formerly known as child custody) and parenting time (formerly known as visitation). The details of that plan are used to draft a legal document that is then registered with the courts.

Once entered, parenting plans are considered a legally binding agreement between the two parents; failure to comply could result in severe and costly consequences. As such, it is critical that divorcing couples fully understand the differences, limitations, and nuances of both parenting plan components. Learn more with help from the following sections. 

Allocation of Parental Rights 

The allocation of parental rights determines the amount of decision-making power that a parent has in their child’s life, particularly when it comes to “hot button” issues like education, medical care, and religious practices. It is important to note that a parent does not lose their right to have a say in their child’s life if they do not receive an equal or greater allocation. Instead, the other parent simply has the “final say,” and they are able to make smaller, day-to-day decisions without having to consult the other parent. 

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llinois parenting time lawyersAccording to studies on divorce, children tend to adjust best when they have the continued love and support of both parents. While many divorcing couples understand this and strive to ensure that the child has time and a connection with both parties, some struggle to find common ground. In such a scenario, the courts may be forced to decide where the child will live and go to school, but what happens between the filing of paperwork and the finalization of divorce?

Prioritizing the Best Interests of the Child 

Divorce can bring out the worst in people. Not only do they have to completely rearrange their lives, but they are also dealing with a perceived loss, which can lead to feelings of grief. If unmanaged, grief can lead to feelings of anger and resentment toward one’s spouse. Those emotions can be further amplified if one feels that their spouse is responsible for the divorce, or is trying to “take the child away.” There are other scenarios that can create strife in a divorce as well, such as a party feeling like they are losing their child, or that they are not getting enough time with them. 

Though these feelings typically subside over time, the actions taken while they occur can have a life-long impact on the child. Words said can cause the child to feel as though they are wrong for missing their other parent or wanting to spend time with them. Children may also become frightened or worried that the other parent will stop loving them or disappear. As a parent, it is your job to help your child deal with and combat these negative feelings and emotions by ensuring the child has a healthy and continued relationship with both of their parents. Work hard to prioritize their best interests and find a healthy way to deal with the feelings of loss and grief that may arise during the divorce process. 

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Illinois family law attorneysIn a divorce, the safety and well-being of children are prioritized by the courts. As such, accusations of abuse and parental alienation are treated as serious matters. Learn how abuse and alienation claims are handled by the family courts, how it may impact your parental rights, and what you can do to improve your chances of a positive outcome in your Illinois divorce

Immediate Effects of Abuse and Alienation Claims 

Once a claim of abuse or alienation is made, your rights may be immediately impacted. You could be subject to supervised visitation, meaning you cannot see or spend time with your children unless another adult or court-appointed supervisor is present. Depending on the situation, you may even be restricted from speaking with your child over the phone. 

Though claims may be unfounded, the courts require that an investigation take place before your rights can be fully returned to you. Typically, this means you will need to speak with a social worker or your child’s Guardian Ad Litem. They may also speak to your child’s friends, neighbors, teachers, and other persons of interest in your child’s life. 

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Wheaton divorce lawyersDivorce has seen a lot of changes since its peak in the United States. Whereas courts used to almost always award custody to the mother, with fathers being afforded very few rights, the system now recognizes that children need and deserve the love and support of both parents. Developmental and behavioral studies on children have been integral to these changes, but parents themselves have helped to pave the way as well. 

Divorcing Parents Have Created a New Trend 

While some divorce cases involving children remain acrimonious, the majority of parents recognize that their child is extremely vulnerable to behavioral and emotional trauma during parental separation. Moreover, parents are becoming more knowledgable about the negative effects that a bitter divorce can have on the future and overall development of their child. As a result, many are intentional about the way they conduct themselves during the divorce process. 

Those who struggle to get along often seek out legal support. Parents have also worked to come up with ways to minimize strife and conflict in their divorce cases (i.e. communicating through text or email and minimizing conversations over the phone and in-person). They avoid saying negative things about the other parent in the presence of their child, and they foster a healthy and continued relationship between their child and their former spouse. As a result, divorcing parents are paving the way for a better future for their kids. 

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DuPage County parenting time lawyersAs more families work toward amicable splits, the rate of full joint custody has increased. In addition, there are studies that highlight the potential benefits of a near equal time split between parents. Unfortunately, communication between divorcing parties can be stressful, even when both are focused on the well-being and best interests of their children. Gain some helpful tips for minimizing issues (and unnecessary stress) in your joint custody plan in the following sections.

1. Find a Way to Communicate Effectively

Managing a kid’s schedule is difficult enough when working out of one home. Split the bills and responsibilities and things can get downright confusing. Effective communication is the key to reducing stressors while managing schedules during a divorce. You can also incorporate online applications, such as shared family calendars.

2. Be Mindful of Your Ex’s Schedule

Even when things are tense between you and your spouse, you will want to try and be as mindful of their schedule as possible. Show up on time for pick-ups and drop-offs. If an occasional change of plans occurs, be as flexible as possible. In short, focus on being as mindful of your spouse’s schedule as you want them to be of yours.

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DuPage County parenting time lawyersBack-to-school can be a fun and exciting time for families, but for couples in the midst of a divorce, communication is critical to avoiding arguments. Learn how you and your spouse can foster a positive co-parenting experience during this hectic period with help from the following. 

Get on the Same Page (or as Close as Possible)

When it comes to educational goals, parents need to be on the same page—or at least as close as possible. Common areas of contention involve debates over private versus public school, the district in which the child should attend school, and whether extracurricular activities will be covered by child support, or if each parent will contribute to the cost of their own volition. 

Remember, at the end of the day, what you and your spouse really want is to provide the best possible education for your child, at a cost that each of you can reasonably afford. Also, keep in mind that you may spend a great deal of time, negotiating an arrangement that works for all involved parties. 

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