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wheaton child custody lawyerUnfortunately, some divorces are so fractious and bitter that parents cannot decide upon a parenting plan that works for everyone. Sometimes, both parents are struggling with personal issues that get in the way of their parenting capabilities. Perhaps one parent will make accusations about another parent’s behavior, and a judge is unsure whether the accusing parent is telling the truth. 

These are just a few examples of situations in which a court may decide to appoint a custody evaluator. Formally, these situations are known under Illinois law as “604b Evaluations” – when the court asks an outside representative to investigate and make a report or recommendation regarding how parental responsibilities should be allocated. 

What is a Custody Evaluator? 

A custody evaluator is almost always a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist. They complete an extensive investigation into a child’s environment to create a report about what they believe to be in the best interests of the child. Custody evaluators can be very expensive, and parents are often required to pay for the services of the custody evaluator themselves. 

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wheaton divorce lawyerNearly all divorces will involve some degree of disagreement between the couple, however, some divorces involve more disagreement than others. Sometimes, all of that resentment can also affect the way the couple parent their children. Most of the time, couples will set up a co-parenting plan that they will follow after the divorce. However, when parents do not get along with one another very well, co-parenting may be the wrong choice. Co-parenting success depends on both parents being willing to communicate and cooperate with one another to raise their children. In situations where parents are unable to do this, parallel parenting can be more effective and provide an overall more peaceful environment for everyone involved.

What is the Difference Between Co-Parenting and Parallel Parenting?

There is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to parenting. What may work for some families after a divorce may not work for another family. When it comes to co-parenting, parents usually have to be on somewhat good terms for this parenting style to work. Divorced parents who co-parent are able to attend functions at the same time, help their child transition between households without issue, and solve issues with the other co-parent when needed. Not all parents can do this, which is why some parents may find more success with parallel parenting.

In parallel parenting, parents disengage from one another on a day-to-day basis. Limiting the amount of communication between one another also limits the amount of conflict that may arise. Parents who parallel parent do not get along with one another and may even schedule separate days for certain functions and holidays. Each parent is responsible for making most everyday decisions for their children and only consult with the other parent if an issue arises, or for certain topics, like the child’s medical care. Parallel parenting can provide many benefits to families that have contentious parents and reduce the amount of stress that the children feel because of it.

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Wheaton divorce lawyer for parenting time and mental health issuesDealing with mental illness during divorce is not an uncommon issue. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 51.5 million people, or around one in five adult Americans, live with some type of mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder. While most adults who live with these illnesses find ways to adapt and cope with everyday life, divorce can be a particularly difficult period of time, especially if it involves conflict between spouses. One of the biggest issues that many divorcing parents disagree on is parenting time, which can be exacerbated if one parent has a mental illness. But can a parent actually lose their right to parenting time if they have a mental illness?

Determining the Best Interests of the Child

Any action that the court takes or decision is made involving children must be done based on the child’s best interests.  It is not of the opinion of the state of Illinois that having a mental illness, in general, means that you should not have parenting time or that you should be subject to any restrictions to your time with your children. However, a judge does have the authority to do so if he or she feels that the mental illness would endanger your child’s mental, emotional, physical, or moral well-being.

Mental Illness and Caring for Your Child

Determining parenting time when a parent has a mental illness is done on a case-by-case basis. Mental illnesses range in severity and do not affect all people in the same way. For example, a parent who has schizophrenia might pose more of a danger to their child than a parent with anxiety. Mental illnesses like schizophrenia also have a higher chance of causing a parent to be hospitalized or require care themselves. The judge will consider things such as the frequency of the occurrence of your mental health issues, the severity of the issues, and whether the issues would interfere with the child’s life.

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DuPage County parenting plan attorneyIf you are getting divorced in Illinois, and you share children with your spouse, you will be required to create a parenting agreement or parenting plan. This agreement is a detailed description of how you and your spouse will share parenting duties after your divorce, and it will ultimately become a legally binding court order. The plan also contains important information about the parents’ rights and responsibilities. Forming a parenting plan that both parents agree to is often one of the most difficult aspects of a divorce involving children. If you are a parent who is getting divorced, reach out to a skilled child custody lawyer for help with your parenting plan.

Allocation of Parental Responsibilities

Parental responsibilities refer to what was once called “legal custody” in Illinois. Major decisions about the child’s life, including decisions related to school, extracurricular activities, healthcare, and religion, fall under the umbrella of parental responsibilities. A parenting plan will need to describe which parent is in charge of these decisions. One parent may take on some or all of the decision-making responsibilities, or the parents may share these responsibilities.

Parenting Time Schedules

The time that a parent is directly responsible for the child’s daily needs is called “parenting time.” Parents are free to divide parenting time in a way that works for their unique needs. For example, one parent may take the child on the weekends, while the other parent takes the child during the week. Per Illinois law, the parenting plan must contain either a detailed schedule of how parenting time is allotted between the parents or a method for determining parenting time that is detailed enough to be legally enforceable.  Parents will also need to address how they plan to share parenting time on holidays, school vacations, and in other atypical circumstances.

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DuPage County family law attorney for holiday child custodyThis holiday season is shaping up to be like none other. If you are in the middle of a separation or divorce, your holiday season may be especially complicated. Sharing custody of children with a soon-to-be ex-spouse is hard enough, but sharing custody during the holidays can be even harder. Keep the following tips and suggestions in mind to help your holiday season go as smoothly as possible for you and your children:

Plan the Details in Advance

When a couple with children files for divorce in Illinois, they have 120 days to create and submit a “parenting plan.” This plan will describe how they will make major decisions about the child, who the child will live with on what days, how the child will be transported between homes, and much more. If you have not yet filed for divorce, or if you have not made any decisions about the allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time, you may only have a casual agreement about which parent the children will see on which days. This can lead to miscommunication and frustration. It is better to plan your holidays in advance. Decide where the children will stay on what days, when they will be picked up and dropped off, and other details, and then put these decisions in writing.

Use Technology to Your Advantage

There are many computer programs and smartphone applications that can help you and your ex collaborate when making decisions about parenting issues. Using email or text messages to communicate about children can help avoid in-person arguments, and this can also serve as an important record of the plans you and your spouse have made. Apps like Cozi, Coparently, and OurFamilyWizard allow you to keep track of schedules, expenses, and other child-related information.

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