Deciding Parental Responsibilities

Deciding Parental Responsibilities

By: M. Scott Gordon

Few issues are more contentious in a divorce than the allocation of parental responsibilities, formerly known as child custody. Although it would be ideal if parents could agree on a parenting plan, the reality is that sometimes agreement is not possible. If not, you need to face the possibility of a custody fight, which means you must be prepared.

Technically, Illinois law no longer recognizes the concepts of “custody” and “visitation” but has instead replaced them with “parental responsibilities” and “parenting time.” Nevertheless, the concept of custody continues to exist: changing legal terms hasn’t changed the reality on the ground. Even if you and your ex-spouse live near each other, a 50/50 time split will often not be possible.

The Best Interests of Your Child

Judges decide child custody issues based on your child’s best interests. But what does that mean, exactly? For one thing, it does not mean that Mom always gets the children. Instead, a judge must take a 360-degree view of the current situation based on the following factors:

  • Your own wishes
  • Your child’s wishes
  • Each parent’s physical and mental health
  • How much caretaking each parent has performed in the prior 24 months
  • Any prior agreement about caretaking between you and the other parent
  • How well adjusted the child is to school, home, and the community
  • How far apart the parents live from each other
  • How willing each parent is to encourage the child to maintain a close connection with the other parent
  • Any domestic violence
  • Whether either parent is a sex offender

After analyzing all of the factors, the judge will determine when you should have the children and for how long.

Building Your Case

If you are worried about custody, you should immediately begin finding evidence that child custody with you will be in your child’s best interest. To that end, many of our clients look for the following information:

  • Testimony from people who have seen you with your children and can testify as to your bond.
  • Testimony from people who have seen the other parent with your children and can testify as to problems in the relationship. For example, someone might have seen the other parent slap your child.
  • Proof that you have spent considerable time with your child.
  • Evidence that the other parent has not performed significant caretaking for the children.
  • Evidence that the other parent has a drug or alcohol problem.

Child custody disputes can get messy. Many of our clients are uncomfortable dredging up negative information about the other parent and presenting it to the court. However, a judge needs all relevant information to make a decision. If you and your lawyer do not present this information, who will?

Anticipating Criticisms of Your Parenting Skills

The other parent’s attorney will have no problem combing through your life history to find embarrassing or negative information to use against you. That is simply the nature of a custody fight. To put yourself in the best position to win, you need to anticipate any negative information and how you will mitigate it. For example:

  • If you have a drug or alcohol problem in the past, you can show the judge you are addressing it by entering a rehab program.
  • If you have a criminal history, you can point to your volunteer work and stable employment as proof that you have been rehabilitated.
  • If you have had problems with your children—such as screaming fights in public—you can provide the missing context for the disagreements.
  • If you haven’t been around your children much because of work or other commitments, you can gather proof to show the judge that you have tried to maintain as much contact as possible, such as by making regular phone calls.

By countering this negative information, you take a good deal of “sting” out of it. But it takes time to find evidence, so mention any negative information to your lawyer so you can begin countering it right away.

Are You Worried about a Custody Fight? Contact a Chicago Divorce Lawyer Today

Disputes around custody have not changed simply because Illinois replaced “custody” with “parental responsibilities.” If you are worried about who your children will live with, you should seek out legal help right away. The Chicago divorce lawyers at Gordon & Perlut, LLC are happy to meet with you. Please contact us for a free consultation.