What is a Parenting Plan and what does it include?

In Illinois, when a divorce or parentage case is filed, the parents have 120 days to file a proposed “Parenting Plan” (formerly known as “child custody agreement” or “co-parenting agreement”) with the court. The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (“IMDMA”) defines a “Parenting Plan” as “a written agreement that allocates significant decision-making responsibilities, parenting time, or both.” In other words, a Parenting Plan is a document developed and agreed to by the parents and approved by the court, or if the parents cannot agree, established by the court, which governs the relationship between the parents regarding the child or children. In short, the Parenting Plan encompasses how the children will be cared for and supported. Since parents want to spend as much time with their children as possible, it is understandable that creating a Parenting Plan can be a very contentious process between the parties.

If the parents can agree on everything in the Parenting Plan then it will be drafted by their attorneys, entered by a judge, and will become an official court order that must be followed by both parents. The Parenting Plan will then be binding on the court, and the court must accept and approve it, so long as it is in the best interests of the child and is not unconscionable. If the parents cannot agree on all of the provisions in the Parenting Plan, the parents each submit their own proposed Parenting Plan for the judge to consider. The judge then approves the provisions on which the parents agree, and rules on the issues in which they do not agree to.

According to the IMDMA, a Parenting Plan, at a minimum, must discuss and include fifteen separate issues, all of which should be determined based on the best interests of the child or children. The two biggest issues out of the fifteen are the allocation of significant decision-making responsibilities, and provisions for the child's living arrangements and for each parent's parenting time. Allocation of significant decision-making responsibilities includes (1) education, including the choice of schools and tutors, (2) health, including all decisions relating to the medical, dental, and psychological needs of the child and to the treatments arising or resulting from those needs, (3) religion, and (4) extracurricular activities. Provisions regarding the child’s living arrangements and each parent’s parenting time addresses either (1) a schedule that designates in which parent's home the minor child will reside on given days; or (2) a formula or method for determining such a schedule in sufficient detail to be enforced in a subsequent proceeding. You should discuss with your attorney the other thirteen issues that must be included in your Parenting Plan.

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