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Parallel Parenting In An Illinois Divorce
Divorce is difficult. Divorce is even more difficult when the parties to divorce have children.
In theory, parents should be able to look past the issue of their divorce in order to remain partners in parenting. For lots of parents, that’s exactly what happens. Some parents can separate their enmity for their ex-spouse from their love for their children. Other parents, simply can communicate effectively with their ex-spouse and therefore cannot coparent.
While the parents cannot communicate with each other, they still want to foster a loving relationship between themselves and their children. In this case, the only option is often what’s referred to as parallel parenting.
What Is Parallel Parenting In Illinois?
Parallel parenting is an open acknowledgement that less communication between the parents is better for both the parents and the children. To effectively parent the children with an absolute minimum of interaction between the parents, the parenting plan (also known as an Allocation of Parenting Time and Parental Responsibilities).
In parallel parenting, like most divorces, both parents will be allocated individual time with the children. Unlike most divorces, the parental decision-making will be individually allocated and not shared.
“The court shall allocate decision-making responsibilities according to the child’s best interests.” 750 ILCS 5/602.5(a)
There are four areas of decision making that must be allocated in a parenting plan.
“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.
(4) Extracurricular activities.” 750 ILCS 5/602.5(b)
While these four issues must be delineated by any parenting plan, the possible decisions that can be divided are “without limitation” 750 ICS 5/602.5(b). So, if specificity will eliminate future problems, decisions could be isolated at infinitesimally small levels. Anywhere from “Dad is responsible for all sport” and “Mom is responsible for all arts” to “Dad is responsible for model trains” and “Mom is responsible for dinosaur related toys.” It doesn’t have to get ridiculous but if it avoids a fight…it’s probably worth it to be as specific as possible.
Beyond the big decision-making factors, parents who engage in parallel parenting will have (like most parents) complete decision-making power over minor issues while the children are in their care.
Allocations of Parenting Time and Parental Responsibility usually have a clause that reads as follows: “Each party shall have day-to-day decision-making abilities while they are exercising parenting time with the minor child. Day-to-day decision-making includes all routine decisions that are not included in [paragraph which delineates major decision-making]”
However, this exclusive responsibility does not mean that parents are not required to notify the other parent should something happen to the child. The Allocation of Parenting Time and Parental Responsibility will read directly thereafter: “In the event that the minor child shall become too ill to attend school, the parties agree to notify each other as soon as reasonably possible and provide all necessary doctor reports or receipts when available.“
How Does An Illinois Family Law Court Order Parallel Parenting?
If the parents can agree as to what areas of decision-making they cannot come to agreements on, those parents have, effectively decided to “agree to disagree.” The courts will recognize this agreement about respective decision-making.
More typically, if the parties cannot communicate, the parties will probably not be able to agree as to who will make what decision. In such situations, “the court shall make the determination.” 750 ICS 5/602.5(b)
How does an Illinois divorce court decide which parent will decide what? That is an especially difficult decision when the parents do not get along at all.
Illinois divorce courts make special considerations in allocating decision making for parents who cannot communicate much less agree.
Illinois divorce courts will consider “[T]he ability of the parents to cooperate to make or the level of conflict between the parties that may affect their ability to share decision-making;” 750 ILCS 5/602.5(c)(4)
Additionally, Illinois divorce courts will consider “the ability of the parents to cooperate in the arrangement” 750 ILCS 5/602.7(b)
Typically, just saying “I can’t co-parent with my child’s other parent” is sufficient proof to award just one parent a specific responsibility.
This level of enmity and/or lack of communication virtually guarantees that the court will appoint a third attorney to represent the best interests of the children. This attorney is referred to as a Guardian Ad Litem(GAL) or Child Representative.
The GAL or Child Representative will do an individual investigation (largely through interviews of the divorcing parties and the children) to determine if parallel parenting is truly the only option that is in the best interests of the children. The GAL or Child Representative will then report back to the court their recommendations (which are almost always adopted by the court).
The Dangers of Parallel Parenting After An Illinois Divorce
Asking for exclusive parenting responsibilities is a double-edged sword. You may be awarded individual responsibilities…or you may be awarded none because of your request.
Illinois divorce courts also consider “the willingness and ability of each parent to place the needs of the child ahead of his or her own needs; the willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child.” 750 ILCS 5/602.7(b)
The failure to “facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child” will be a black mark against you overall in your case….at least if the other parent is willing to “facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child”
Your ex may be petty and wish to deny you any decision-making but Illinois family law courts are empowered to do the same. “Nothing in this Act requires that each parent be allocated decision-making responsibilities.” 750 ILCS 5/602.5(a)
So, the only way to truly get parallel parenting without giving the other parent effective sole custody is to demonstrate that both parents tried to coparent together but, ultimately, could not coparent together. Otherwise, you are risk of awarding the other parent sole custody of the children.
The failure to communicate and foster a child’s relationship with the other parent looks a lot like parental alienation. The first parent to effectively accuse the other of parental alienation is on their way to more parenting time, parental responsibilities and possible supervised visitation for the other parent.
Because of these high stakes, parallel parenting usually doesn’t happen from the very start. Parallel parenting is usually the result of an initial attempt at joint decision-making which failed spectacularly. Illinois family law courts can “terminate the joint custody arrangement (but not necessarily the custody of the primary physical custodian) whenever it has become apparent that the parents cannot cooperate in the best interest of the child.” In Re Marriage of Wycoff, 639 N.E.2d 897 (Ill. App. Ct. 1994)
Alternatives To Parallel Parenting In Illinois
A complete lack of communication between parents is, effectively, impossible. If the parents can’t communicate between themselves, the children usually become the medium through which information is passed. Parallel Parenting is simply too difficult for most parents with young children who cannot effectively communicate.
In such a situation, a third-party person can be appointed to facilitate day-to-day communication and decision-making.
This third-party is called a “parenting coordinator.” In Cook County, Illinois a parenting coordinator is appointed through Cook County Rule 13.10.
“The Court may appoint a parenting coordinator when it finds the following:
- The parties failed to adequately cooperate and communicate with regard to issues involving their children, or have been unable to implement a parenting plan or parenting schedule;
- Mediation has not been successful or has been determined by the judge to be inappropriate; or
- The appointment of a parenting coordinator is in the best interests of the child or children involved in the proceedings” Cook County Court Rule 13.10
The parenting coordinator has a myriad of duties under the Cook County Rule.
“(i) The parenting coordinator shall educate, mediate, monitor court orders and make recommendations to the court as necessary. In addition, the parenting coordinator may recommend approaches that will reduce conflict between parents and reduce unnecessary stress for the children.
(ii) The parenting coordinator may monitor parental behaviors and mediate disputes concerning parenting issues and report any allegations of noncompliance to the court, if necessary.
(iii) The parenting coordinator shall recommend outside resources as needed, such as random drug screens, parenting classes and psychotherapy.
(iv) The parenting coordinator may recommend detailed guidelines or rules for communication between parents.
(v) The parenting coordinator shall maintain communication among all parties by serving, if necessary, as a conduit for information.
(vi) The parenting coordinator may meet with the parties, the children, and significant others jointly or separately. The parenting coordinator shall determine if the appointments shall be joint or separate.
(vii) Each parent should direct any disagreements or concerns regarding the children to the parenting coordinator.
(viii) The parenting coordinator shall work with both parents to attempt to resolve the conflict and, if necessary, shall recommend an appropriate resolution to the parents.” Cook County Court Rule 13.10
But, in the end, the parenting coordinator has no real authority if the parents refuse to cooperate with the parenting coordinator.
“The parenting coordinator shall not have any decision-making authority which is the sole province of the court.” Cook County Court Rule 13.10(ix)
Because of this limitation in authority, it’s my experience that parenting coordinators can only help a set of parents for a few months before one of the parents decides the parenting coordinator “went too far” and, therefore, demands to go to court again.
If the parents cannot agree, only the court can make decisions which are in the best interests of the children. Illinois divorce courts cannot have parents running back to court for every minor decision. This is why Illinois divorce courts are willing to order parallel parenting only after being demonstrated a complete inability to cooperate by both parents. When the Illinois courts do consider parallel parenting, Illinois courts will also castigate both parents for their failure to cooperate and possibly make a final ruling of effective sole custody to the parent was the least non-cooperative.
If you are considering parallel parenting, you have serious issues that need to be resolved delicately in a decidedly non-delicate situation. Contact my Chicago, Illinois family law firm for a free, no-obligation consultation with an experienced Chicago divorce attorney.