Often one of the hardest parts of getting a divorce is accepting that your family will no longer be living together under one roof, and that both parents will likely have to spend significant time apart from their children. Aside from the emotional coping that this may require, it can also be challenging to create a parenting time or visitation schedule that works for both parents while prioritizing the children’s best interests, especially if you and your soon-to-be ex struggle to communicate or get along.
Whenever possible, you and your spouse should consider a collaborative approach to your parenting plan that allows you to make decisions for the good of your family. When you remain open-minded and willing to cooperate, you can better explore the wide range of options that are often available for your parenting schedule. An experienced Kane County divorce lawyer can help by providing services according to your needs, including legal advice, mediation, and representation in the event your case goes to trial.
Things to Consider When Creating Your Parenting Schedule
In Illinois and many other states, the courts work to establish and approve parenting plans that protect the best interests of the children while ensuring that fit parents have a reasonable amount of time with their kids. Because each family is different, the specifics of a parenting schedule may vary significantly from case to case, with considerations for factors including:
- The children’s and parent’s ages and health
- The children’s school and extracurricular activity schedules
- The parents’ work schedules
- The locations and distance between each parent’s homes
- The preferences of the parents and children
- Each parent’s ability and willingness to care for the children
- Either parent’s history of behavior that could endanger the children
As parents, you and your spouse may have the best understanding of how these factors should be accounted for. In many cases, the court will consider a parenting plan to which both parents have already agreed, and it may either approve the plan or order adjustments that better provide for the children’s needs.
Options For Your Parenting Time Schedule
There are many possibilities when it comes to what your parenting schedule will actually look like, and it is important that you arrive at a decision that meets your family’s needs. Some options to consider include:
- A 50/50 split: An equal distribution of parenting time may work best if you and your ex will live close to each other after the divorce, you are willing and able to communicate with each other regularly, and your children are able to thrive with frequent trips between households. A 50/50 arrangement may mean each parent alternates full weeks with the children, or that children are traveling between homes throughout the week. When possible, this option can be beneficial in that it allows both parents to spend the most possible time with their kids.
- An arrangement skewed toward one parent: A visitation schedule in which one parent spends more time with the children is usually not meant to reward that parent and punish the other, but to create a feasible arrangement that best serves the children. This may be a good option if one parent has a busy work schedule or lives farther from the children’s school, or if the children would benefit from having a more stable home base. One common arrangement of this type is a schedule in which the children spend one weeknight and every other weekend with one parent and the rest of the time with the other.
- Nesting: “Nesting” is a creative arrangement in which the children always stay at one home, and the two parents rotate time there, often while sharing another residence they use on days when the children are not with them. Nesting may work regardless of the time distribution, but it usually requires the parents to get along very well with each other, and it often works best as a temporary solution until one parent can find a new, more permanent residence.
- Long-distance arrangements: If you and your ex will live far enough apart that regular travel between your homes is difficult, you may need to consider alternative arrangements that allow your children to maintain relationships with both parents. This may mean that the children live in one parent’s home for most of the year, but spend one weekend per month and summer breaks with the other parent. You may also consider factoring virtual parenting time via phone or video chat into your plan so that you can stay in touch even when your children are physically far from you.
- Special considerations for holidays and school breaks: Holidays are often an important time for your children to spend time with you as well as your extended family, and school breaks can be great opportunities for family trips. Because these times are especially valued, it is often best to make special arrangements in your parenting plan for the fair distribution of breaks and holidays, perhaps by alternating between parents each year.
- Restricted or supervised visitation: If your situation requires restricted or supervised visitation, this will likely require greater involvement from the court. Restricted visitation allows a parent with a history of behavior that could put children at risk, such as drunk driving, substance abuse, physical violence, or other criminal activity, to spend time with their children in the presence of the other parent or a responsible third-party observer. As long as the parent’s presence does not pose a direct risk to the children, this can be an important means of maintaining a parent-child relationship after a difficult situation.
Whatever your situation, you can usually find a parenting plan that works for you, and more importantly, your children. It may not be perfect, but it can at least make it possible for your kids to continue to have strong relationships with both parents, and it may even make it easier for you and your ex to work together for the well-being of your children. A St. Charles family law attorney is always ready to help you pursue a parenting time agreement that best serves your family.