When parents divorce, there often are disagreements about visitation regarding how often and how long, not to mention how to manage things like holidays, birthdays, and other special events. However, there are approaches couples can use to work through these issues without increasing anger and frustration. Here’s what you need to know.
What Do the Courts Look at When Determining Visitation Rights in the First Place?
When determining parenting time (formerly known as child custody) and visitation, the courts will look first and foremost at what’s in the child’s best interests. Then, they’ll look at several other factors:
- What each parent requests
- What the child wants
- How each parent interacts with the child and what kind of relationship they have
- How the child is connected to their community and school (if applicable) and how changes in visitation might affect those connections
- Mental and physical health of all relevant parties
- The relationship between the parents (for example, is it at least courteous, or does one parent disparage the other in front of the child)
- Whether or not there’s evidence of abuse of any kind in one parent’s home
The courts will also look for a parenting plan. This document the parents draw up provides specifics of how they plan to parent once the divorce is final. It should include:
- Where the child will live, whether it’s full-time with one parent or divided time between the parents
- If one parent has visitation rather than custodial parenting time, how much visitation they’ll have, how often it will occur, and how the child will be transported between the parents
- How each parent should receive any relevant information and records (medical, educational, etc.) regarding the child
When someone is drawing up a parenting plan, it’s highly advisable to have an experienced family law attorney working with them to advise and guide them through the legal nuances and ensure their parenting rights are intact.
What if the Parents Can’t Agree on Visitation?
When a couple goes through the divorce process and determines parenting and visitation, sometimes they agree on the terms, but other times they don’t. When that happens, they may find themselves unable to draw up a jointly approved parenting plan. In that case, the parents may submit separate parenting plans to the courts, outlining what they think is an equitable plan. This is not required but can assist the courts when considering how to set visitation.
Another option is mediation. Rather than letting the courts decide, the parents can work with an impartial third-party mediator who doesn’t make decisions but tries to help the parents work through negotiation and compromise to reach a solution both parents accept. This can be a less costly and time-consuming approach, and often, it’s far less contentious than taking the disagreement to court.
What if Our Current Visitation Plan Isn’t Working?
Suppose you’re a parent with a visitation plan that a divorce court approved, but it’s not working (which can happen for various reasons, including a change in employment or location, etc.). In that case, you might wonder what it takes to change that visitation plan. Most couples have the occasional conflict that arises, which they can work out on their own for a one-time-only situation.
But if permanent changes need to be made, the court needs to approve those.
The court will look at the same criteria described above, emphasizing what’s in the child’s best interests.
What if One Parent Wants to Limit or Stop the Other Parent’s Visitation?
Illinois courts take parental rights very seriously. For one parent to successfully restrict the other parent’s visitation rights (whether reducing the number or length of visits, having visits supervised, or stopping visitation altogether), the courts will expect significant reasons for that. The courts must be persuaded that the child’s physical, emotional, moral, or mental health is at grave risk from the parent with the visitation. That can reference anything such as sexual, physical, or emotional abuse or being exposed to illegal or detrimental conditions, such as one parent using illegal drugs around the child. The parent requesting the visitation changes would need substantial proof of these conditions.
As for what those changes would look like, the courts may order that visitation stops altogether; visitation takes place in the presence of the other parent or a third-party adult; or visitation takes place in the custodial parent’s home.
What Is the Right of First Refusal (ROFR)?
Sometimes, a parenting plan will include an ROFR, which is applicable for parents who share parenting time. An ROFR means that if one parent isn’t able to have the child during one of their typically scheduled times, the other parent must be offered that time slot first before offering it to anyone else, such as a grandparent, aunt and uncle, neighbor, or friend. If the parents don’t include this in their parenting plan, the judge in the case may order them to add one in certain cases.
What Should I Do if I Am Facing Issues with Visitation Rights?
Call the Law Offices of Robert Buchanan at 312-757-4833 for a no-obligation case evaluation. Our team of experienced, knowledgeable family law attorneys can walk you through your case to determine the best options going forward. We know how important your child is, and that’s why visitation matters so much. We also understand how stressful these topics can be and will try to provide assistance that can help reduce that stress.