In the Courts:
Parenting Time and Joint Decisions
By: Britney Retess
Since January 1, 2016, there have been significant amendments made to the Illinois
Marriage and Resolution Act (“Act”). These amendments were made to reflect the ever-changing
societal norms around family and child rearing. In the past, courts would often give a child’s
mother sole custody of the child. She was responsible for every aspect of taking care of the child
and made all decisions related to childcare. However, over time, the family dynamic has
changed. Fathers have begun to play just as an important role in making decisions for their
children as mothers and increasingly act as the primary parent. Legally, the definition of family
has also widened to include two same sex parents, non-parental guardians, and parents who co
parent despite divorce. The changes to the Marriage and Dissolution Act specifically addresses
the children of divorced parents and better ensures that no matter the family dynamic, each
parent has the opportunity to play an equal role in the upbringing of their child or children. The
amended Act restructures parental responsibility and includes new terms that emphasize the best
interests of the child and reflect the evolving family structure.
One of the most significant changes to the Act is how parental responsibility is allocated.
When a divorce proceeding with a child or children commences, the couple becomes responsible
for formulating a plan for how they will parent the child or children. The parents must agree on
who will make decisions regarding education, health, religion, and extracurricular activities.
Further, the plan must allocate parenting time; how much time each parent has with the child or
children. This plan includes with whom the child or children will reside with during the school
year, weekends, vacation time, holidays, or any other special days. If the parents are unable to
come to an agreement, the judge presiding over the divorce decides for the parents, keeping in
mind the best interests of the child or children.
Another major change to the Act has been the amendment of the definition of key words
in the Act, thus impacting how courts may interpret the Act. For example, “custody” is now
referred to as “decision making” and “visitation” is now referred to as “parenting time”. The
changes in the language of the Act highlight the evolution of family dynamics over the decades.
The transition from the previous language in the statute to the present language is best
exemplified in cases such as In re Marriage of Perez and In re Marriage of Adamson. Both cases
affirm that the Court has been correct in its analysis of parental allocation of time and decision-making, leading the way for the changes made in the Illinois Marriage and Resolution Act.
In re Marriage of Perez, the Court ruled on whether divorced parents could alter their
parenting plan when an existing plan was already in effect. Stacy and Robert Perez were married
and had one child, a daughter, S.P. When they divorced, Stacey and Robert agreed on a
temporary joint custody arrangement. They established a well-planned schedule designating
when each parent would have custody over S.P. Robert was given visitation rights for every
other weekend, every Monday, and dinner-time on Thursday. Robert and Stacy even agreed to a
first right of refusal if S.P. had to stay with a third party. Stacey and Robert also set a plan for
child support, health care, and education for S.P. When the marriage was finally dissolved in
2014, the Court ordered “50/50 care” allocating equal, joint-custody and responsibility for the
child. Soon after however, Stacey wanted more parenting time with S.P. and for her home to be