When it comes to custody arrangements in Illinois, courts all-but require parents to submit a parenting plan for review before making a determination. When necessary, a court will decide a custody arrangement, but only after strongly encouraging parents to negotiate their own agreement, even ordering mediation when practical.

Parenting plans can be as complex or as simple as the splitting couple is able to negotiate. LGBTQ couples, while supposedly equal under the law, can sometimes face additional challenges when it comes to custody. Understanding what a parenting plan entails and its legal context can relieve some of the anxiety of what future parenting will look like.

Who can make a parenting plan

According to the Illinois Parentage Act, a parental relationship is established in several ways, the most common method being through biological relationship. A woman’s motherhood is legally established when she gives birth to a child. For heterosexual couples, a man’s fatherhood is established at that time if it is not contested, but he may also establish a parental relationship through biological testing. Unfortunately, same-sex couples typically must take additional steps to establish parenthood. The most common of these is through adoption. It is important to file adoption papers as soon as possible. In a custody battle, failing to do so could mean losing legal claim to custody, even for those living with and raising a child.

What is a parenting plan

A parenting plan is an agreement between parents about how they will allocate responsibility in caring for their child. The most simple route to creating one is to negotiate the plan together, but if parents are not able to do this, they can use a mediator. During mediation, a professional third party helps to diffuse conflict during the negotiations. Keep in mind that a mediator does not create the plan for the couple; the parents retain final authority over the contract. Some couples choose to bring their lawyers with them to mediation.

What does a parenting plan decide

A parenting plan decides two types of custody: Physical and legal. Physical custody refers to the location where the child resides while legal custody refers to decision power. An Illinois parenting plan should take both of these into account. A good plan will establish a detailed schedule for physical custody, accounting for weekends, holidays and school breaks. It will also establish who has deciding power when disagreements arise. Some couples lay out a plan for resolving disagreements while others divide the decision power based on category. For example, one parent may claim the final say in extracurricular activities while the other decides religious rites. Many parents contractually agree to take disputes back to a mediator when necessary.

When a court rules on a custody arrangement, the order is final — barring significant changes in circumstance. Splitting couples retain a greater degree of control over the outcome when they negotiate a parenting agreement together, with or without a mediator. They must still take the agreement before a judge to turn it into an enforceable court order.