Half Term, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas… the last quarter of the year is packed full of family fun. However, if you are separated or divorced, sharing a child during the holidays is not easy, especially if your ex refuses to obey your parenting or custody agreement.
Half term school break is right around the corner, and for many parents, this is an exciting time to spend some quality time with your child. However, ask many divorced parents about child visitation rights, and you’re likely to hear some discontent about the situation. Especially when a parent ignores an established holiday exchange schedule.
Parenting Plans 101
A parenting plan is a document that says who will make decisions for a child and how those decisions will be made. This often happens in a parental responsibilities case. These plans outline how you and the other parent will continue to care and provide for your children after you separate.
It’s a good idea for a parenting plan to have a system in place for how disputes should be handled if the situation arises, and a way in which parents can periodically review and make necessary changes to the plan. The plan may also include other provisions or information intended to help both parents understand and abide by the shared responsibilities in raising the child or children.
What to include in your plan:
- Where the child lives
- Time the child spends with each parent
- How each parent gets information and records about the child
- How the child is to be transported for parenting time
- An airtight Holiday schedule
The final parenting plan will always be aligned with what’s in the best interests of the child.
Important Factors of a Parenting Plan in Illinois
- Each parent must file a parenting plan within 120 days of asking the court for parental responsibilities;
- If the parents agree on parental responsibilities, including parenting time, they can file one parenting plan (signed by both parents) within the 120 days. If the parents don’t agree, they must each file their own parenting plans;
- If neither parent files a parenting plan, the court will hold a hearing to determine the child’s best interests; and
- The court will look at the parenting plans when it decides who gets parental responsibilities.
Once both plans have been created and shared with the court to examine each parent’s responsibilities, the court can accept the plan and it becomes a Joint Parenting Order. After the Joint Parenting Order is in place, changes cannot be made to it for two years.
Parenting Plans for Holidays, Vacations & School Breaks in Illinois
Splitting up holidays, vacation time, and school breaks can be challenging, but there are ways to make it work for everyone involved.
For many parents, it makes sense to take an odd/even approach to the holiday season. For example, one parent could have the child/children for Thanksgiving on odd years, but Christmas for even years. The other parent would have the children for Thanksgiving on odd years and Christmas on even years. An an alternative choice by parents during the holidays is a fixed holiday schedule. This takes a more simple approach of assigning a certain holiday, every year, to a certain parent. While this could cause some form of conflict for those to want to alternate the holidays, it works well for separated couples with different religions.
At any point, one parent may need to modify a parenting plan. A parenting plan can only be modified by the court. Take caution with any out-of-court arrangements because they are not enforceable.
Parenting Plan Violations
Either your ex isn’t complying with the schedule or maybe there are more serious issues where you’re worried about your child’s safety; If you are concerned about the upcoming holidays and whether your ex will stick to the plan, you can and should probably take legal action.
According to 750 ILCS 5/607.5, if one parent violates the parenting plan, the other parent can bring an action to enforce the parenting plan. If the court finds that a violation has occurred, it can order:
- additional terms and conditions
- require participation in a parental education program
- require family or individual counseling
- require parent-in-violation to post a Chas bond that can be forfeited for payment of expenses
- require parenting time to be made up
- find the non-compliant parent in contempt of court
- impose civil fines
- require a non-compliant parent to reimburse reasonable expenses to the compliant parent
- require any other measure so long as it is in the best interests of the child.
What to do if Your Ex Won’t Return Your Child
If your ex isn’t sticking to the parenting plan, have your attorney send a letter to your ex. This is often the first step towards getting your ex to follow child custody orders. Your attorney can write up a forceful letter that informs the other parent that they must obey the court order or be prepared to face serious legal penalties. Sometimes this is all that it takes to wake up a parent and get them to follow the child custody order.
Illinois’ new parenting time law (750 ILCS 5/607.5(a)) requires the court to handle parenting time abuse cases on an “expedited basis.” In the old days it could take six months to get parenting time violations addressed. Now, thanks to the new law, I often can get a remedy in a few days or weeks.
However, keeping a child late on a visitation in Illinois is technically a crime. If you suspect that the other parent has taken your child and doesn’t intend to return (known as a parental child abduction), contact the police. If the other parent takes your child across state lines or out of the country, local police will work alongside federal law enforcement, such as the FBI, to ensure the return of your child.
Experienced Parental Child Abduction Attorneys – Masters Law Group
An experienced attorney can help you navigate the court system in this emotional situation, and make sure that you get in front of a judge as soon as possible. At Masters Law Group, we focus exclusively on Family Law, with a particular emphasis on International Child Abduction and cross-border custody issues pursuant to the Hague Convention of 1980 and the UCCJEA. What’s more, our attorneys are also court-appointed Child Representatives and have experience advocating for children in these high-conflict matters.