When parents divorce in Chicago, Illinois, it is not uncommon for the court to award joint custody. The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act presumes the maximum involvement of each parent is in the best interests of the child, unless domestic violence has occurred. Even when both parents favor joint custody, though, disputes are likely to arise at some point. Fortunately, through a Joint Parenting Agreement, parents can lay the foundation for sharing custody with minimal conflict.

What the plan covers 

A Joint Parenting Agreement can specify the rights and responsibilities of each parent. These plans may make various provisions, including:

  • Granting one parent the right to make decisions on major issues. These can include the child’s education, religious upbringing and medical treatments.
  • Establishing each parent’s obligations for optional expenses that may not be addressed in child support orders. These include extra-curricular activities, advanced education and elective medical procedures.
  • Fleshing out the details of custody and visitation arrangements. The plan can address unusual circumstances, such as holidays, school vacations and last-minute scheduling changes.

A parenting plan should also establish how parents will deal with future conflict or life changes. Some plans provide for specific possibilities, such as a parent moving to another state or becoming disabled. A plan does not have to be this specific, but it does need to establish a framework for dealing with unexpected events or conflict.

At a minimum, a plan should stipulate how parents will handle disputes, proposed changes and breaches of the existing plan. A plan that requires these issues to be resolved through mediation or counseling can help parents work through potential issues with less conflict. Parents may also want to include standards for notification about deviations from the agreement. For instance, a plan could require one parent to notify the other as early as possible about changes in employment or scheduling that will affect the terms of the plan.

Benefits of parenting plans 

If parents cannot independently create a Joint Parenting Agreement, a family law court will create a Joint Parenting Order. To do this, the court evaluates the preferences of all parties, the circumstances of each parent and the ability of each parent to cooperate with the proposed plan. Still, a Joint Parenting Order may not meet the specific needs and desires of the family as well as a plan created within the family would. Parents entering a joint custody arrangement can usually benefit from working with an attorney to create their own personalized plan outside of court.