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Child Visitation and Parenting Time After Divorce

Child visitation is also known now in some states (including in Illinois) as parenting time. Visitation, or parenting time, is, quite simply, the time you spend with your children when you are divorced.

Smiling young girl pointing to a colored calendar page on the wall.

Parenting Time/Child Visitation Rights and Responsibilities

Visitation/parenting time is different from child custody. Typically, children live with the parent who is designated as their residential custodian, and they have visitation, i.e. parenting time, with their other parent on certain days and times. While the laws in many states still refer to “parenting time” as “visitation,” the laws are currently changing. Illinois, for example, no longer uses the word “visitation.” Time assigned to a parent to be with his or her children is simply called “parenting time.”

Both parents have a right to spend time with their children. What’s more, children need to spend time with both parents and to have a relationship with both parents. Unless there are issues of domestic violence or abuse, it will be in your children’s best interest to spend time with both you and your spouse during and after your divorce. Most judges understand this and will order parenting time for each parent.

In Illinois, as of January 1, 2016, parenting time after divorce is no longer just considered to be a parental right. Parenting time is also now considered to be a parental responsibility.

Cartoon family of clocks.

Establishing a Parenting Time /Child Visitation Schedule

Most courts prefer that parents establish their own child visitation/parenting time schedules. That only makes sense. You know your children better than the judge ever will. You know what your children need, what they want, and what kind of schedule will work for them.

There are 3 types of parenting time you should consider when trying to come up with a workable parenting time schedule for your family: regular time, holiday time, and vacation time.

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Regular visitation/parenting time is the normal, day-to-day time spent with the children. While a typical schedule for a non-custodial parent used to be every other weekend and one or two evenings per week, in many parts of the country that is slowly changing so that the parent with whom the children do not live gets to spend more time with them.

If you and your spouse agree, you can work out whatever parenting time schedule makes sense for you and your kids. That schedule can be static or flexible. It can be unusual, so long as it works for your family. For example, if you works days, and your spouse works nights, you could make a parenting schedule that allowed your spouse to see the kids every day from after school until 6:00pm when you get home. Then you alternate weekends.

The second type of time to consider is holiday time. Both you and your spouse have a right to spend time with the kids during the holidays. While you don’t need to assign every holiday known to mankind in your parenting schedule, you should at least specifically deal with the holidays that are important to you. If your Parenting Schedule says something vague, like “we agree to alternate all major holidays,” you will often find yourself in a twist on the day before your first post-divorce Christmas as you and your ex argue over whether the “holiday” means Christmas Day, Christmas Eve, or both.

The last type of parenting time is vacation time. Vacations can include spring break, winter break, and summer break from school. Both you and your spouse are entitled to have vacation time with your children, even if you don’t actually go anywhere on vacation. How you divide vacation times depends entirely upon you and your family. Again, you can do whatever you want, so long as you and your spouse agrees.

Stern looking older judge looking down from the bench with a law book in front of her.

What Happens When You Don’t Agree?

Judges prefer that parents agree on parenting time schedules. That is understandable since parents know their children and what kind of schedule will work best for their family far better than a judge ever will. But, if parents won’t agree on a schedule, then it is up to the judge to decide it.

The judge will set a parenting schedule according to what the judge believes is in the children’s best interest. That parenting schedule may end up being completely different from what either parent wanted.

Parenting Time and Child Support

In some states, the amount of time a parent spends with his or her child may affect the amount of child support that is paid or received. That is not currently true in Illinois.  What is important to remember, though, is that failure to pay child support is not an excuse for one parent to withhold parenting time from the other.  Absent abuse, neglect, or special circumstances, children need to spend time with both parents. Period.

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