As a parent headed toward divorce, you have likely stressed about the time you might lose with your children. It’s a natural response, but it may not be the most helpful. A more helpful response may be to focus on how you can best make use of the time you’ll have.

There’s no check box on the standard Illinois parenting plan for “quality time,” but it’s worth keeping the idea of quality time in your head as you work on your proposal. After all, your plan is supposed to reflect your children’s best interests. Keeping these things in mind may help you go beyond the basic requirements to finding solutions that reduce conflict and promote your children’s growth.

Nine basic requirements for an Illinois parenting plan

In Illinois, all parents of minor children need to submit parenting plans as part of their divorce. If you and your ex can reach an agreement, perhaps through mediation, you can draft it up and submit it to the court. Provided it meets all the requirements, the judge should approve it, and you’re done. If you and your ex can’t agree, you’ll each submit your separate proposals. These will then come into play as the court considers your divorce, parenting time, and parental responsibilities.

There’s a lot of room for parents to address their unique situations, but your parenting plan must start with the issues addressed by the law. These include:

  • Names and contact information
  • Allocation of decision-making responsibilities
  • Parenting time schedules
  • Rights to your child’s medical, dental, and mental health records
  • Designations of your child’s primary parent and address for compliance with specific parts of the law
  • Transportation between homes
  • Communication with your child during the other parent’s time
  • Rights of first refusal for the time that either parent has scheduled but cannot use
  • Specific provisions for resolving disagreements and making changes to the plan

Depending on your responsibilities, you may be able to make the most important decisions about your child’s education or religious upbringing. Depending on your schedule, you may have your children for alternating holidays, or you may spend time with them every 4th of July. But none of these checkboxes speak directly to the quality of the time you have with your children. They don’t speak to the consistency and stability of your children’s daily lives.

Beyond the basics

Your children’s best interests go beyond the simple divisions of parenting time and parental responsibilities. As a parent, you’ve probably never considered it good enough just to be in the same home as your children. You needed to get involved, to guide and raise them. There’s more to raising children than simply having them in your home.

Likewise, you can do more with your parenting plan than plot out holidays and school nights. The law allows parents to include any extra provisions that may address the child’s best interests or “that will otherwise facilitate cooperation between the parents.”

If you and your ex can agree on your plan, this may leave you room to explore such things as:

  • The communication of your children’s behaviors
  • Standards for discipline
  • Daily routines
  • Family visits
  • Anything else in your child’s best interest or that helps you co-parent better

Perhaps you want to arrange for the occasional day where you and your ex each spend quality time with just one child. But the court is unlikely to concern itself with such details, meaning you’d likely need to resolve them in mediation.

It’s not just what you need, but what you can do

After you get divorced, you will end up bound by the terms of a parenting plan. Will yours be a bare-bones contract that goes light on detail and hard on terms and schedules? Or will it better reflect your desire to spend quality time with your children and to see them grow into healthy, happy and successful adults?

You want to do more than be a good-enough parent. Even the simplest choices in your parenting plan may have deep implications. It’s worth taking the time to make sure you understand your options and can draft a plan that sets you up for successful parenting.