One of the most important pieces of the puzzle when it comes to providing for a minor child is the allocation of parental responsibilities. Upon a filing for the dissolution of marriage or the filing of a petition for allocation of parental responsibilities if the parents were never married, a proceeding for the allocation of parental responsibilities is commenced, pursuant to 750 ILCS 5/601.2. Among the responsibilities that must be allocated are decision-making and parenting time. Illinois law states that these decisions must be made according to the child’s best interests. Furthermore, while Illinois law does not require that both parents be allocated decision-making responsibility (750 ILCS 5/602.5), it is presumed that both parents are fit to provide for the minor child without restrictions. 750 ILCS 5/602.7. In delegating decision-making responsibilities pursuant to 750 ILCS 5/602.5, the court is required to allocate decision-making power for education, health, religion and extracurricular activities. Parenting time decisions are made based off a list of considerations, including but not limited to:
- The wishes of each parent seeking parenting time
- The wishes of the child, taking into account the child’s maturity and ability to express reasoned and independent preferences as to parenting time
- The amount of time each parent spent performing caretaking functions with respect to the child in the 24 months preceding the filing of any petition for allocation of parental responsibilities or, if the child is under 2 years of age, since the child’s birth
In addition to allocating responsibilities between parents of minor children, the court can also restrict a parent’s responsibilities. It does so not only by allocating one parent a more significant share of the responsibilities (technically “restricting” the other parent’s responsibilities), it can also do so pursuant to 750 ILCS 5/603.10. Parental responsibilities can be restricted by the court when it “finds by a preponderance of the evidence that a parent engaged in any conduct that seriously endangered the child’s mental, moral, or physical health or that significantly impaired the child’s emotional development.” 5/603.10(a). If the court makes such a finding, it shall enter orders necessary to protect a child. Pursuant to 5/603.10(a)(1-9), these orders can include:
- Reduction, elimination or adjustment of parental responsibilities
- Requiring intermediaries to be present when parents exchange the minor child
- Communication restrictions
- Requiring a parent to abstain from alcohol and drugs before and during parenting time
- Restrictions on who else can be present during parenting time
- Requiring a parent to post bond to secure the return of the minor child
- Requiring a parent to undergo treatment programs for alcohol and drug abuse
- Any other restraints the court considers necessary to best protect the minor child
Furthermore, a court retains the power to modify an existing parenting agreement if it determines by a preponderance of the evidence that a modification is in the child’s best interests because of a change of circumstances or conduct by a parent that the court was previously unaware of. In making the decision to modify pursuant to 5/603.10(b), the court must also consider any:
- Abuse, neglect, or abandonment of the child
- Abusing or allowing abuse of another person that had an impact upon the child
- Use of drugs, alcohol or any other substance in a way that interferes with the parent’s ability to perform caretaking functions with respect to the child
- Persistent continuing interference with the other parent’s access to the child, except for actions taken with a reasonable, good-faith belief that they are necessary to protect the child’s safety pending adjudication of the facts underlying that belief, provided that the interfering parent initiates a proceeding to determine those facts as soon as practicable
The statute also provides for revocation of parenting responsibilities by a nonoffending parent if that parent in any way helps the restricted parent exercise parental responsibilities in defiance of a court order. A parent convicted of a sex crime with a victim less than 18 years of age has all parental responsibilities restricted until a court finds a child’s best interests would be better served by restoring his or her parental responsibilities.
The burden is on the parent seeking to restrict parenting time to show that the other parent is a serious endangerment to the child. See In re Marriage of Fields. In the 2018 unpublished opinion of In re Marriage of Fowler, the Appellate Court of Illinois, Fourth District affirmed the trial court’s finding that the mother of a minor child suffered from a delusional disorder. In upholding the lower court’s decision, the appellate court determined that the decision regarding the mother’s mental health was not against the manifest weight of the evidence. Due to the delusional disorder, the trial court mandated the mother complete a mental health evaluation and granted her only supervised parenting time. Evidence adduced at trial included testimony by mental health officials that the mother “believed she was a German princess” — repeatedly lied to the minor child about the father and made false claims that she was living on a yacht.
In contrast to Fowler, the appellate court in In re Custody of G.L., 80 N.E.3d 636 (Ill. App. Ct 2017) found that the trial court had not made the necessary factual findings regarding serious endangerment to the child’s mental, moral, or physical health or that significantly impaired the child’s emotional development. In G.L., the trial court ordered that a mother who relocated with her child from Cook to Champaign County without court permission have her parenting time restricted. The trial court ordered that the mother’s “regular parenting time must be conducted within a one-hour drive from [the father’s] home.” The First District remanded the case, finding that although the trial court heard evidence regarding G.L.’s mental and emotional health, particularly as it was affected by the distance between the parents, there was no indication in the record that the trial court ever made the necessary factual findings regarding the serious endangerment the relocation caused to G.L.’s mental, moral or physical health. The trial court based its restriction on the best interests of the minor child rather than on serious endangerment, as required by 5/603.10(b).
Furthermore, in In re Marriage of Jason S. and Julie S., 2017 IL App (1st) 161455-U, the court found that a mother’s bizarre parenting techniques seriously endangered the child. It ordered the child removed from her custody and restricted overnight visits with the mother thereafter. The evidence at trial “established serious areas of concern for the child’s best interests, including nutrition, diapering, co-sleeping, bathing, hair length, disciplinary issues, behavioral issues, and social development, among others.” Over nine days, the court heard testimony indicating that the mother kept the child in diapers until he was seven years old, refused to cut his hair, and had implemented diet restrictions since the child was an infant. In 2017, the First District upheld the trial court’s restriction of parenting time, finding that it was supported by a preponderance of the evidence. In the 2017 case of Smith v. Smith, a mother was granted sole parental decision-making powers due to the father’s aggressive actions, belligerent text messages, and unwillingness to cooperate with the GAL and psychologist.
The recent cases exhibit a trend of courts willing to restrict parenting responsibilities for a variety of reasons, from clinically diagnosed mental health issues to bizarre parenting, and even for relocating a minor without court permission. The courts also appear to be emphasizing the distinction between the best interests analysis required when allocating parental responsibilities and the serious endangerment analysis required before restricting parental responsibilities.