What is the Law on Equal Parenting Time and When is it Appropriate?

 Posted on April 04, 2022 in Divorce

wheaton child custody lawyerFor most parents, the issue of when and under what circumstances they will see their children is of utmost concern in their divorce or parentage case. In fact, the allocation of parenting time between parents can often be one of the most challenging issues for attorneys to address in a case since each family’s circumstances are so unique. For many parents who have been extremely involved in their children’s lives, the hope is for an equal (“50/50” or “shared”) parenting schedule. As lawyers, we are often asked whether a shared parenting schedule is the starting point in Illinois. However, an equal parenting schedule is not the default as it is in some other states. Therefore, it is important to understand when an equal parenting time schedule might be appropriate and what key elements would support the implementation of a 50/50, or shared schedule.  

It used to be the case that Courts viewed equal parenting schedules with extreme caution, especially in cases where the parents do not get along and have too much animosity toward one another that they are unable to effectively co-parent.   However, in more recent times, shared parenting schedules are implemented much more frequently.  In Illinois, the law requires the Court to allocate parenting time in accordance with the children’s best interests. There are many factors that the Court will look at to determine what is in the children’s best interests in a given case, but perhaps one of the most important is “the willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child.” This factor is particularly significant as it relates to a request for a 50/50 parenting schedule, because both parents need to be able to communicate and cooperate with one another in order to make an equal parenting schedule successful. 

Additionally, determining whether an equal parenting schedule is appropriate for you will involve an individual assessment of your family’s unique circumstances. For example, this assessment would take into account things such as each parent’s work schedule, the children’s needs, and the children’s school and extracurricular activity schedules, the children’s ages and the parties’ distance from each other’s homes. For example, if you have a demanding work schedule and the other parent is a stay-at-home parent, it would be unrealistic to expect that a 50/50 parenting schedule would be implemented absent exigent circumstances. 

A Court will also look at which parent has been primarily responsible for caring for the children on a day-to-day basis. For example, the Court will consider whether one parent has been primarily responsible for scheduling and taking the children to doctor’s appointments, school meetings, attending parent-teacher conferences, helping with homework, feeding the children, getting the children ready for bed, etc. When both parents have been very involved in such activities with the kids, it certainly helps substantiate a request for an equal parenting time schedule. 

In practice, there are several different ways an equal parenting schedule can be divided. For example, consider the following common schedules:

  1. The “week on week off” schedule: The children spend one week with parent X and the next week with parent Y. Typically, the parenting time exchanges occur on the same day every week (i.e. every Sunday at 6:00 p.m.). The upside of this schedule is that it provides stability for the children during the week as they remain in the same house with one parent for at least seven days. The downside to this schedule is that, often times, a full week is too long a period of time for one parent to go without spending any time with the children. Additionally, if the parents live far apart, it can be difficult for one parent to get the children to school on time without the children waking up extremely early. This schedule is also easier for older children.

  1. “2-2-3” schedule: The children stay with parent X from Monday to Wednesday and parent Y from Wednesday to Thursday. Then, the children switch back to parent X Friday to Sunday. The following week, the schedule would alternate with parent Y having Monday, Wednesday, and the weekend, and parent X having Wednesday to Thursday. The upside of this rotating schedule is that neither parent goes a substantial period without seeing the children. The downside is that it involves frequent exchanges throughout the week that can sometimes be difficult for children when they are in school or involved in activities and need to be to shuffled between households during the week.

  1. “2-5” schedule: The children stay with parent X overnight on Monday and Tuesdays and parent Y overnight on Wednesday and Thursdays.  The parties alternate weekends from Friday overnight until Monday.  The benefit to this schedule is that the children have consistency during the week and it can streamline extra-curricular activities.  This is the most frequently used shared parenting schedule.

  1. “3-3-4-4” schedule: The children stay with parent X for three days and parent Y for three days. Then, the children switch back to parent X for four days and parent Y for four days thereafter. The upside to this schedule is that it’s predictable and allows parent X to have every Sunday to Tuesday and Parent Y to have every Wednesday to Friday. Both parents alternate Saturday each week.  The downside to this schedule is clear in that neither parent has a full weekend.

A shared parenting schedule typically functions best when both parents live close to one another. This is because an equal parenting schedule can involve frequent child exchanges or require that the children be transported to different places throughout the week for school, extracurricular activities, or medical appointments for example. When parents live in close proximity, it shortens the amount of time the children are required to travel between households, increases stability in the neighborhood, school and community and provides the children with easier access overall to the other home and parent when needed.

Since each family is unique, whether or not an equal parenting schedule is appropriate for you and your children will depend on a variety of factors. The factors explained in this blog are certainly not a comprehensive list, but they are some of the most important factors a Court will look at when determining whether a 50/50 parenting schedule in the best interests of the children. 

If you are interested in learning more about equal parenting time schedules and whether it would be appropriate for you, please contact McSwain Nagle Giese & Rapp, P.C. for a free thirty-minute consultation. 


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