As we previously discussed in Part I of this three part blog series, the intent of the Parental Responsibilities'” law was to eliminate the stigma of one parent “losing custody,” and to maximize each parent's involvement in their child's life. In Part II of this three part blog series, we discussed how the new law actually works. We then asked ourselves, “is the law working as intended?” Now that we know why the law was changed and how it currently works, we can begin to answer this question.
By changing the terminology from “custody” and “visitation” to “allocation of parental responsibilities” and “parenting time,” the Parental Responsibilities law certainly sounds more appealing to parents, since neither party is considered a “custodial parent” versus a “non-custodial parent.” Rather, both parents are allocated parenting time with their child. In theory, this eliminates the idea that one parent has “won custody,” while the other has “lost custody.” However, it is important to note that Section 606.10 of the law requires one of the parents to still be labeled a “custodian” solely for purposes of all state and federal statutes that require one parent to be designated a custodian. For instance, a parent must be labeled a custodian for school registration purposes. Thus, the parent who lives within the child's school district typically is labeled the custodian solely for school purposes. To try and further eliminate the stigma of losing custody, Section 606.10 specifically states “this [custodian] designation shall not affect parents' rights and responsibilities under the parenting plan.” In other words, although one parent must be labeled a custodian solely for school or other state or federal law purposes, the “custodian” does not have a superior right to the child than the other parent. Since one parent must still be labeled a custodian, does the law work to eliminate the stigma as intended? Frankly, it depends on who you ask. This designation, although meaningless under the new law, can still bother some people. Thus, although in many cases the law achieves its goal of eliminating the stigma by changing the terminology, in my experience, some people still feel stigmatized by the "custodian" designation.
The law also states that both parents are considered “fit” to have parenting time with their child, and the court shall not limit a parent's parenting time unless the parent poses some danger to the child. This is not that different from the previous law, which had similar elements for restricting a parent's visitation. However, in theory, this eliminates the idea that one parent is superior to the other by stating it outright. If both parents are fit to have parenting time with the child, the idea is that neither parent should have significantly more parenting time with the child than the other parent, unless agreed to.Taking all of this into consideration, does the law truly work to maximize each parent's involvement with the child? The answer is, in my opinion, it depends on the circumstances of the case. Although the new law does not drastically change the elements required for restricting a parent's parenting time, I have noticed in my own practice that parenting time schedules are becoming more liberal in cases where both parents are considered “fit” to parent their child. As discussed in Part I, prior to the new law being enacted, it was very common for the non-custodial parent to be awarded one overnight per week with the child plus alternating weekends, even if there was no reason to limit that parent's visitation. However, I have noticed a shift away from this common, somewhat sparse visitation schedule in favor of a more liberal schedule for both parents. Thus, in these types of cases, I believe the law is achieving its goal of maximizing the involvement of both parents.
On the contrary, in cases where one parent could be considered a danger to their child, the law has not changed much other than nomenclature. Even under the new law, it is still possible to obtain what was formerly known as “sole custody” in these circumstances, it's just simply called something different now. Rather than being awarded “sole custody,” a “fit” parent is awarded “sole significant decision-making responsibilities” and “majority parenting time” with the child, whereas the “unfit” parent would be awarded no “significant decision-making responsibilities” and "limited" and/or "restricted parenting time" with their child. All of these terms mean that the “fit” parent will make all major decisions regarding the child and have more time with the child, whereas the “unfit” parent will not be able to make any major decisions regarding the child and will have limited parenting time with the child. As a result, in cases where it is appropriate to request sole significant decision-making responsibilities, the law has not changed much in my opinion.
If you have a decision-making or parenting time issue and would like to discuss it with an attorney, feel free to contact our offices at 312-648-6115 for your free consultation.