Divorce involving children often leads to both parents obtaining some measure of custody over their kids. In these situations, divorced parents need to develop a mutually agreeable co-parenting plan that serves to protect the best interests of their children. If you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse are on amicable terms prior to initiating divorce proceedings, you may be able to reach a mutual agreement about how you will handle parenting your children. While this may streamline the divorce mediation process, you cannot rely on oral agreement alone. It’s best to get your co-parenting plan in writing.

During divorce mediation, you will inevitably need to write up you and your soon-to-be ex-spouses’ obligations and rights as parents to your children. This means negotiating custody in the best interests of your children and developing a schedule that includes visitation, custody, travel restrictions, and communication expectations between the two of you. This co-parenting plan should essentially outline how the two of you expect to raise your children appropriately while managing separate households.

Discussing Co-parenting in Divorce Mediation

Divorce mediation is generally considered the preferable way to handle a divorce case. Litigation, on the other hand, can be costly and time consuming for both parties. During divorce mediation sessions, a court-appointed neutral third party will mediate negotiations between a divorcing couple. The divorcing spouses may or may not have legal counsel with them during these sessions.

During mediation, the divorcing couple will assess the different elements of their divorce and work toward mutually agreeable terms that fall in line with the Illinois divorce laws concerning property division, child custody, and more. One of the most important things a divorcing couple with children will need to agree upon is their parenting plan for their children. In some divorce cases, disagreements about parenting style can be a contributing factor in the breakdown of the marriage. In other divorce cases, the parents may agree about how to raise their kids and little else.

Whatever the case may be, divorce mediation offers the divorcing parents the opportunity to develop a legally binding co-parenting plan that focuses primarily on their children’s best interests. As you work through the divorce mediation process, the mediator assigned to your case will consistently review your negotiations and ensure that any agreements reached are legal and enforceable under Illinois law.

Why Do I Need a Co-parenting Plan in Writing?

Having your co-parenting plan recorded in a legally binding document may not be optional, and it may not only serve to outline your rights and responsibilities as a parent. Divorce mediation is a legal vehicle that allows a divorcing couple to transition from a contested divorce to an uncontested one by negotiating the various terms of their divorce. When they finally reach agreeable terms, the judge overseeing their divorce case will need to approve of the divorce agreement they have reached and will carefully scrutinize every element related to their children.

A co-parenting plan in writing means that you and your spouses’ rights and responsibilities are clearly outlined. You each know what to expect from the other going forward, and the judge overseeing your case can deliver your divorce decree with greater confidence knowing the best interests of your children have been thoroughly considered. Having the co-parenting plan in writing means it is legally enforceable once incorporated into your divorce order.

Adjusting Your Co-parenting Plan

In most civil and criminal cases, once a judge has reached a verdict, there is little to no room to change or appeal the decision. While doing so is possible in rare cases, it is not often that a superior court will overturn the decision made by a lesser court. Appealing the ruling in a civil case is equally challenging. Family law is unique in civil law in that it is possible to revisit some aspects of your divorce order in the future. While some things will be unchangeable, you may be able to adjust your divorce order when it comes to child support, child custody, spousal support, and property division as your circumstances change in the future.

For example, if a divorce order requires you to pay child support to your ex, but you recently lost your job due to other factors beyond your control, you may be able to petition for a change to your child support obligation in light of your recent change in financial circumstances. Co-parenting plans may also be adjusted in certain circumstances, such as in the event of a child’s medical needs changing.

If you need to adjust your co-parenting plan or make other changes to your divorce order, the Bloomington family court allows you to file a post-judgment motion with the help of your attorney. This motion will outline the change requested and your reasoning for requesting the change. The court understands that your living situation and other aspects of your lifestyle will change over time. Post-judgment motions are commonly used legal vehicles that allow the court to ensure any children involved in your divorce have their best interests considered.

Enforcing Your Divorce Order

When you have a co-parenting plan drawn up into your divorce order, it is enforceable in court. For example, if you and your spouse reach an agreement when it comes to the co-parenting of your children, but your spouse violates the terms of this agreement, you may petition the court for enforcement of the order.

Once you petition the court to enforce your divorce order, the court will start contempt proceedings against your ex and require them to explain why they have not adhered to your divorce order. Severe or repeated violations of the co-parenting plan you and your ex signed could potentially lead to your ex losing custody rights. Some violations may even lead to fines and jail time in extreme cases.

The family court system of Bloomington will always seek to rule in favor of preserving the best interests of children involved in a divorce case. An experienced family law attorney can help the court see how your children’s best interests align with your parenting strategy.  Your co-parenting plan is an important part of your divorce, and the Bloomington family court will want to ensure that both you and your ex adhere to your obligations under your divorce order to the letter.