Court Process: 9 Steps to Parental Responsibilities in IL

To pursue parental responsibilities and parenting time in court, follow the steps below. The process may vary slightly, depending on your county and the details of your case.

At any time, parents can agree to settle and skip to Step 9.

Other methods for deciding parental responsibilities (like mediation, collaborative law and early neutral evaluation) have their own processes.

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Step 1: Preparation

Do your research and consider your options. Will you request sole or shared parental responsibilities? What does your ideal parenting time schedule look like?

It's a good idea to meet with a lawyer to develop a strategy. If you're unable to hire an attorney, you should at least do a free or low-cost consultation for professional advice.

Step 2: Open a case

You must open a case with your local family court in order to file a petition for allocation of parental responsibilities. You can file the petition separately or in conjunction with cases about divorce, legal separation, parentage and orders of protection.

You must file all forms online — at home or using the courthouse computers — before serving (officially notifying) the other parent. They can then file a response.

If the other parent fails to respond in time, you may ask the court for a default judgment (a ruling without the other parent's input). A default judgment may be vacated (canceled) if the other parent responds within 30 days of its issuing. After 30 days, vacating becomes more difficult.

Assuming the other parent responds on time, both parents have 120 days from the date of the petition to submit a proposed parenting plan. If they choose to file a plan together because they agree on all items, they enter the settlement process, which skips them to Step 9.

Possible: Emergency orders hearing

If your child is at risk of being harmed or removed from the state within the next few days, you can request an accelerated hearing to decide if emergency orders are necessary.

A custody case can have two types of emergency orders: emergency orders of protection and emergency custody orders.

If your judge issues either one, he or she will schedule a later hearing to decide whether to extend the order, terminate it or replace it with a temporary order.

Step 3: Initial case management conference

In a case management conference, parents, their lawyers and the judge meet to discuss the case. The initial conference takes place within 90 days of when the responding parent was served.

Parents explain which custody issues they disagree on and explore the likelihood of a settlement.

Then, the judge sets the schedule for the remainder of the case, which may include additional management conferences.

Step 4: Discovery

This is when sides exchange information. The stage can last for several months or even a year in complicated cases, and it may overlap with the next several steps.

Discovery may include depositions (interviews of parents and witnesses under oath), exchange of financial affidavits, collecting character reference letters, etc.

Possible: Temporary orders hearing

Either parent can request temporary orders, which serve as a short-term solution to issues.

Your judge may order two types of temporary orders after a hearing: interim orders of protection and temporary custody orders.

Step 5: Parenting class

Both parties must attend a parenting education class within 60 days of the initial case management conference. You can choose from a list of court-approved providers.

Classes last four hours and are sometimes available online. They teach communication skills, recognition of a child's best interests, and how to minimize litigation.

Step 6: Mediation

If parents make it to this stage of litigation without settling, they have to attend mediation.

Mediators help the parents develop a parenting plan they both support, so they can enter the settlement process and skip to Step 9.

Each county requires a different number of mediation sessions. If parents don't reach an agreement in those sessions, they can give up and continue through the steps below.

Step 7: Conferences

Additional conferences may follow unsuccessful mediation, after discovery concludes.

In a settlement conference, parents, their lawyers and the judge meet to further discuss settlement options. The judge often gives thoughts on the strength of each parent's case, and may present a settlement option.

A pre-trial conference makes sure both parties are ready for trial, estimates how long the trial is likely to take, sets ground rules and more.

Step 8: Trial

If parents are unable to settle, the case will ultimately go to trial.

Trials can last hours, days, weeks or months. A judge will review all evidence and witness testimony before issuing a final judgment.

Step 9: Final judgment

To bring the court process to a close, a judge will sign a final judgment. Final judgments lay out, in the form of a parenting plan, the legal terms all parties must abide by until the child turns 18 or is emancipated. They are decided by a judge after a trial, or by the parties themselves in a settlement, with the judge signing off to approve.

If a parent believes the court made an error, he or she can appeal to a higher court to begin the legal process again.

Down the road, the parents might develop a new parenting plan together or request that the court modify the final judgment. As children grow older and their lifestyles change, judgments often need to be modified several times.

If the other parent doesn't follow a final judgment, you should keep detailed notes and gather evidence of the violations. For serious or repeat violations, you can contact the police or file a motion with the court.

Throughout your case

During the custody process, you may need to create a parenting plan, draft parenting time schedules, keep a log of interactions with the other parent and more.

The Custody X Change online app enables you to do all of this in one place.

With a parenting plan template, customizable parenting time calendars, a digital parenting journal and beyond, Custody X Change makes sure you're prepared for whatever arises in your journey to parental responsibilities and parenting time.

Throughout your case, take advantage of our technology to stay on top of all the moving parts.

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