As a working parent, you have lots of different priorities. Advancing in your career, spending as much time with your children as possible, and ensuring that you get enough (or at least some) “me” time are all valid interests, and they all compete for your time on a consistent basis. While you may have found a way to manage these competing interests day-to-day, if you are preparing to go through a divorce in Illinois, you will need to be able to affirmatively demonstrate that you can continue to meet your children’s needs while also continuing to work full-time.
Seeking Custody When You Work Full-Time in Illinois
In today’s world, it has become the norm for both parents to work outside of the home. According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), in more than half of all families with children under the age of 18, both parents are employed. For couples with children over the age of six, the rate increases to 64.7 percent. So, if you and your spouse both work, you certainly are not alone, and your employment status should in no way prevent you from seeking custody of your children in your divorce.
What if you work and your spouse does not? Even in this scenario, Illinois law does not inherently favor your spouse when it comes to awarding primary custody. Ultimately, all custody determines must be made based on the “best interests” of the children involved, and your employment status is just one of a long list of factors that must be assessed in order to determine how to appropriately apportion parenting time between you and your soon-to-be-former spouse.
Preparing to Seek Custody of Your Children in Your Divorce
With these general principles in mind, how does employment status come into play, particularly if you work full-time outside of the home?
If you review Illinois’s “best interests” factors for establishing child custody, you will notice that the list of factors is devoid of any specific reference to the parents’ employment. Instead, the factors focus predominantly on the child’s needs and the parents’ ability to meet those needs—without focusing specifically on the parents’ time availability. With regard to full-time employment, the factors tend to be most-directly relevant are:
- The amount of time each parent spent performing caretaking functions in the preceding two years; or, if the child is under two years of age, since the child’s birth;
- Any prior agreement or course of conduct between the parents relating to caretaking functions; and,
- Each parent’s willingness and ability to place the child’s needs ahead of his or her own.
In other words, if you played an active role in your children’s caretaking and upbringing during your marriage, then this should weigh in your favor during your divorce. The same is true if you can demonstrate that you are prepared to place your children’s needs first in the event of a conflict with work after your marriage is over.
Using Illinois’s “Best Interests” Factors to Your Advantage
As with most aspects of the divorce process, thorough preparation is key to securing your desired rights with regard to child custody. In an ideal scenario, both spouses will understand and appreciate the practicalities of their respective work schedules, and they will be able to develop a parenting plan that adequately achieves their respective goals while also serving the best interests of their children. However, if you expect your spouse to try to use your employment status against you, then proactively anticipating and preparing for his or her arguments should help to keep your custody discussions focused on the factors that are truly relevant to your children’s needs.
With this in mind, and taking into consideration the “best interests” factors listed above, some examples of steps that working parents can take to improve their chances of efficiently negotiating a desirable parenting plan include:
- Document Your Past (and Current) Childrearing Responsibilities – Even if you know exactly how much time you devote to raising your children, there is still a strong chance that your spouse thinks he or she is picking up your slack. By documenting the hours you devote to your children and all of the various child-related tasks you perform on a daily and weekly basis, you can present a quantitative argument for the parenting rights and responsibilities you desire.
- Document Your Other Efforts to Actively Engage in Your Children’s Lives – Beyond specific parental responsibilities, what else do you do to actively engage in your children’s lives? Do you attend their games or recitals? Do you have weekend movie nights? Anything you do with your children could potentially be relevant to your case for custody during your divorce.
- CollectDocumentation of Any Hours You Have Taken Off from Work to Be There for Your Children – If you have already sacrificed time at work to meet your children’s needs, this could also be highly relevant in your divorce. Are you the one who takes off from work when they need to go to the doctor’s office? Have you avoided or rescheduled work trips in order to meet your children’s needs? Any documentation you have from work (and your children’s corresponding appointments, as applicable) could help to demonstrate that you are prepared to take similar steps post-divorce as well.
- Develop a Plan to Meet Your Children’s Needs After Your Divorce – Finally, since you will need to have a plan after your divorce, it makes sense to start working on your plan now. How will you ensure that they have rides to and from school? Will you hire a babysitter for after school care? What will you do if you need to travel for work? These are all questions you will need to be able to answer decisively and with your children’s “best interests” in mind.
Request a Free Initial Consultation with Illinois Divorce Attorney Deanna J. Bowen
Are you a working parent who is preparing to get divorced in Illinois? To discuss your situation with Gurnee and Lake County, IL divorce attorney Deanna J. Bowen in confidence, call 847-623-4002 or request a free consultation online today.