Among the many challenges that families in Illinois are facing during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, understanding how to handle parenting time is perhaps one of the most confusing for divorced and separated parents. When you got divorced or separated, your attorney undoubtedly explained the importance of strictly adhering to your parenting plan and the risks of deviating. But, now that we are living through unprecedented times, how are things different – if at all?

This is an important question for divorced and separated parents; and, at present, the answer is still to be determined in various respects. But, there are some things we know, and there are both new and existing guidelines that parents need to follow.

In this article, we will answer the following questions:

  • What if your children are home but you need to go to work?
  • Can you pick up and drop off your children for scheduled parenting time under Illinois’s stay-at-home order?
  • What if you miss out on scheduled parenting time due to the COVID-19 crisis?
  • Can you and your former spouse or partner agree to modify your parenting time schedule?
  • What are your options if you cannot meet your parenting time obligations during the novel coronavirus outbreak?

Answers to 5 Important Questions about Parenting Time and the Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

Q: What if your children are home but you need to go to work?

If you are like many Illinois residents, your children are home from school under Governor Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, but you are still permitted (and required) to go to work. If you are in this situation, and if you have your children during the day pursuant to your parenting plan, what options do you have available?

One option, if you can afford it, is to hire someone to watch your children while you are at work. The stay-at-home order allows individuals to leave their residences, “[t]o care for a family member, friend, or pet in another household . . . .” So, a babysitter or nanny would be permitted to travel to your home. Additionally, if you have a family member who is available to watch your children for free, this would be an option as well.

Another option, particularly if your children’s other parent is not working, is to try to work out an alternate parenting time schedule. As discussed in more detail below, this has its own unique requirements and limitations, but it may ultimately prove to be the best option for everyone involved.

Q: Can you pick up and drop off your children for scheduled parenting time under Illinois’s stay-at-home order?

Yes. Illinois’s stay-at-home order should not affect day-to-day compliance with your existing parenting time schedule. The order permits travel outside of the home “to transport family members,” so you and your former spouse or partner may pick up and drop off your children as usual. This is true regardless of whether you are traveling directly from one home to another, from work, or from any other location in Illinois.

Additionally, it is worth noting that the stability and routine of your existing parenting time schedule can be important for helping your children cope with the disruptions caused by the pandemic. This is not to say that parents should forego seeking modifications when necessary, but rather to remind parents that the pandemic may be emotionally challenging for their children as well.

Q: What if you miss out on scheduled parenting time due to the COVID-19 crisis?

If you had a spring break trip get cancelled or you are being forced to give up time with your children due to your professional obligations, are you entitled to additional parenting time once the crisis is over? The answer to this question depends on a number of different factors, including: (i) the terms of your parenting plan, and (ii) any modifications you are able to negotiate with your children’s other parent.

It is possible that your parenting plan addresses make-up parenting time for time missed due to unforeseen circumstances. If it does, you should review your plan to see what rights you have. If you and your former spouse or partner negotiate a temporary modification, then make-up parenting time is certainly something you will want to address during your discussions.

Q: Can you and your former spouse or partner agree to modify your parenting time schedule?

To be clear, while parents can agree to modify their parenting plans in Illinois, any modification ultimately requires court approval. While the courts may provide some leeway due to the unprecedented circumstances (and the fact that the courts are postponing many proceedings), parents should still be cautious of doing anything that deviates substantially from their current arrangement. We strongly advise all parents to consult with a family law attorney prior to acting on any proposed parenting plan modifications.

Q: What are your options if you cannot meet your parenting time obligations during the novel coronavirus pandemic?

If you are unable to meet your parenting time obligations because you are working overtime to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic or because you have become sick, once again, we recommend that you speak with an attorney. Among other measures, your attorney will be able to document the reason for your non-compliance, assist you in communicating with your children’s other parent (or communicate with his or her attorney on your behalf), and determine what legal steps (if any) you may need take now or in the future.

While these are unique times, Illinois’s parenting time laws still apply, and parents must ensure that they are doing what is necessary to protect their children’s best interests. If you have any questions or concerns, we encourage you to contact us for personalized legal advice that is specific to your family circumstances.

Discuss Your Situation with Gurnee, IL Family Lawyer Deanna Bowen

Our firm is open and actively working with clients during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Consistent with Governor Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, we are serving our clients remotely via confidential telephone consultations and secure document exchanges. If you have questions about parenting time and would like to speak with a family law attorney, we encourage you to call 847-623-4002 or contact us online for a complimentary consultation.