When parents cannot agree on parenting times, the Court has to make the decision of who will spend what time with the child. To do so, the Court will look at 17 factors, which are found at 750 ILCS 5/602.7(b), and craft a parenting plan that it believes will meet the best interest of the children. The 17 factors are not weighted equally, and the court will consider each factor on a case-by-case basis. However, since a discussion of each of the 17 factors would literally be 20-50 pages long, they are rearranged into topics, of which the first one is the importance of cooperation.
The Importance of Cooperation
One of the most important factors that the court will consider when allocating parenting time is the parents' ability to cooperate. The court wants to make sure that the parents are able to communicate effectively and that they are able to work together to make decisions about the child's upbringing. If the parents are unable to cooperate, it can make it difficult to create a parenting plan that works for everyone.
Studies show that parents that cooperate to raise their children have less conflict and generally have more positive feelings about their parenting abilities. The children in such relationships see positive role models and begin modeling that behavior for themselves. The children in cooperative relationship also report higher feelings of love, security and self worth.
This does not mean that one parent has to always give in to the other. Instead, parents should put aside feelings of animosity and actually consider that the other person has valid inputs into the parenting dynamic. In doing so, they should focus on always answering the question of "what's best for my child" rather than asking "what's best for me" or "how do I get my way?"
There are a few things that parents can do to improve their ability to cooperate. Here are a few tips for improving cooperation between parents:
- Communicate openly and honestly. This means being willing to share your thoughts and feelings with each other, even if they are difficult. It also means being willing to listen to each other and to try to understand each other's point of view. It also means that you have the ability to walk away from a conversation that is being led by emotions until such time as you can communicate rationally. It also means that you work on your ability to hear the other's communication and not jump to conclusions about the other. If you approach these discusssions with the understanding you are both trying to work towards your child's best interest, it is easier to communicate honestly.
- Agree to listen to the other parent and remember that no one wins if you don't. All parents want to believe that they have discovered the best answer for each situation. Despite this, there are other equally valid methods of parenting that might be easier, work just as well or are suitable. If the other parent has an equally good method or idea, it should also be considered. Perhaps each way of approaching the topic should be tried, or a child who is old enough should have a say. You have made such agreements to allow others to have a say when it comes to your children. You trust pediatricians to make the best medical decisions, teachers to make the best educational decisions and coaches to make the best sports decisions for your child. Parents who can cooperate listen to each of these people who are qualified to render an opinion about the child. That means the other parent, who is just as qualified as you has just as valid of a voice and idea -- and they are coming from the same place you are. If you try to bully the other parent into accepting your idea, your child loses.
- Agree to disagree. It is not always possible to agree on everything. When this happens, it is important to be able to respect each other's decisions and to move on. But to do so, you have to agree that the other parent is approaching the decision out of love. Perhaps in such a situation, parallel parenting might be applied. Its helpful to say, well, that's not what I would do, but the result is the same, so does it matter? By way of anecdote, my husband does not load the dishwasher the way I would. I can choose to accept he does it differently and be grateful he loads it in the first place, or I can be miserable and rearrange the dishes. Sure I can get a few more things in that he does, but ultimately, no matter who loads the dishwasher, we have clean dishes.
- Seek professional help to learn better communication. If you are unable to cooperate on your own, you may want to consider seeking professional help from a therapist so that communication can be improved.
Cooperation between parents is essential for creating a positive parenting environment for their child. When parents are able to cooperate, it can make it easier to create a parenting plan that meets the needs of the child, reduce conflict and stress, and make it easier for the parents to communicate with each other about their child. If you are able to cooperate with your soon-to-be-ex, I can help you craft your parenting plan so that you can remain in control of defining your parenting time. If you are unable to cooperate, a judge will decide when you see your children. If you are ready to put your parenting plan into action and are willing to cooperate, reach out to my office. I can take your parenting time ideas and create your parenting plan so that you can move on without a Judge deciding where your child will be on any given night.