How to create your Illinois Parenting Plan

Shared Custody

When navigating the often-challenging waters of divorce or separation, one of the most critical aspects to consider is the well-being of your children. A well-thought-out parenting plan can be your compass, helping you and your co-parent chart a course that ensures your children’s best interests are prioritized. 

In this guide, we’ll explore what parenting plans are and why they matter, and provide you with a practical, 5-step guide to create an effective parenting plan in Illinois.

What is a Parenting Plan, and Why is it Important?

A parenting plan is a comprehensive document that outlines how you and your co-parent will share responsibilities for your child’s upbringing after a divorce or separation. It is a vital roadmap for navigating the complex terrain of co-parenting. These plans are designed to ensure your child’s best interests are at the forefront, allowing them to maintain a sense of stability and security during this period of change.

Key Components of a Parenting Plan

An effective parenting plan should include:

  1. Allocation of Parental Responsibilities: Illinois has taken steps to address issue that arose from ‘child custody’ by eliminating the term ‘custody’ from its legal framework, as it often led to unnecessary court conflicts. Now the correct term to use when talking about decision making relates to the ‘allocation of parental responsibilities.’ What does this mean? Parental responsibilities specifically involve four crucial decisions: (1) Religion, (2) Education, (3) Health Care, and (4) Extracurricular activities.
  2. Parenting Schedule: This outlines the days, times, and locations where your child will spend time with each parent. We recommend breaking things down the following way: school year, breaks from school, and holidays/vacations/special events. 

What to consider when coming up with the parenting schedule:

Parenting schedules and the school year

Before getting into some suggestions as to what the parenting schedule should be for the school year, here are 3 factors to keep in mind. 

  1. The majority of school-age children need a consistent schedule to thrive.
  2. Don’t try to copy someone else’s schedule. Focus on your unique situation.
  3. Try to not get too emotionally attached to what your idea of a perfect schedule looks like.

When considering building your parenting schedule, remember to keep in mind the above three factors. But also, consider your own schedule, your kids needs and preferences, and your relationship with your co-parent. 

For example, with a “2-2-5 plan”, each parent has the kid(s) for 2 days in a row but 5 days in a row every other week. 

For example, imagine that you have Mondays and Tuesdays and your ex has Wednesdays and Thursdays with each of you alternating weekends with “weekend” being defined as Friday after school until drop off at school on Monday morning. You would always pick up after school on Monday and keep the kids until Wednesday morning when you drop them off at school. Your ex would pick them up from school on Wednesday and keep them until Friday morning when they drop them off at school. 

This schedule works best with parents that are amicable and have a ‘traditional’ work schedule and it also works well with parents that don’t necessarily like to cross paths too often (because of those potentially annoying fights that can arise).

School breaks

School breaks are an important time to factor into a parenting schedule. What breaks are these? Usually these refer to winter break, summer break, and spring break. So, what can you consider here? First off; do you travel during these breaks? If so then you definitely want to take this into account. For example, some parents do not travel much during, say, spring break. So, they might keep their regular schedule. Others like to alternate spring breaks. 

These same considerations need to go into breaking down winter and summer breaks since they are much longer. 


A good parenting plan will clearly identify where the kids are for all important holidays. They also include some important holidays like Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Now, what works for others might not work for you and vise versa. But, here’s an example of what you might able to do. Say your family celebrates Christmas Eve and your co-parent’s family celebrates Christmas Day. Splitting the days might be the most logical solution. On the other hand, if both families celebrate the same day, sometimes it might be best to alternate years. 

Now, let’s dive into a 5-step guide to create your parenting plan.

5-Step Guide to Creating Your Parenting Plan

  1. Understand Your Child’s Best Interest

Before crafting your plan, it’s essential to understand what genuinely serves your child’s best interests. Consider their age, emotional and physical needs, and any special requirements they may have. Other factors that can directly influence a child’s well-being and your parenting plan might include:

  • The distance between the parents’ residences
  • The proximity of each home to the child’s school, after-school activities, friends, and other pertinent places
  • The work schedules of each parent

Remember, it’s all about creating an environment where your child can thrive.

  1. Choose a Parenting Schedule That Works

When deciding on a parenting schedule, think about what works for your child. Be flexible and consider their routine, school, extracurricular activities, and special occasions. It’s important to ensure that both parents have quality time with the child.

Numerous methods exist for structuring a parenting schedule. It’s crucial to recognize that your parenting schedule might evolve to accommodate your child’s changing needs as they grow. Younger children might benefit from more frequent visits with both parents, while older kids might find it simpler to handle less frequent transitions.

If one parent lives too far away, regular visitations may be challenging. You might want to explore an arrangement where your child spends an extended period with that parent during summer or winter breaks.

In addition to your routine parenting schedule, remember to establish a plan for holidays and special occasions such as birthdays. Having a well-structured plan already in place can make it much simpler to address these significant dates.

  1. Have a Plan for Communication

Open and effective communication between co-parents is crucial. Your plan should address how you’ll communicate and share information about your child. Consider using tools like emails, texts, or co-parenting apps for clear and organized communication.

  1. Handling Big or Difficult Decisions

Decisions about your child’s health, education, religious practices, cultural influences, and general welfare will arise. Be clear on how these choices will be made. If disagreements occur, outline a dispute resolution process, which might include mediation or involving a neutral third party.

Additionally, develop a strategy for addressing critical decisions in emergency situations. While no one wants to find themselves in a scenario where swift decisions are necessary, it’s undeniably better to be well-prepared in the event you face such a situation.

  1. Handling Your Child’s Finances

Financial matters can be complex, especially when it comes to child support. Make sure your plan includes how child support will be managed, what expenses it covers, and the timeline for payments.

Beyond the scope of child support, it’s crucial to establish a strategy for managing expenses that fall outside of those covered by the support payments. Define your approach for sharing responsibility for these expenses and have a reliable process for reimbursing them when needed.

FAQs: Your Questions Answered

Q: When is a Parenting Plan Needed?

A: A parenting plan is essential when you and your co-parent are divorced or separated and have children together. Even if you are on good terms with your co-parent, a well-structured plan can prevent misunderstandings and conflicts in the future. In fact, it is much easier and better to create the plan when things are going well versus when things are tense. 

Q: Is a Parenting Plan Mandatory in Illinois?

A: Yes, a parenting plan is mandatory in Illinois. The state aims to ensure that children continue to have a relationship with both parents, even after a divorce or separation. The plan helps facilitate this and ensures the child’s well-being.

Q: How is Parenting Time Decided if There is an Infant?

A: Parenting time for infants can be a bit different. It typically involves shorter, more frequent visits to accommodate the child’s age and needs. The parenting plan should consider the infant’s feeding and sleeping schedule.

In this challenging time, remember that we are here to help. If you need guidance on creating your parenting plan or have any other divorce or family law concerns, Reidy Law Office is ready to assist you.

Make Your Parenting Plan with Care

Your children deserve the best, even in the face of life’s challenges. With a thoughtful and comprehensive parenting plan, you can provide them with the support and stability they need during this period of change. Let Reidy Law Office be your partner in making your parenting plan and ensuring that your child’s best interests are protected. Reach out to us today, and let’s navigate this journey together.