While I represent clients in many areas of law, today I would like to discuss an aspect of family law called "parenting time," formerly known in Illinois as "visitation." When a husband and wife with children divorce or when a boyfriend and girlfriend with children breakup, there usually is an emotional battle for parenting time with the children. The non-residential parent needs to be aware that their poor behavior during parenting time can lead to a restriction and removal of that parenting time. Recently, the Illinois Appellate court affirmed a trial court decision that restricted parenting time in a case titled: In re Marriage of Mayes, 2018 IL App (4th) 180149.
The Appellate Court in Mayes explained that the non-residential parent is entitled to reasonable parenting time unless there is evidence that the non-residential parent is somehow a danger to the children. Under section 603.10(a) of the Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (750 ILCS 5/603.10(a):
"After a hearing, if the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that a parent engaged in any conduct that seriously endangered the child's mental, moral, or physical health or that significantly impaired the child's emotional development, the
court shall enter orders necessary to protect the child." Mayes, 2018 IL App (4th) at Paragraph 55.
Orders necessary to protect a child may include, among other things, a reduction in parenting time, supervised parenting time or a requirement to complete a treatment program for behavior that served as the basis for restricting parental responsibilities. Mayes at Paragraph 55 citing 750 ILCS 5/603.10(a)(1), (2), (8).
It is the public policy of the State of Illinois for the non-residential parent to have liberal parenting time. Mayes at Paragraph 56 citing Heldebrandt v. Heldebrandt, 251 Ill. App. 3d 950, 957 (1993). The party seeking to restrict parenting time has the burden to prove the non-residential parent's conduct seriously endangered the children. Mayes at Paragraph 56 citing In re Marriage of Diehl, 221 Ill. App. 3d 410, 429 (1991).
A judge will look at all the evidence presented at a hearing and make a determination as to whether that evidence was sufficient for it to conclude that the non-residential parent's conduct placed a significant emotional and mental toll on the children. Mayes at Paragraph 58. If the judge finds sufficient evidence, the judge will then select an appropriate restriction on parenting time. Id.
In the Mayes case, the mother is the residential parent and she sought to restrict the father's parenting time because he had anger issues and regularly flew off the handle and treated the children inappropriately. The father responded to heated situations by using profanity, speaking poorly of the mother and threatening dangerous punishment, such as having his 15-year-old daughter exit his vehicle on a highway ramp and walk home.
After the hearing in the trial court, the judge found that the father's behavior placed a significant emotional and mental toll on the children. Mayes at Paragraph 60. In its order to protect the children, the trial judge ordered supervised parenting time and limited the amount of parenting time. Mayes at Paragraph 61.
The trial court order was affirmed on appeal. The Appellate Court expressed a concern that the father did not recognize that his behavior was harming the children. The court stated that the father is in control of his behavior and needed to make some changes, suggesting that the father enter an anger management program.
"Without positive change, visitation may continue to be filled with conflict or dwindle, and that would damage everyone." Mayes
at Paragraph 63.
The father's behavior in Mayes is not unique or unusual. In my cases, I see this sort of behavior with regularity. Parents need to realize that courts will protect the children. Non-residential parents cannot treat their children poorly during parenting time and expect the status quo. You will be hailed into court for your behavior and a judge will put you in your place.
I get it, there is lingering pain from the break-up but your children are not your former spouse and taking your anger out on your children will only harm you and your children. I advise my clients to enjoy the time with their children and partake in positive exercises to make positive memories and protect the emotional fragility of their children.
Now, unfortunately, the claims by the residential parent are not always true. I find this scenario much more common place than the other. Often the residential parent will make false claims of abuse against the non-residential parent in an effort to restrict parenting time solely to spite their former spouse. This sort of behavior is just as detrimental to the children as was the behavior in Mayes. Children do not have the emotional capabilities do deal with their parents using them as pawns in an emotional war. These parents attempt to pit the children against the other parent. The ones who suffer the most are the children.
The moral of the story is that if parents want healthy children, their children must have a healthy relationship with both parents. Neither parent should treat their children poorly and neither parent should use the children as a way to get back at or spite the other parent. Parents need to act like adults and love their children and help them become healthy adults. The courts are willing and able to help the children and force parents to act appropriately.
As you can see, parenting issues are emotional, complicated, and exhausting. I regularly help parents navigate the Illinois court system to get the best results for their situation. I would like to discuss your situation and your options with you. Please call 773-616-3705 for a free consultation or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or stop by my office at 201 E. Dundee Road, Suite 1, Palatine, IL 60074.