Courts in Illinois must focus on the child’s best interest when allocating decision-making responsibilities between parents or guardians. Under 750 ILCS 5/602.5(a), judges are not required to equally allocate decision-making responsibilities to each parent; so in a final parenting agreement pursuant to divorce, one parent could be assigned sole decision-making responsibilities. However, Illinois courts do favor parties to come to a written agreement and decide on how to allocate decision-making responsibilities. If the parties cannot agree on the allocation of decision-making responsibilities, then the court will decide on how those responsibilities are assigned for them.
The four significant issues affecting children that require the allocation of decision-making are:
- Education, including the child(s) choice of school and tutors;
- Health such as the medical, dental, and psychological needs of a child and the treatments arising or resulting from those needs;
- Religion; and
- Extracurricular activities
To determine the best interest of the child, the court considers 15 factors which are listed in the IMDMA (Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act.) However, this is not an exhaustive list, so the court can use other factors it deems relevant.
Here are a few of the factors that a court uses to determine the best-interest of a minor child:
- The wishes of the child, while taking into account the child’s maturity and ability to express reasoned and independent preferences, as to the parent’s decision-making.
- The child’s adjustment to his/her/their home, school, and community;
- The mental and physical health of all household members and parties involved;
- The ability of the parents to cooperate to make decisions, or in contrast the level of conflict between the parties that may affect their ability to share decision-making;
- The level of each parent’s participation in past significant decision-making with respect to the child;
The court is prohibited from considering conduct of a parent that does not affect that parent’s relationship to the child.
Given that family court Judges must follow the IMDMA and the factors provided by the statute and do not have direct daily knowledge about what is best for litigants and their children, parents who can come to an agreement about extracurricular activities outside of a court room can come to a better conclusion for their family’s needs. With this in mind, parents really are better off mediating how to allocate decision-making responsibilities rather than litigating extracurricular allocation and not leaving these intimate and important decisions to an anonymous judge on the bench.
Both parents benefit from mediation when allocating decision-making responsibilities for extracurricular activities because:
- Mediation allows the parties to come to an agreement that is best for their family and aligns with the goals they might have for the child(ren).
- Parties can be creative in their allocation
- Parties can enroll their child(ren) in as many or little activities as they wish without being ordered by a judge.
Finally, those who choose to mediate rather than litigate the allocation of extracurricular activities are in control of the process and the ultimate impact these decisions have on their family.
 750 ILCS 505(a)(3.6) states, “Extracurricular activities and school expenses. The court, in its discretion in addition to the basic child support obligation, may order either or both parents owing a duty of support to the child to contribute to the reasonable school and extracurricular activity expenses incurred which are intended to enhance the educational, athletic, social, or cultural development of the child.”
Anne Prenner Schmidt, Esq.