Children, as they grow up, assert their desires for independence, particularly about staying home alone, but there is a real question about whether leaving a child alone is safe, or even legal. Divorced parents who share custody of a child, known as the allocation of parental responsibilities under Illinois law, must concede some level of control when the child is under the care and supervision of the other parent.
Of course, parents should require the other parent to keep the child safe, including providing an environment that supports the child’s well-being. Leaving a child alone can become murky territory as a child becomes a teenager, and under Illinois law, leaving a child home alone under the age of 14 is a crime. Thus, any parent who leaves a child home alone risks child neglect charges and the possibility the other parent may file a petition to modify the parenting plan to give them a greater share of the parental responsibility.
Modifying Parenting Plans
While circumstances in life are bound to change, once a parenting plan is in place, courts are reluctant to upset the child’s life by ordering a modification unless there is a compelling reason. As a result, during the first two years after a parenting plan is established, the court will not consider modifying the plan unless a parent can meet the high burden of showing the child’s environment is a threat to their mental, physical, or emotional health.
After this period passes, a parent requesting a modification must prove a significant change in circumstances, such as a notable decrease in school performance, health problems due to a parent’s neglect, or new social and psychological issues with the child. Assuming a substantial change in circumstance is established, the parent must then show the best interests of the child justify modification of the current arrangement. A guardian ad litem is sometimes appointed to represent the interests of the child, as well as an investigation by a mental health professional. Modifications do not come easily, and the advice of an experienced family law attorney is essential to getting the desired results.
Parenting Plans and Unsupervised Time Alone
Since changing a parenting plan is so challenging, having terms in place from the beginning to address and limit the ability of a parent to leave a child alone will make this issue easier to resolve. The first way to address this is to include a provision that gives a parent first right of refusal if the other parent will need to use another caregiver during their parenting time. This allows the parent to maintain control of who provides childcare and cuts down on the possibility the child will be left alone if alternate adults cannot be found. Further, specific prohibitions on leaving the child alone could also be included, and the parenting time schedule put in place should reflect the time each parent can spend with the child, so this issue does not become a recurring problem.
Get Help from a Wheaton, IL Family Law Attorney
Navigating parenting issues presents a number of challenges for divorced parents, and disputes sometimes arise. If you have concerns about parenting time or related issues and want to know your options, talk to the attorneys at Andrew Cores Family Law Group. Custody issues can quickly escalate, so contact our DuPage County family lawyers today at 630-871-1002 for a free consultation.