Co-Parenting in the Age of Coronavirus

There is no road map that allows us to provide hard guidance on how to manage parenting during this difficult time. Families are in unfamiliar territory. However, there are some things that hopefully will help you navigate co-parenting.

  1. Follow existing court orders. Parents must follow existing court orders. This is scary advice for clients who may feel that the other parent is not practicing social distancing practices. Courts are not generally hearing these cases at the moment. In Illinois most courts are closed until mid-May with the exception of emergencies. Common sense would indicate that if one parent has been exposed to COVID-19 then act responsibly even though it may violate the parenting plan. If a child or other family is at high risk medically that may impact how parenting time is exercised, don’t be arbitrary and act responsibly. Your failure to act in good faith during this time will be used against you in the future.
  2. Modifications. If you do decide to modify the existing Parenting Plan, I suggest you get this modification in writing. This can be done with your attorney by drafting a stipulation amending the existing schedule and signed by both parties.
  3. Be Flexible. Many of us including attorneys are working remotely. Some families are now faced with the challenge of working while home schooling and dealing with children home all day every day.  If possible support the other parent during this time to allow you both the option of working and supporting the education of your children.
  4. Keep communication neutral. Resist the desire to lash out at your ex at this time. Stay focused on the kids and the logistics of what needs to be done.
  5. Prioritize the Financial Needs of your child. If one parent loses a job or becomes unable to work due to illness or temporary closures this will require a rethinking of support and payment obligations.
  6. Parental contact. In some situations in person contact may be limited. Use Skype, Zoom or Face Time to ensure regular contact with the other parent. It is important for your family.
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Finding the Right Fit: Decision-Making Supports and Guardianship

There was a period in my practice that guardianship seemed like the only option for families of disabled adults. That is no longer the automatic solution. In our office we have always emphasized that there is no one size fits all. Guardianship does not solve most issues facing families with young adults with disabilities.

Here are a few scenarios that have come up over the years in my office.

            Matthew is 18. He is diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and a learning disability. Matthew only wants to play video games in the basement and refuses medication. The parents have been told by the school that they should seek guardianship in order to force Mathew to take medication.

            Anna is a young adult with Down Syndrome. She will be finishing her transition program at the high school next month on the day before her 22nd birthday. The parents have not pursued guardianship but rather worked with Anna in helping her make some of her decisions. Recently, Anna was sick with the flu and had to be hospitalized. The hospital wanted to make sure the parents had a legal right to make decisions.

            Frank is a young man with autism. He is non-verbal and is in a group home. His parents are very concerned about his care. They obtained guardianship of Frank when he turned 18.

The planning process for a family member with a disability should start well before the person’s 18th birthday. The educational team which includes the parents should discuss skills needed and any barriers or deficits that need remediation or support. Guardianship is not a must but an option. This is not an all or nothing approach of independence. There are other supports that exist to help.


Let’s talk about our hypothetical of Matthew. Matthew has average intelligence. He is impulsive and has had 3 psychiatric hospitalizations in the last year. His parents finally persuaded him to sign a Power of Attorney for Health Care and a Mental Health Declaration so that they can help him in decision making and have information about his treatment. The school is still insisting on guardianship. The parents are not sure that guardianship is the right solution.

FAQ: What options exist other than guardianship?

  • A Power of Attorney for Health Care
  • Mental Health Declaration
  • Delegation of Rights (for special education decision making)

FAQ: Do the parents have a right to make Matthew take medication if they become his guardians?

  • No. Guardianship does not give you the power to forcibly medicate a person with a mental illness.
  • In Matthew’s case the law is clear that a guardian of the person cannot override his decision not to take medication in a non-emergency situation without a petition to the court. 2-107(a) reads in pertinent part as follows:

            A Guardian of the Person cannot override the decision of the patient/ward in a non-emergency situation without a petition to the court. An adult recipient of services or the recipient’s guardian, if the recipient is under guardianship and the recipient’s substitute decision maker, if any, must be informed of the recipient’s right to refuse medication or electroconvulsive therapy. The ward has a right to refuse medication in a non-emergency situation. However, a guardian may be authorized to consent to the administration of psychotropic medication or electroconvulsive therapy to an objecting recipient only under the standards and procedures of subsection(a-5). This refers to the seven requirements that must be met in order to override the ward’s refusal. The acting physician can also petition the court for the involuntary treatment of the ward if both the ward and the guardian refuse treatment and must prove the same seven things that the guardian would have to prove to overcome the lack of consent.

The following must be proven at a hearing with clear and convincing evidence.

  1. That the recipient has a serious mental health or developmental disability.
  2. That because of said mental illness or developmental disability, the recipient exhibits any one of the following:
    1. Deterioration of his or her ability to function, as compared to the recipient’s ability to function prior to the current onset of symptoms of the mental illness or disability for which treatment is presently sought.
    1. Suffering, or
    1. Threatening behavior.
  3. That the illness or disability has existed for a period marked by the continuing presence of the symptoms set forth in item (b)) of this subdivision (4) or the repeated episodic occurrence of these symptoms.
  4. That the benefits of the treatment outweigh the harm.
  5. That the recipient lacks the capacity to make a reasoned decision about the treatment.
  6. That other less restrictive services have been explored and found inappropriate.
  7. If the petition seeks authorization for testing and other procedures, that such testing and procedures are essential for the safe and effective administration of the treatment.

After the petition has been filed, the court has seven days to hold a hearing and the parties are entitled to a continuance of seven days by right. If the seven statutory factors are proven at a hearing the ward’s lack of consent is over-ridden. If they are not proven the ward’s decision is affirmed.

FAQ: Does Guardianship give Matthew’s parents the right to make him live in a group home?

  • No. Matthew must consent.
  • This is not intended to be an exhaustive discussion of all the complexities of the Mental Health Confidentiality Act or the Probate Act. The real intent of this discussion is that guardianship over an adult with mental illness does not give you a magic wand that allows you to force treatment or admission to a facility.


The options for Anna. Not unlike the scenario in Matthew’s case, Anna’s parents had always assumed that they would become Anna’s guardians when she turned 18. However, as Anna moved through school and they met other parents it became clear that there may be less restrictive options for helping Anna navigate the world more independently.

Anna looked to her parents for help in managing her money. She had a job after school at a local pet store. She had very clear ideas about her clothes, music and food choices. Anna wanted to get an apartment at some time like her older sister. Anna’s parents wanted a place at the table to support her in decisions. Anna and her parents decided that at least for now, they would agree that she would execute a Power of Attorney for Health Care that would be used if serious medical issues arose. Anna’s mother always accompanied her to any doctor appointments. This was important to both of them. They found a doctor who was very good at explaining things to Anna and asking for her input. For now, they would not pursue guardianship.

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Apps for Divorcing Parents

FAQ: Why use a co-parenting app?

It centralizes communication and helps with organization. Even for divorcing or divorced parents it has been my experience that the apps provide a less emotional vehicle for communication. Using an app can also limit the he said, she said phenomenon.

            FAQ: What can an app do to help with scheduling?

Most apps provide an ability to use a shared calendar and allow you to provide notice to the other parent in the event of a schedule change. I represent many families with children who have special needs. Often the scheduling complexities of outside therapies, doctor’s visits are daunting to intact families. In divorced families, managing the scheduling is even more daunting. An app that gives a calendar and notifications regarding changes is essential and reduces the stress of constant communication.

            FAQ: My ex and I share expenses for our two children. Are there apps that track expenses?

Yes. Not all apps have an expense tracker, but most do. The list of common apps and their features is listed below.

            FAQ: My wife has been very verbally abusive on the phone when we discuss anything to do with our kids. Can an app help eliminate the tension or the constant fighting via phone or text?

The answer is yes. The apps aren’t perfect and for someone who is constantly angry they may not resolve that completely. However, I have been involved in high conflict divorces where the court may order that all communication ( with the exception of an emergency) be conducted through an app. This does reduce much of the free-floating anger and allows for more detached communication.

Apps for Coparenting

Our Family Wizard

A divorce couple created the Our Family Wizard platform to help keep communication between co-parents as harmonious as possible. Each parent has their own account, and can then add as many third party, child accounts and professional accounts as the require at no extra cost. Attorneys and mediators are examples of third- party accounts. There is an option extra called a ToneMeter. This is designed to pick up on negative tones in a message and giving you an alternative that’s less likely to start an argument. It also tracks and logs communications, providing access to accurate records that may be used in court proceedings.

Costs: $99.00 per year with a thirty- day money back guarantee. Each parent must subscribe. The ToneMeter is available for an additional $10.00 charge annually.

Talking Parents

Talking Parents is an app that is free for the basic subscription. It has fewer options even with the upgrades at an additionally monthly cost. This app is a good option for parents who want to an ability to communicate with a secure system that allows the parties to keep a record of communications.


Cozi is a free co-parenting app that allows you to set up shared calendars, create to do-lists, share photos and other information. The basic version is free. It can be shared with anyone who needs to access the shared calendar and other information. Upgrades are available.


  • Shared Calendar
  • Tracks Expenses
  • Mobile Access

Cost is $99.00 per year per parent.

Most of the apps offer a free-trial period. Determine which one works for your situation. Discuss the use of the app with the other parent. The courts in high conflict situations may require parties to utilize apps for communications and this is often incorporated into a court order.

If you are contemplating divorce or struggling to co-parent with the other parent or want advice on how to proceed legally to achieve the best outcomes for you, your children and family. Call me to discuss how our firm can assist you in this journey. (312)-640-0500 or via e-mail at

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The Holidays and Divorced or Separating Families

The holidays can be fraught with tension for many families who are divorced or who are in transition. Over the years of my practice as a family law attorney, I have developed a list of those things that can help during this complicated time of year.

1. Plan ahead.  That may sound simple but very often clients find themselves in “emergencies” that their ex-spouse has generated. Sit down with a calendar and plan the days that loom ahead. Ask yourself if you and your co-parent are in agreement on where and when the children will be for each designated holiday. These details should be in a well-drafted Parenting Plan.  However, parents may disagree on the language or fairness of the allocation of parenting time. This needs to be addressed before the holiday season and not on the day before a major event.

  • Communicate in writing with the other parent. Outline the itinerary if applicable for the upcoming holidays. Confirm in writing that there is an agreement regarding the pick -up times, dates, and any other details that are necessary. Document your efforts to resolve any dispute or your efforts at co-parenting.
  • Let the children or teenagers know of the plans. This discussion and how it is presented varies by age and developmental level. They should not be put in the middle of any discussion where there is a dispute. However, letting them know of the schedule can help ease any anxiety about how the holidays will be celebrated with each parent.
  • Stay positive and be flexible.

2. Determine how you will communicate with your children when they aren’t with you. Don’t infringe on the other parent’s time. Let them know you care, but keep it short and positive.

3. If you are struggling with the holidays as a result of the divorce or simply because they are hard, don’t share that with the children. Things will get better.  

4. If there is an emergency or your ex-spouse is being difficult, keep in mind that judges don’t respond favorably to emergencies that are a result of procrastinating or playing gotcha with the other parent. If you anticipate a problem, plan ahead and let your attorney know of your concerns well in advance of the upcoming holiday or event.

5. Prepare your children or teens for the transitions and changes. Do the right thing and take the high road.

6. Do your best to enjoy the holiday events. Create new rituals for yourself and with your children.

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The Role of the Guardian Ad Litem in Divorce or Parentage Cases

What is a guardian ad litem?

A guardian ad litem is an attorney who is appointed to investigate the best interests of the child. In any proceeding involving the allocation of parental responsibilities, parentage, support, relocation, property interest, abuse or general welfare of a minor or dependent child, the court may appoint an attorney in one of several roles. The guardian ad litem is one option for the court. A guardian ad litem is not appointed in every case. The court will often appoint them if there is no agreement between the parties in child related issues.

The guardian ad litem shall testify or submit a written report to the court regarding his or her recommendations in accordance with the best interests of the child. The report shall be made available to all parties. The guardian ad litem may be called as a witness for purposes of cross-examination regarding the guardian ad litem’s report or recommendations. The guardian ad litem shall investigate the facts of the case and interview the child and the parties.

Typically, the guardian ad litem will interview both parents and the children. They will visit each parent’s home and may as part of their investigation speak to teachers, the child’s pediatrician, relatives, and therapists. Each case is unique. However, the guardian ad litem should be familiar with all the issues and needs impacting the children in the case in order to prepare their report for the court.

What are the factors a court and a guardian ad litem consider in determining the best interests of the child?

Under 750 ILCS 5/602.7, when determining the child’s best interests for purposes of allocating parenting time, the court shall consider all relevant factors, including without limitation, the following:

  1. The wishes of each parent seeking parenting time;
  2. The wishes of the child, taking into account the child’s maturity and ability to express reasoned and independent preferences as to parenting time;
  3. The amount of time each parent spent performing caretaking functions with respect to the child in the 24 months preceding the filing of any petition for allocation of parental responsibilities or, if the child is under 2 years of age, since the child’s birth;
  4. Any prior agreement or course of conduct between the parents relating to the caregiving function with respect to the child;
  5. The interaction and interrelationship of the child with his or her parents and siblings with another person who may significantly affect the child’s best interest;
  6. The child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community;
  7. The mental and physical health of all individuals involved;
  8. The child’s needs;
  9. The distance between the parent’s residences, the cost and difficulty of transporting the child, the parent’s daily schedules, and the ability of the parents to cooperate in the arrangement;
  10. Whether a restriction on parenting time is appropriate;
  11. The physical violence or threat of physical violence by the child’s parent directed at the child or other member of the child’s household;
  12. The willingness and ability of each parent to place the needs of the child ahead of his or her own needs;
  13. The willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child;
  14. The occurrence of abuse against the child or other member of the child’s household;
  15. Whether one of the parents is a convicted sex offender or lives with a convicted sex offender and, if so, the exact nature of the offense and what if any treatment the offender has successfully participated in; the parties are entitled to a hearing on the issues raised in this paragraph (15);
  16. The terms of a parent’s military family-care plan that a parent must complete before deployment if a parent is a member of the United States Armed Forces who is being deployed; and
  17. Any other factor that the court expressly finds to be relevant.

In my practice I make a point of reviewing the above factors with my clients in a discussion of allocation of parenting time and decision-making. If there is a dispute over these issues it is important that the client is aware of the best interest factors. This review is essential in preparing for mediation, settlement, or litigation if there is no agreement.

How does the court choose a guardian ad litem?

Each county has a list of attorneys who can function in this role. They have taken training in child development, family law and child related issues.

Who pays for the guardian ad litem?

The parents are responsible for the fees of the guardian ad litem. The guardian is required to submit an invoice and statement of their fees to the court. The Judge can order that the parties share the costs equally or apportion them between the parties in a fair and equitable manner.

Note: The GAL or guardian ad litem is not the only attorney that can be appointed in a disputed matter. The court can, as appropriate under the facts of the case, appoint an attorney as a child representative or attorney for the child. These roles differ from that of the guardian ad litem.         

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Elements of an Effective Parenting Plan for Divorcing Couples

There is no one size fits all parenting plan. It should be based upon the best interests of your children and what works for your family. I have created a checklist that is a good starting point for parents who are contemplating divorce or separation to address the numerous issues that need to be addressed in a parenting plan.

There is no one size fits all parenting plan. It should be based upon the best interests of your children and what works for your family. I have created a checklist that is a good starting point for parents who are contemplating divorce or separation to address the numerous issues that need to be addressed in a parenting plan.

Parenting Schedule (Research supports the concept that frequent continued contact with both parents is best for children in most situations). *

  • There is no mathematical formula that is automatically applied.
  • The question is how your child will divide their time between both homes.
  • Your child’s unique needs should be the center of any discussion.
  • 50/50 isn’t always best for the children
  • Transportation. Who, Where and When? Pick up and drop off times should be specified.
  • School District considerations
  • How will we juggle extracurricular activities, after school, or other events?
  • Will one parent return to work?
  • Do any of the children have special needs?

*Tip:  Print a paper calendar and outline the proposed schedule. I recommend doing this for an entire calendar year. (should include holidays, vacations, school breaks)

Holidays/Special Dates*  What holidays are celebrated by your family?

  • Birthdays
  • Parents Birthdays
  • Special Events (evolving)
  • Father’s Day
  • Mother’s Day
  • Shared holidays
  • Alternated holidays

*Tip: Check dates on the calendars several years in advance. Map them out on a calendar so you get a visual of what this will look like. Check school calendars as well.

Travel and Vacations:  How much advance notice does each parent want or need to plan for vacations/travel?

  • How much vacation time will each parent have each year?
  • Will the children be required to travel?
  • Who will pay for the cost of travel?

Schedule Changes:

  • Life Happens. Flexibility is important.
  • Emergency vs. non-emergency situations.
  • Children need predictability. Schedule changes should be minimized.

Decision Making:

  • Shared/ Sole or Split
  • Education
  • Medical
  • Extracurricular

Communication:  Between parents (computer-based communication systems are recommended).

  • With the parents
  • Frequency
  • Text/Cell phone/Skype

Expenses:  Draft a budget for anticipated expenses. (e.g. orthodontia, sports, tutoring)

  • Co-Pays?
  • Shared?


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Attorney Assisted Mediation: An Option for Divorcing Clients

Mediation is increasingly used by divorcing couples as an alternative to litigation as a means of both reducing conflict and cost.

The mediator in divorce is a neutral professional (often an attorney trained in mediation) who assists the parties in creating an out of court settlement of all of the issues in the divorce. The mediator helps the parties discuss financial concerns, parenting time, allocation of decision making. The parties in the course of mediation exchange relevant information on financial matters, property, debt, child related matters and any other issues that need to be resolved in the marital settlement agreement. Parties are encouraged to consult an attorney for guidance to understand the legal implications of their choices and the available options.


The attorney’s role in the mediation process depends on the situation. At the very least, it is important to educate the client regarding their options and how the existing law applies to their case. This assists the clients in making informed decisions.

Assembling Needed Information

Divorce can be overwhelming. One of the roles an attorney plays in facilitating mediation is to help the client assemble the necessary documentation that is required in a divorce. In Illinois, both parties must complete a Financial Affidavit that discloses their current financial data. Parties need to provide pay stubs, credit card statements, tax returns and other documents as part of this process. This is an opportunity to educate the client on financial issues. Some clients may be very savvy while others may be unaware of their choices and the decisions that need to be made. An attorney who is present at the mediation can help guide the steps necessary to help you reach a fair and equitable settlement. The attorney can be the client’s voice in articulating needs and desired outcomes.

Preparing for Attorney Assisted Mediation: A Checklist


  • Parenting Plan – be prepared to discuss how each of you will share time with the children.
  • Decision making- will you share decision making? Sole decision making to one parent?
  • Are there any special factors that are unique to your situation (child with special needs, parents work schedules)

Financial  (should be individualized for every case)


            Income Tax returns

            Mortgage Statements


            Retirement Accounts


            Credit Cards

            Auto Loans

            College Expenses

            Insurance Premiums


Attorneys can help their clients identify those things that are most important to them in negotiating a settlement that seems fair and addresses their concerns. Helping a client set realistic attainable goals is one of the functions of attorneys in attorney assisted mediation.

How can we help?

Contact our office for a free consultation regarding your divorce and the role our attorneys can play in attorney assisted mediation.


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Special Needs Considerations in Divorce

There are no “typical” fact patterns when it comes to divorce when a child or children have special needs. From the beginning of the case, our office makes it a priority to understand the unique needs of these families. This often means asking certain essential questions that will guide our legal advice and strategy.

Questions that help in developing a plan are as follows:

What are the ages of the child or children?

Do one or more of them have a diagnosis of a disability?

What is the disability?

How does it impact your family? The child?

Who is the primary caregiver?

Has the child been evaluated?

Does the child have an IEP (Individual Education Plan)?

What therapies outside of school are being provided?

Are there any special financial needs? (e.g. equipment)

Are they ongoing, recurring, non-recurring?

How does the child handle transitions?

Is the current marital residence specially outfitted for your child?

Does the child’s disability prevent one parent from being employed?

Will child support impact the child’s receipt of governmental benefits?

Is there a special needs trust already established?

Documents to provide our office: (not exhaustive)

An evaluation of the child

School records (typically the last two years)

A daily schedule detailing the care required. A day/week in the life of your child helps in developing a parenting plan and allocating decision making.

List of expenses (including therapies, child-care, uncovered medical expenses) related to the special need’s child

Income tax returns (pay stubs and supporting documentation)

Divorce is difficult under any circumstances. Our office works with complex families. There are many more moving parts when a child with a disability is involved. There are both short and long-term considerations to be addressed in the process. Our goal is to work with you to achieve the best outcome for your child and family.

We offer free consultations in matters of divorce and post decree issues. Please contact our office at 312-640-0500 if you would like to schedule an appointment.

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Responding to DCFS: What to do if The Department of Children and Family Service (“DCFS”) calls or shows up?

In my experience this is a call that causes panic in even the calmest among us. Visions of their children taken from their homes and the notion that some harm has been caused and that the parent is being accused of some wrong doing makes families feel exposed and scared.

Here are some frequently asked questions that may help in advising clients or when you are confronted with a call from a DCFS worker. This list is not exhaustive and is not intended as legal advice. Every situation is different. Call an attorney for advice prior to speaking to DCFS.

Can I refuse to talk to DCFS or refuse to allow my children to be interviewed?

Yes. However, this refusal will be used against you. DCFS may then determine that they should interview your children at school or take even more serious steps. If the police are involved and there is a criminal investigation, you should absolutely consult an attorney before speaking to DCFS.

Am I allowed to have an attorney present for the interview?

Yes. You are entitled to speak to an attorney before cooperating with the DCFS investigation.

What if I don’t know why DCFS is investigating me or my family?

You should ask in the very first contact with the DCFS investigator what the specific allegations or what you are being accused of? Be polite and respectful regardless of how angry you feel about the allegations.

You are not entitled to know who made the allegations.

Does my child have a right to have someone with them when they are interviewed?

Yes. You should insist that they have someone else present when they interview your child. You should also have another person in the room with you when you are interviewed.

What if DCFS tells me I can only have limited or no contact with my child and insists on a “safety plan”?

Call your attorney. If that isn’t possible, have another adult in the room with you when you review the conditions and terms of the safety plan.

If you are a parent or a mandated reporter under Illinois law please feel free to contact our office for a consultation regarding your legal rights regarding DCFS investigations and reporting.

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Selected Bibliography for Children and Divorce

Two Homes by Claire Masurel

Dinosaurs Divorce by Lauren Krasny Brown and Marc Brown

My Family’s Changing by Pat Thomas

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst

It’s Not Your Fault, Koko Bear  by Vicki Lansky

I Don’t Want to Talk About It, by Jeanie Franz Ransom

What Can I Do? A Book for Children of Divorce by Danielle Lowry

It’s Not The End of the World by Judy Blume

Divorce is Not the End of the World by Zoe and Evan Stern

Mom’s House, Dad’s House for Kids by isolina Ricii

Divorce is the Worst by Anastasia Higginbothom

A Brand New Day: Banana Split Story by A.S. Chung and Paula Bossio

Was It the Chocolate Pudding? A Story for Little Kids About Divorce by Sandra Levins

Fred Stays with Me by Nancy Coffeit and Tricia Tusa

Living with Mom and Dad by Melanie Walsh

My Mom and Dad Don’t Live Together Anymore by Judith Aron Rubin, Ph.D

How it Feels When Parents Divorce by Alfred A. Knopf

When My Parents Forgot to be Friends by Jennifer Moore-Malinois

What in the World Do You Do When Your Parents Divorce? A Survival Guide for Kids by Kent Winchester and Roberta Beyer

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