Following your divorce, it can be difficult to truly understand the role you are expected to play in the life of your child. Of course, you want to be an active parent and maintain a healthy, ongoing relationship with your child, but your legal responsibilities may be a little unclear. This may be especially true if the other parent has been granted a majority of the parenting time with your child. If he or she spends more time with your child, it must be up to him or her to make most of the decisions about how your child will be raised, right? Not necessarily. According to Illinois law, and recently upheld in an appellate court ruling, parenting time and parental decision-making authority are two separate concepts which may be allocated independently by the court.
Petition to Hyphenate a Child’s Name
The case in question—In re Marriage of Piegari—came out of the Circuit Court of DuPage County and involved the pending divorce of a couple with three children. While the divorce has not yet been finalized, an agreed upon parenting plan was entered in which the mother was allocated the majority of the parenting time, while the mother and father were granted equal authority for parental decision-making.
Three months after the parenting plan was entered, the mother filed a petition with the court seeking an order to change the names of her children. She wanted to hyphenate the children’s last name to include her maiden name. The father objected to the change, claiming that it was not in the children’s best interest, and also showing the court that the mother had already started using hyphenated names for the children on public documents.
Trial Court and Appellate Ruling
The trial court rejected the mother’s petition based on the lack of proof that such a change was in the best interests of the children. Her desire to include both names was not enough and the previous cases have set a precedent to allow name changes for minor children when such a change is found to be “necessary,” not just convenient. The mother appealed the ruling, and in her appellate brief she claimed that since she exercised most of the parenting time, she “is the parent who will be responsible to enroll the children in curricular and extra-curricular activities.”
The appellate court rejected her assertion outright, noting that the established parenting plan gave equal responsibility for decision-making to both parents, despite the mother having a majority of the parenting time. The appellate ruling upheld the trial court’s decision and stated, “[The mother]’s blatant attempt to transmogrify her greater share of parenting time into a position of power concerning the children’s surnames, and without any acknowledgement or appreciation of [the father]’s equal share of decision-making responsibility, misrepresents the parties’ parenting agreement, misapplies the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, and is not well taken.”
Understanding Your Rights
If you have questions about parenting time or the allocation of parental decision-making authority, contact an experienced St. Charles family law attorney. Call Bochte, Kuzniar & Navigato, P.C. today at 630-377-7770 for a free consultation.