As a parent subject to a child custody order or visitation arrangement, you understand the importance of spending quality time with your child. Whether you are the primary residential parent or a parent with visitation rights, the opportunity to interact with your child helps foster a meaningful relationship that, hopefully, will last a lifetime. In recognition of the significance of a child’s connection to his or her natural parents, a court may award the right of first refusal to one or both parents in any child-related arrangement involving joint custody or visitation.
What is the Right of First Refusal?
Overwhelmingly passed in 2013 and taking effect in 2014, the measure that created the right of first refusal was an amendment to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. The added provision, although discretionary, when exercised by the court and implemented into a custody or visitation order, requires that a parent who needs child-care for a “significant period of time” must first offer the other parent an opportunity to personally care for the child before seeking a babysitter or alternative arrangements. Emergency situations are generally excluded.
Consider an example: You are the primary residential parent and under the terms of your custody agreement, your child is with you most weekdays and the first and third weekends of the month. However, during the first weekend of next month, you are required to attend a seminar for work and need to make arrangements for your child. If the right of first refusal was incorporated into your order, you are required to first offer the other parent the opportunity to care for your child, even though it would not be his or her scheduled weekend. Importantly, the right of first refusal does not require the other parent to accept the offered opportunity; it only requires the offer.
Applying the Right of First Refusal
In developing a parenting plan, parents are encouraged to work together to create their own workable guidelines in regard to the right of first refusal. While keeping the best interests of the child in mind, the parents, in conjunction with the court, must establish provisions for:
- Length and type of child-care requirements that will invoke first refusal rights, including defining what a “significant period of time” means to that particular family;
- How and when the other parent is to be notified of the need, and the expectations for an appropriate response;
- Which parent will provide transportation or how such determinations will be made; and
- Any other considerations to promote the best utilization of the law while remaining in the child’s best interests.
Like many aspects of divorce and child-related concerns, the right of first refusal is intended to be customized to meet the needs of each family’s situation. The continued well-being of the child is paramount, but a family is generally free to set its own reasonable guidelines.
If you are subject to a custody or visitation order and are unsure if you have been granted the right of first refusal, contact an experienced family law attorney in Kane County. We can help you review your agreement, understand your rights, and, if necessary, assist you in seeking a modification. Call today to schedule a free consultation.