Under Illinois law, there are two options concerning child custody: either one parent will have sole custody, or the parties will have joint legal custody.
If you have sole custody, you make all of the decisions concerning the welfare of the children. You have no duty to seek input or consent from the other parent. Ordinarily, the children reside with the sole custodian and the noncustodial parent has visitation time on a set schedule.
Each parent has scheduled time with the children regardless of who has custody. Provisions for days of the week, school breaks, summer, holidays, and vacations are typically made in detail. If you and your spouse decide that one of your children will reside with you and another will reside with your spouse, the arrangement is called split physical custody.
With joint legal custody, you and your former spouse make major decisions jointly. Only major decisions need to be decided jointly, not routine day-to-day decisions, which are decided by the parent with whom the children primarily reside. If you and the other parent have joint custody and you have a dispute over a major parenting decision, you must attend mediation to discuss the disagreement. If you can’t work it out in mediation, the judge will then decide the disputed issue.
Under a joint legal custody agreement, the children typically reside with one parent and the other parent has visitation or parenting time with the children. There is some confusion about the term joint custody. Under Illinois law, joint custody does not mean that the children live with parents 50 percent of the time. Joint legal custody only refers to decision making.
An equal time-sharing arrangement is commonly known as shared custody. Judges generally frown upon shared custody because of the belief that the lack of a “home base” destabilizes children. If both parents agree to shared custody, however, most judges will permit the arrangement.
Joint and shared legal custody is often encouraged by mediators, lawyers, and even judges as a way to avoid messy and costly litigation. But sometimes, in high-conflict or oppositional relationships, a joint custody agreement just kicks the can down the road for a few years, when chronic disagreements will require the appointment of a sole custodian. In high-conflict relationships, consider addressing the unpleasant issue of sole versus joint custody head on, at the time of the divorce, rather than putting it off for a later day.
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