When you hear the phrase “custody battle,” it is nearly impossible to think of anything but a competition between parents over who should be given primary responsibility for the couple’s children. It implies that, in most cases, one parent will “win” and one will “lose,” or that both parents will feel like they have somehow been shorted in the process. As part of this past summer’s family law reform bill, however, a new law in Illinois is designed to help reduce potential acrimony between parents and focus on providing for the best interest of a child subsequent to a divorce or other separated parent situation.
Sole Custody and Joint Custody
For many years, legal child custody has been granted either to one parent, as the sole custodian, or to both parents in a joint custody arrangement. As a separate concept from physical custody, which simply refers to where the child lives, stays, and is cared for, legal custody pertains to the right to make important decisions regarding the child and his or her upbringing.
A parent with sole custody is responsible for all of the important decisions, and while the non-custodial parent may offer his or her opinion, the sole custodial parent may choose to ignore it. In a joint custody situation, both parents are responsible for cooperative decision-making for the child, and the responsibilities of each parent are specified in a joint parenting agreement approved by the court.
In many cases, however, the titles associated with sole and joint custody still lend themselves to a spirit of competition between the parents instead of cooperation. Thus, beginning in January 2016, the word “custody” will be all but eliminated from Illinois family law, and legal custody, as it is currently known, will be changed. Instead of child custody, the law creates a process for the determination or allocation of parental responsibilities, which can still be granted to one or both parents. Parental responsibilities, like legal custody currently, include decision making for the child on important issues such as education, health care, religion, and extracurricular activities.
According to the new law, the parents in any appropriate proceeding will be given the opportunity to present a parenting plan to the court which includes how they will work together in providing for the child. The parenting plan will outline each parent’s areas of responsibility, along with a method for communication and dispute resolution. If, however, an agreement cannot be reached, even with the help of mediation, the court may intervene and allocate decision-making authority based on consideration of the best interests of the child.
Available Legal Help
While the new law changes much of terminology surrounding parental responsibility, most of the important factors will remain the same. The child’s best interest should always remain the highest priority for both the parents and the court. If you are involved in a divorce or other situation in which a custody dispute seems imminent, contact an experienced Kane County family law attorney today. We will help you understand your options and work with you to ensure your child is fully protected. Call 630-377-7770 for your free consultation.