November 11, 2015
When couples divorce and there are children involved, one of the most disputed issues is often child custody. There are several different types of custody arrangements available to the parties and the court, and joint custody, even if requested, is not always awarded. It is important that if there are any contested custody issues in your divorce, you are represented from the outset by competent child custody attorneys ready to defend your interests.
Joint custody does not mean that each parent will spend 50% of the child’s time with the child or children involved. In fact, there are two different types of joint custody – joint legal custody and joint physical custody (in Illinois, referred to as joint residential custody).
When the court orders joint legal custody, it means that both parents share the major decision making regarding the child. Major decisions include decisions related to the child’s schooling, religion, and healthcare, and can include other things. On any given day the parent with physical custody makes the minor decisions, which include food choices, clothing, and activities.
Physical, or residential custody, is a less common custody arrangement, and it entails the child splitting residential time with each parent. It could be that the child lives with one parent three days and another four; or one week on and one week off; or some families even make nesting arrangements, where the child stays in the same house at all times, and the parents rotate in and out based on a schedule.
Joint custody can be requested by either parent, and if it is requested, the court is obligated to take it into consideration. Both parents can also agree to joint custody, and a court may even order joint custody on its own, without it being requested by either parent.
In the best case scenario, the parents will agree to the terms of a joint custody arrangement and will enter into what is referred to as a “JPA” or a joint parenting agreement. If both parents cannot agree on the terms of a joint parenting arrangement, then the court will enter a “JPO” or a joint parenting order, which specifies the exact terms of custody. It is obviously more desirable for the parents to find a way to agree rather than leave the judge with discretion to fashion a JPO that may not reflect the wishes of either party in a meaningful fashion, but it is not always possible if there is a high level of animus between the parties.
The JPA or JPO will detail where the child physically resides, and will specify the rights and duties of each parent. It will cover all major areas, including religion, education, healthcare, and living arrangements. Joint legal custody works best when the parents are able to communicate with one another and agree on major decisions regarding the child.
If you are divorcing and would like to enter into a joint custody agreement with your spouse, you need an experienced child custody attorney. The skilled legal professionals at Women’s Divorce & Family Law Group are prepared to assist you. Call us today for a consultation.