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Child Custody vs. Parental Responsibility: What’s the Difference?


Child custody is often one of the most hotly contested issues in any divorce. While these efforts are sometimes well-intentioned, spouses fight over children as a means to hurt the other, harming the emotions and stability of children in the process. But this isn’t an issue any longer.

As of January 1, 2016, new updates to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution Of Marriage Act (IMDMA) have done away with the idea of child custody in favor of what is referred to as “parental responsibility.”

But, what does this mean for your divorce and more importantly, your children and your time with them following your divorce?

The Old Child Custody Law: Sole vs. Joint Custody

In the past, child custody has been awarded in one of two ways: Sole or joint custody. The major difference between the two types is regarding which parent retains the right to make major decisions for children. These decisions may have been made with regard to education, health, religion, and extracurricular activities, among others.

When joint custody was awarded, parents would work together to make decisions in all these areas. When sole custody awarded, that parent would have the final say as to how the child is raised.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because this is how custody has been decided and awarded since 1977. However, this idea of custody no longer exists and in its place, you’ll handle the “allocation of parental responsibility” in your case.

The New Child Custody Law: Allocation of Parental Responsibilities

While one parent may be designated as the “residential custodial parent” (i.e. the parent that the minor children primarily live with), the ideas of sole and joint custody no longer exist. Instead, the courts will allocate parental responsibilities based on a number of relevant facts specific to each case.

In some cases, especially those in which the parents disagree, a Guardian Ad Litem will be appointed. This is a separate attorney, appointed by the judge, who will speak with the children to determine which decisions are in their best interests.

In any case, the court will consider a number of factors to make decisions regarding any children. These factors include:

  • The child’s(ren’s) preferences, especially if they are mature and able to express themselves;
  • How well the child(ren) has/have adjusted to his or her home, community, school, and other environments;
  • The mental and physical health of both the parents and child(ren);
  • How well the parents can cooperate to make decisions for the child(ren);
  • The level of involvement each parent has traditionally played in decision-making for the child(ren);
  • Any prior agreements the parents have made regarding decision-making for the child(ren);
  • The child’s(ren’s) needs;
  • The distance between where the parents live and how difficult that will make transportation, scheduling, etc.;
  • Whether a restriction is appropriate for either parent based on their previous behavior or decisions; and
  • Any other factors deemed relevant by the court.

As you can imagine, each case is complicated and will be treated differently by the court. It’s best when you can work together with your spouse, whether through your attorneys or in mediation, to agree on parental responsibilities to ensure you both share time with the child(ren).

If you do reach an agreement with your spouse regarding parenting time, you will enter into a written agreement with the court to ensure you are both held accountable to follow the terms of what you’ve agreed to.

Take Care of Your Child’s(ren’s) Best Interests With the Expertise of Lawrence R. Surinak Ltd.!

With over 35 years of experience in handling the complicated nature of child custody, now parental responsibility, agreements, you can be sure that you receive the parenting time you want with your child.

If you’re concerned over parental responsibilities or would like to discuss this issue with Larry, contact us at 630-470-9990 or request a free 30-minute consultation online. We look forward to speaking with you to address this issue, and others that are on your mind, and helping get your case started.

Concentrated on Family Law

Lawrence R. Surinak Ltd. is a law firm concentrating solely on family law and has served clients in DuPage, Will, Kane, and Kendall counties for over 35 years.

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About Attorney Lawrence R. Surinak Ltd.

Lawrence R. Surinak Ltd. is a law firm concentrating solely on family law and has served clients in DuPage, Will, Kane, and Kendall counties for over 35 years.

We continue to work with clients in Naperville, Wheaton, Lisle, Oswego, Downers Grove, and the surrounding areas to provide one-on-one support and attention that will help you through this difficult time.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us at any time. We look forward to offering our expertise and support to you throughout your case and after.