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Understanding how courts allocate parental responsibilities

We have seen a number of significant changes to family law this year in Illinois. Illinois has decided to move away from the phrases child custody and visitation. In fact, those terms have been eliminated from the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. While some of the changes seem somewhat semantic in nature, the reasons for the changes are more related to the changes in family structures that exist today.

The well being of children remains at the core of resolving parenting disputes

In family law disputes involving minor children, judges continue to evaluate what will serve the best interests of the children. However, the courts know seek to allocate parental responsibilities and parenting time. Traditionally, parents could seek joint custody or sole custody and then a visitation schedule would be arranged. The new law allows for more flexibility in the decision making process and allocating decision making responsibilities.

Decisions concerning how a child will be raised are broken down into four different categories:

  • Decisions concerning the child's education
  • Healthcare and medical decisions
  • Decisions regarding faith and religious considerations
  • Authority to allow children to participate in extra-curricular activities

Parents are generally encouraged to arrive at a reasonable agreement concerning how decisions will be made, and who will have the authority to make the decisions in a parenting plan that is provided to the court. If parents cannot agree to a comprehensive plan, courts will typically order the parents to try to settle their differences in mediation. While the new law includes the potential for greater flexibility, the defined areas of responsibility can lead to difficult disputes.

The allocation of responsibilities can include joint authority in any of the four categories, sole authority for one parent to make decisions in a specific area, or any combination of sole and joint responsibility to create a workable solution to serve the child's well-being. Obviously, navigating the new rules and potential outcomes can be daunting. An experienced family law attorney can explain the differences, how judges may view a particular dispute and help you to protect your parental rights.

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