Joint Custody is Not a 50/50 Split of Time

One of the biggest misconceptions is client’s perception that when their spouse, or spouse’s attorney, demands joint custody as part of an agreement or discussion, that this means they get the child(ren) 50% of the time.  Not true.  It means shared decision making between the parents regarding three things – the choice of schooling, religious upbringing, and medical treatment for the minor children.  However, shared decision making does not mean an equal say in these issues.  Joint custody is simply a term that is included to make the non-custodial parent feel that they are more involved with the children.  Typically, but not automatically, in joint custody situations, the Mother will get possession of the children as the residential parent, and the Father will be the non-residential parent and receive liberal visitation with the children.

By contrast, sole custody gives one spouse (usually the residential parent) full decision-making authority for the religious upbringing, education, and medical treatment issues.  However in practice, unless one parent is dangerous to the children, this custody arrangement also allows the same liberal visitation and is very similar to a joint custody arrangement.  

In upcoming years, Illinois is expected to substitute the language “parenting time” for the above terms.  Hopefully this change in terminology will eliminate the misconception of “joint custody” and allow parties in a divorce to concentrate on the resolution of other issues.  Rarely can either party be declared “winner” or “loser” in these cases, as the Court’s goal is the best interests of the children.
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