How Does Joint Custody Work?
When parents divorce, one question often rises above the rest: who will get the kids? The answer to that question is not a simple one, particularly with the increase in attention on joint custody determinations. When considering child custody arrangements, if joint custody is on the table, the question then becomes: what does that look like?
Sole Custody vs. Joint Custody
According to Illinois Law, custody decisions are made based on the best interest of the child. Determining the best interest of the child involves considering relevant factors, including those specified by the statute, such as:
- The parents’ wishes;
- The child’s wishes;
- The relationship between the child and parents, siblings and other close relatives;
- The child’s adjustment to his home, school, and community;
- The mental and physical health of the child and parents;
- Violence by the parent(s) against the child or another person;
- Each parent’s willingness and ability to encourage and facilitate a relationship between the child and the other parent;
- Whether one of the parents is a sex offender; and
- If applicable, the terms of a parent’s military family-care plan.
Preferences for Joint Custody
Joint custody has gained increased attention nationwide. A recent article in Time identified a variety of studies detailing the ways that shared parenting benefits children, although it notes that the National Parenting Organization estimates the rate of joint custody in the U.S. to be around 20%. A study of children in Sweden identified that children who lived with both parents – in a joint custody or shared parenting arrangement – experienced less stress and fewer psychosomatic health problems, such as sleep problems, headache, or loss of appetite.
Joint Custody in Practice
While joint custody may be generally seen as beneficial to children of separated or divorced parents, that does not mean that it is the right arrangement for every family. In practice, sharing joint custody of children can be challenging. According to Illinois law, Joint custody does not necessarily mean that each parent has equal custody; parents, or the court, will decide how to split time and divide each parent’s rights and responsibilities based on the child’s best interest. Parents who are able to decide for themselves how to share custody can prepare a Joint Parenting Agreement that specifies how time is to be split, parental rights regarding major decisions (including education, health care, and religious training), and procedures to handle proposed changes or failures to adhere to the Agreement, and sets up a periodic review of the Agreement. If the parents are unable to agree, the court will address those same issues in a Joint Parenting Order.
Illinois law states that joint custody is appropriate when it is determined to be in the best interest of the child – based on the factors listed above. The law also states that in addition to those factors, the court should consider the ability of the parents to cooperate and comply with a joint parenting order and the residential circumstances of each parent.
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