The Changing Face of Legal Custody in Illinois

By now many Illinoisans are aware that, come January 1, 2016, family law in Illinois is getting a substantial makeover. “Legal custody” is one familiar legal principle that is being overhauled as part of the legislature’s expansive effort to have Illinois’s family and domestic relations law reflect twenty-first century realities. It remains to be seen, however, if the changes to how a court determines legal custody will benefit Illinois families or whether it will further complicate already-challenging custody determinations.

Legal Custody: Then and Now

“Legal custody” is a concept related to yet distinct from physical custody. Whereas a physical custody determination settles with whom the child will physically reside at particular times, legal custody determines which parent (or whether both parents) will make important decisions regarding their child’s upbringing and well being such as medical, educational, religious, and other similar decisions. When one parent has sole custody, that parent alone gets to make all of these decisions on behalf of the child without needing to consult with or seek approval from the other parent. Where divorced parents demonstrate that they can work effectively and cooperatively with one another when it comes to their child, courts had the option of awarding each parent joint custody. If a parent shared joint custody, he or she could not make important decisions regarding the child without first consulting and coming to an agreement with the other parent (unless, of course, there was an emergency that required immediate action).

The new child custody laws will do away with the term “legal custody” altogether and replace this term with the phrase “parental responsibilities.” A court will have the option of awarding one parent sole “responsibility” or joint “responsibility” for each of the following areas of responsibility:

  • Medical and healthcare decisions;
  • Religious decisions;
  • Educational decisions; and
  • Extracurricular activities decisions.

This change in the law is designed to allow courts a greater deal of flexibility in fashioning a child custody award that advances the child’s best interests. A court may award a parent who demonstrates he or she is particularly qualified to make certain decisions on behalf of the child the right to make those decisions for the child without giving that parent authority to make decisions in other areas of responsibility.

Do the New Child Custody Laws Encourage More Fights?

Some critics of the new child custody laws argue that more fights, not fewer, are certain to result as parents now are able to fight over four areas of “parental responsibility” as opposed to simply fighting over “legal custody.” Hearings to determine which parental responsibility should be awarded to which parent are likely to be longer and require more specialized evidence, given the division of the concept of “legal custody” into four specialized areas of responsibility.

Seek Help from a DuPage County Custody Attorney Today

It is important to seek help from an attorney knowledgeable with the existing child custody laws as well as the new “parental responsibility” laws and who has experience in handling custody/parental responsibility matters. The Abear Law Office retains skilled DuPage County child custody lawyers: we can assist you with obtaining physical or legal custody of your child or in seeking a modification of existing orders. Contact one of our offices today for assistance.