Jonathan Merel

Child Custody Terminology Explained

There are many frequently used phrases that describe various child custody arrangements. Although they may explain underlying purposes, many are not legal terms recognized under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. Some popular child custody terms include:

  • Sole custody
  • Joint custody
  • Residential custody
  • Legal custody
  • Full custody
  • Split custody
  • Shared custody

Needless to say, it’s easy to see why so much confusion arises when discussing child custody. The State of Illinois legally recognizes two types of child custody arrangements: sole custody and joint custody.

In essence “full custody” is sole custody and both “split” and “shared custody” are joint custody. But it is very important to note that these terms are not legal terms. That may not be the case in other states, so it’s necessary to know the language in your jurisdiction when involved in a custody dispute and the process of determining custody arrangements.

Sole custody, as defined by Illinois statue, recognizes one parent as the main decision maker for the child or children, particularly with regard to the areas of medical, education and religion. In most instances, the custodial parent also has residential custody, meaning the child primarily resides with that parent. Furthermore, a parent with sole custody can usually be said to have “legal custody” as they do not need to consult with the other parent to make most major decisions.

It should be noted that even a parent with sole custody cannot permanently take a child out of state or the country without the permission of the other parent or absent a court order.

Joint custody on the other hand, requires both parents to agree on major decisions regarding medical, education and religious decisions. Having joint custody is not necessarily indicative of an equal split in parenting time, but it certainly can be.

It is very important for parents to understand that regardless of the legal child custody arrangement, the arrangement regarding decision making has no bearing on the other parent’s parenting time. A non-residential parent might end up spending more time with his or her children than the residential parent, or vice versa.  Additionally, just because one parent has sole custody, does not mean that the other parent’s parenting time will be minimized.  Child custody and child visitation/parenting time are separate issues.

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