Jonathan Merel

Sole Custody vs. Joint Custody


Sole custody in Illinois is generally defined as one parent being the primary decision maker for the minor child or children on the areas of: medical, education and religion. If you have sole custody, you most likely have the authority to make important decisions pertaining to your child’s life without having to consult with or obtain permission from the other parent. Joint custody in Illinois, on the other hand, provides both parents with decision making authority. As such, joint custody requires communication, collaboration, and compromise.

It should be noted that sole custody versus joint custody does not necessarily impact the parenting time awarded to each parent.  For example, if a parent is awarded sole custody of the child, it does not mean that the other parent will have limited parenting time with the child.  These distinctions in custody apply mainly to decision making on behalf of the child. Additionally, an award of sole custody as opposed to joint custody will not impact an award of child support.

Joint custody arrangements are ideal if the parents can communicate, respect, and get along with one another.  Having both parents involved in a child’s life, where they both feel that their voices are being heard, is preferred given the benefits that can have for the child. However, this is not always a possibility. In many situations, tension and acrimony between parents in the midst of a custody dispute work as a barrier to joint parenting. For a number of reasons there are situations where joint parenting would not be in the best interests of the child.

When joint parenting is not right for a family, due to the family’s dynamics, lack of cooperation, and/or the ability to co-parent, the court can intervene and award sole custody to one of the child’s parents. By becoming attuned to the circumstances of each case, judges and family law attorneys learn to spot possible vindictiveness by a parent to make the other parent seem bad or to make co-parenting seem impossible. Everyone has minor disagreements from time to time; those disagreements are not necessarily going to prevent a successful joint parenting arrangement. However, things such as fundamental differences in parenting, differences in knowledge, and attention to the interests of the child may lead to an award of sole custody. At the end of the day, a judge’s primary concern is to protect the well-being of the child, not to regulate a power struggle between parents.

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