The New Understanding of Child Custody

Beginning in January of 2016, new laws went into effect in Illinois that altered the state’s approach to child custody proceedings for divorced, separated, and unmarried parents. Proponents of the changes had held for many years that the previous version of the law had become outdated and often led to bitter, impassioned disputes between parents who each wanted to “win” custody of their children. While no law can prevent all contentiousness between divorcing parents, state officials are hopeful that the amended Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act will serve as useful family law guideline for many years to come.

Custody vs. Parental Responsibilities

Under the previous law, there were two types of custody regarding a child. Legal custody referred to the right to make decisions regarding the child’s life, while physical custody referred to where and under whose supervision the child would be at any given time. Legal custody could be granted to one parent—sole custody—or to both parents in a joint custody arrangement. Physical custody was handled separately, and even a parent without any legal custody rights could be granted visitation and, therefore, a level of shared physical custody.

Today, the new law provides some similarities to the old law but with very different language. Instead of “legal custody,” the law refers to “parental responsibilities” that are to be allocated between parents. Significant decision-making regarding the child is a major part of these responsibilities and may be granted to one parent alone or shared between both parents. The law and the courts, however, presume that shared parental responsibilities are in the child’s best interests in most cases and encourage parents to work out a plan for sharing such authority.

Visitation and Parenting Time

The new laws also provided a change in terminology regarding the time that a divorced, separated, or unmarried parent spends with his or her child. For many years, a parent without primary legal custody had visitation rights. The word “visitation,” carried a connotation that the parent was an outsider or visitor in the child’s life. To remedy this, the new law renamed parental visitation as “parenting time” with both parents being presumed to have such a right. Neither parent is considered to be just visiting the child.

Get the Help You Need

Illinois courts have only had a little over nine months to adjust to the new laws, so there is still a great deal of uncertainty in many cases. If you are in the midst of a dispute regarding parenting arrangements for your children, an experienced Orland Park family law attorney can help. Call 708-518-8200 for a free consultation with Kezy & Associates today.