Raising children can be very difficult for divorced or unmarried parents, especially if the relationship between them is strained. However, a child deserves the best from his or parents, and in many situations, that requires parents to put their differences aside and focus their efforts on meeting the child’s needs. Parents in Illinois with joint custody, or shared custody, of their children must do more than make the general decision to cooperate, though, as the state generally requires a Joint Parenting Agreement (JPA) to ensure the best interests of the child are being protected.
Joint Parenting Agreements
As every family situation represents a unique set of circumstances, there is no such thing as a standard JPA. Instead, the most efficient agreements are usually drafted by the parents based on what will work best for them and their child, then presented to the court for approval. There is no requirement for how detailed a JPA must be, but negotiating specifics in advance can reduce future stress and disagreements. A Joint Parenting Agreement may include considerations such as:
- Rights and responsibilities of each parent regarding the child;
- The child’s primary living arrangements;
- A workable schedule for the child to be with each parent;
- Transportation concerns for both transitions between parents and other activities;
- Responsibilities for medical and health related decisions;
- How the parents will communicate, e.g., text messages, emails, phone calls, etc.;
- Rules regarding the child and the parents’ future romantic relationships; and
- Negotiating parental disagreements in the future.
A JPA may need to be updated over time, as the family dynamic evolves and the child’s needs change. In fact, many JPAs include explicit consideration for their revision, either on set schedule or when needed.
Make a JPA Work
Parents who are committed to providing the best possible situation for their child understand that doing so will often be challenging. While parenting experts offer entire volumes full of advice on how to cooperatively parent in a joint custody situation, a JPA can work well for a family if parents are able to follow two basic principles:
- The Child Comes First: Effective coparenting often requires both parents to occasionally swallow their pride and acquiesce in situations they would rather not. The child’s best interest must be the highest priority, taking precedence over hurt feelings, scheduling convenience, and, on occasion, even the JPA. Flexibility for the sake of the child will help the coparenting process remain a productive one.
- Never Stop Communicating: Communication is often difficult for parents with a joint custody arrangement, especially in the early stages. A commitment to communicate, however, allows for the early identification of problems and swift resolution of smaller issues before they become larger issues. The ability for parents to remain cooperative, combined with the first principle of meeting the child’s needs first, can create a environment which allows the child to thrive.
Help with Questions
If you are considering a divorce and would like to know more about Joint Parenting Agreements or child custody in general, we welcome the opportunity to help you find the answers you need. Contact an experienced Orland Park family law attorney today at 708-518-8200 to schedule your free consultation.