Understanding Parental Responsibilities, Part 1; Significant Decision-Making

Last year, the laws regarding divorce and child custody in the state of Illinois were almost completely overhauled. The update represented the most comprehensive family law reform in nearly four decades. The intent was to bring the state’s family law statutes in line with the needs of today’s families. Among the most significant changes was to considerations for child custody. In fact, the new law all but eliminated the word “custody” in favor of the more congenial “parental responsibilities.”

There are two primary areas of concern that fall under parental responsibilities: significant decision-making authority regarding the child and parenting time. Today, we will discuss significant decision-making, and parenting time will be covered in a future post.

What Are Significant Decisions?

Under the previous version of the law, child custody was also divided into two primary concepts. Physical custody referred to each parent’s responsibility for the child’s physical well-being and where the child lived or visited. Legal custody, by comparison, referred to the authority over important aspects of the child’s life such as education and medical care. In a custody order, it was legal custody that could be awarded to one parent—as sole custody—or shared between both parents as joint custody.

Today, significant decision-making authority is essentially what legal custody once was. According to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, significant decisions refer to any important considerations are likely to have a long-term effect on the child. The statute provides that significant decisions include, but are not limited to, the child’s education, health and medical care, religious upbringing, and extracurricular activities.

Dividing Decision-Making Authority

Following a divorce or the breakup of unmarried parents, the parties—or the court—must determine how important decisions will be made. Depending on the circumstances, it may be in the child’s best interest for one parent to make all such decisions or for both parents to make decisions together. In some cases, both parents may provide input but the final say is granted to one parent.

It is even possible for each parent to assume responsibility for certain decisions. For example, if one parent is a doctor and the other is a teacher, the doctor may be responsible for the child’s medical-related concerns while the teacher handles all of the educational decisions.

A Family Law Attorney Can Help

There is no right or wrong way to divide parental responsibilities as long the child’s best interest remains your top priority. Your parenting plan should be customized in accordance with the specific needs and concerns of your family. To learn more about the law regarding significant decision-making in Illinois, contact an Orland Park family lawyer. Call 708-518-8200 for a free consultation at Kezy & Associates today.