When a couple ends their marriage or non-marital relationship, there are important decisions to be made regarding the children they have in common. What was previously known as child custody is now referred to as an allocation of parental responsibilities, and visitation is now called parenting time. Here are 3 things to know about parental responsibilities:
1. The term previously known as custody, now an allocation of parental responsibilities, is all about the decision-making regarding the children. Decision-making is compartmentalized into different categories, each of which can be "sole" or "joint". The major categories include religion, education, medical issues, and extracurricular activities. “Custody used to be all-or-nothing wherein all of the decisions were made by one parent, or made jointly between the parties," explained Erin Webster O'Brien, family law attorney. "Now, parties can designate a parent who is a teacher, for example, as having sole decision-making power regarding a child's education, but the parties share joint decision-making regarding religion, medical issues, and extracurricular activities.”
2. A court determines the child's best interests when allocating significant decision-making responsibilities. A best interest finding includes factors such as the child's wishes (depending on the child's maturity level); the mental and physical health of all individuals involved; the ability of parents to cooperate to make decisions and level of conflict between the parties; each parent's past level of participation in decision-making; and many other factors.
3. An attorney helps clients understand the factors considered, as well as what to expect if the issues are left to the discretion of the court. "Sometimes parents have unrealistic expectations regarding parenting time restrictions, such as when supervision is appropriate," said O'Brien. "I explain the court process and available options based on the specific case facts, including mediation or retaining a third party to investigate the circumstances and make recommendations to the judge. It's always best, however, for the parties to work it out between themselves, if possible, or with a mediator."
For more information about parental responsibilities during or after a divorce, please contact:
Erin Webster O'Brien, Attorney
President, Will County Bar Association