After parents separate, the most important decision then involves the care of the child or children moving forward. In some cases, upon separation, the Court may grant joint allocation of parental responsibilities, formerly referred to as “joint custody” or a “joint parenting agreement” or a “JPA.” The Court awards joint responsibilities if both parents are able to cooperate and make decisions for and in the best interest of the child.
What Does it Mean to Joint-Parent?
When the Court awards parents joint allocation of responsibilities, they assume they will make all decisions together. They also assume both will contribute to the care of the child during their respective periods of parenting time. The state of Illinois divides joint allocation of responsibilities into two main categories: parenting time and decision-making.
Parenting time, formerly known as “visitation,” is the classification concerned with where the child lives throughout the week. This includes the schedule the parents will utilize in determining when the child will be with each parent. In this situation, both parents share the responsibility of housing the child. Their parenting schedule then delineates the number of overnights the child spend with each parent throughout the month. A “typical” parenting time schedule has changed a lot in Illinois Courts over the last 10 years. An example of such is the increased popularity of 50-50 schedules.
Separated parents must coordinate and compromise with one another in order to develop a clear schedule for the child. This not only factors into the child’s daily life, but it also applies to “special” parenting time, like holidays, school breaks and vacations.
Every parenting plan entered in Illinois now has to define the decision-making process for the child. When the Court awards joint decision-making on all categories, both parents are responsible and invited to collaborate and make major decisions on behalf of the child. These decisions relate to four major categories: health, education, religion and extracurricular involvement. Parents can also be awarded joint decision-making on some of these four categories, but not all. The Court may decide one parent is better suited to be awarded sole or final decision-making on any of the four areas.
A common misconception is that “joint parenting” means that the parties have equal decision-making responsibilities and equal parenting time. This isn’t accurate. The two determinations are separate from one another. A Court could award equal parenting time to the parents. However, they could then award one parent sole or final decision-making authority on all four categories of decisions. Likewise, the Court could award joint decision-making but then allocate primary parenting time to one parent. Of the two, the latter is common. 50-50 schedules are not a “presumption” in Illinois, like in nearby states like Missouri.
What do the different decision-making categories include?
If both parents are able to cooperate, there are several areas in which they will have to make decisions for the child. Major decisions will include things such as:
- Education – This includes choice of school, whether a child receives tutoring, Individual Education Plans (IEPs), and other major decisions relating to the child’s education.
- Medical – This includes making decisions relating to the child’s health, including all decisions related to the medical, dental and psychological needs of the child, and to the treatments relating to those issues.
- Religious Training – This includes all decisions relating to the child’s upbringing, including choice of demonization, whether the child receives religious schooling or training, the receipt of sacraments, and participation in major religious customs.
- Extracurricular Involvement – Making decisions on extracurriculars involves decisions relating to the child’s participation in sports, activities, clubs, organized hobbies, marital arts, etc.
What these decisions DO NOT include:
- Education – Whether the child eats school lunch, attends local field trips, or attends after-school care on a parent’s parenting time.
- Medical – Whether a parent is allowed to administer over the counter medicine, such as Tylenol, or take other steps to care for a child when the child is ill. This is a decision that can be made by the parent exercising care for the child at that time.
- Religion – Many Courts have indicated that allowing the child to attend a church service or mass of another faith, during that parent’s parenting time, is not a violation of joint religious decision-making, assuming the child doesn’t receive any sacraments during the service.
- Extracurriculars – Most of a child’s involvement in organized sports or clubs will fall under this category. However, joint decision making would not apply to things like parent-child classes or camps (i.e. Mommy and Me Yoga), fundraising sport events or travel.
Joint Parenting Only Works If Both Parents Are Willing to Collaborate
Joint parenting works best when both parents share similar values and want to be heavily involved in their child’s life. In addition, these agreements also require compromise as well as proper planning. Ideally, while parents may have a parenting time schedule that defines the days of each week, the Court encourages the parents to discuss their schedule – which is inherently subject to change based on daily commitments for families – and work together to accomplish an arrangement that maximizes the child’s ability to see each parent.