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How does joint custody differ from sole custody?

There are many couples in Illinois who have contemplated a divorce or may be in the process of starting one. There are some issues that any couple going through a divorce will have to work out, but child custody and child support are issues that only those couples with minor children will need to decide upon.

While many Illinois parents may have a general knowledge about what custody means, they may not understand the legal significance of custody labels or how those labels affect visitation with the child.

There are several types of custody that former couples can have with their children. One is sole custody. This means that only one parent will make the major decisions for the child. These decisions include where the child will go to school, which religion they will practice, which medical providers will be used and other major decisions in a child's life.

Another type of child custody agreement is joint custody. If parents share joint custody they will both have an equal say in all the major decisions for the child. The couple will have to agree before a major decision is made for the child, unless there is a medical emergency. Having joint custody does not mean that each parent will automatically have equal time with the child, though. Even in joint custody situations, many times the child still lives primarily with one parent.

Visitation is a separate matter from custody and it determines when the child will be with each parent. The parent who does not have the child the majority of the time or does not have custody rights is still entitled to reasonable visitation with the child. This right may be taken away, though, if visitation with one parent will seriously endanger the child. A visitation schedule must be determined by the parents or by a judge, if the parents cannot reach an agreement on a schedule. Once the schedule is set, the parents must follow it and the courts may at times need to enforce it.

Child custody issues, such as original determinations and visitation rights, can be a very complicated area of the law. Illinois divorce attorneys understand how custody and visitation are determined and may be invaluable resources as a parent goes through child custody litigation.

Source: State of Illinois Cook County Circuit Court, "Child custody information," accessed Sept. 16, 2014

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