Shared Custody vs. Sole Custody

Many people believe that the term “shared custody” refers to physical custody, which is where the children reside. Although it is certainly not unheard of for judges to order a 50-50 physical custody division, if it is in the best interest of the children, such Parental Responsibility Allocation arrangements are rare.

Shared custody and sole custody typically refers to legal custody, which means the parent or parents with the right to make important decisions about the children. These decisions include the right to consent to medical treatment, the determination of religious upbringing, choice of school, and other issues.

Illinois law is largely silent on the presumption of shared or joint custody, although most judges prefer that the parents share parenting responsibilities and decisions to the greatest extent possible. However, before the shared-or-sole question can be answered, there are some important preliminary matters to resolve.

Parental Alienation Syndrome

As a general rule, divorce always harms the parent-child relationship, to some extent. And, since a sustainable shared custody arrangement is based on co-parenting, parental alienation syndrome is a significant roadblock in this area.

Extreme cases often make the headlines. In the autumn of 2015, in a case from nearby Minnesota, a woman was arrested and charged with three counts of felony deprivation of parental rights for her alleged involvement in a bizarre child kidnapping scheme. After a court awarded custody of two teenage girls to an allegedly abusive father (allegations which he denies and a court-ordered expert could not substantiate), the mother supposedly arranged for the girls to go into hiding on a remote property owned by a woman with connections to the Protective Parent Movement.

PAS is normally not that overt, but it is just as dangerous. In a nutshell, it involves the effort of one parent to undercut the parental role of the other parent. Signs of PAS include:

  • Withholding Visitation: Mother may tell Father that “Susie cannot come this weekend because she has Girl Scout camp,” and a promised makeup weekend never materializes. In cases like this, Mother’s objective is to cut the bond between Father and his daughter.
  • Privileges: Father might allow the children to have later bedtimes or more TV time when they come to visit, in order to engender the children’s favor and alienate Mother.
  • Change of Relationship: Mother may use the children as emotional confidants, in an effort to alienate Father.

If there are telltale signs of PAS, the damage can quickly become permanent, so it is important that your attorney request a social services evaluation or pursue other protective measures.

Successful Co-Parenting

To share legal and physical custody, it is not necessary that the ex-spouses love each other or even like each other. Instead, co-parenting rests on an ability to temporarily put aside differences to promote the best interests of the children. The obvious dilemma is that the two parents may both have very different ideas about what is, and is not, in the children’s “best interests.”

One possible solution is to anticipate areas of disagreement and incorporate solutions in the divorce decree. For example, instead of a provision which says that the mother and father will jointly determine religious upbringing, there could be language to the effect that “the parties agree that the children shall be raised Jewish.”

Shared custody is nearly always in the children’s best interest. For a free consultation with an experienced family law attorney in Mokena, contact attorney Brian W. Reidy. Our firm has a small-town feel and access to nationwide resources.