Rockford Divorce News & Insights

Man holding son on lap.

What Does Legal Custody of Children Mean?

Legal custody means that the parent who has been awarded with legal custody of their children are vested with the power to make decisions on behalf of their children.  These decisions typically include matters such as where the children should go to school, decisions about medical care, and decisions having to do with religious upbringing.

In Illinois, courts may award legal custody to one parent or to both parents.  When legal custody is awarded to both parents, the parents are usually obligated to work together to reach decisions in accordance with a joint parenting agreement.  An effective joint parenting agreement will attempt to establish how major decisions will be handled, such as where the children will go to school, their religious upbringing, how the parents are to exchange physical custody of the children, and many other important matters.

In a divorce, lawyers for each parent will normally work together with their clients to establish how the significant decisions and aspects of the lives of the children will be handled.  Even the best joint parenting agreement, however, cannot contemplate every situation which may arise.

Joint parenting agreements typically will provide that if unforeseen circumstances arise, the parents should first see if they can work together to reach a decision.  If this does not occur, then there are other processes which can take place, including, in some situations, seeking a court’s decision.  Going to the court should normally be a last resort, particularly due to the time and expense involved.