The terms “sole custody” and “joint custody” are no longer included in the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (the “IMDMA”) and are therefore no longer part of the family law lexicon. What was previously known as visitation and custody, have since been consolidated into what is now referred to as “Parental Responsibility.” Under the IMDMA, Parental Responsibility is divided into two categories: Decision Making Responsibility and Parenting Time. Generally speaking, the concept of “visitation” is included in the Parenting Time category (discussed in greater detail below) and the concept of “custody” is included in the Decision Making Responsibility category.

Although the term “custody” has been disposed of, the current version of the statute has retained most of the principals of “custody,” while at the same time clarifying each parent’s duties to their children. Previously, if a parent was awarded “sole custody,” that parent would have full decision making authority on all major issues related to the child or children. Conversely, if joint custody was awarded the parents would share decision making authority on all major issues related to the child or children. In a joint custody scenario, if the parties could not reach an agreement regarding a major issue, the parties would be required to attempt to settle the issue through mediation before either parent had a right to go back to court.

Under the current statute, Decision Making Responsibility is divided into four distinct categories:

  1. Education;
  2. Health;
  3. Extracurricular Activities; and
  4. Religion

Unlike the previous, all-or-nothing, sole custody/joint custody model, the new statute provides for a more refined allocation of each parent’s decision making responsibilities. Under the new statute, each of the above categories is looked at individually and decision making responsibility can be allocated differently for each one. For example one parent may be awarded sole decision making responsibility for all decisions related to religion, while sharing decision making authority of the remaining 3 categories. Of course there can be situations where the allocation of parental decision making responsibility mirrors an award of sole custody or joint custody. For example, the parents could share decision making responsibility of all four categories (similar to an award of joint custody). Conversely, one parent could be awarded sole decision making responsibility of all four categories (similar to an award of sole custody).

Allocating parental decision making responsibility, as opposed to awarding sole or joint custody, provides the flexibility needed to create realistic and workable parenting plans for every kind of family and every kind of situation.