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Chicago Child Custody: Who is the Primary Custodial Parent?

Child Custody: Who is the Primary Custodial Parent?

By M. Scott Gordon

Divorce can produce extremely contentious custody battles, and children often get caught in the middle.  When the court orders that parents have joint custody, who is the primary custodial parent?  And can that primary custodial parent make decisions about the child without consulting with the other parent?

In order to answer these questions, we need to take a close look at custody laws in Illinois.  Child custody can be extremely complicated.  If you have questions about a custody order in Chicago, you should be sure to discuss your situation with an experienced Chicago family law attorney.

Understanding Child Custody Distinctions in Illinois

What is the difference between joint custody and primary custody, and where does a primary custodial parent come into play?  Under Illinois law, parents can seek two types of custody: sole custody or joint custody.  In sole custody situations, only one parent will make the major decisions related to the child or children.  In a joint custody situation, both parents make the significant decisions related to their child’s care.  Unless there’s an emergency, one parent will not be able to make a serious decision about the child’s care without the approval of the other custodial parent.

What constitutes a significant decision about the child?  There are no hard and fast rules, but generally speaking, significant decisions can include things like:

  • Where the child attends school;
  • What religion the child ascribes to and where the child attends worship services;
  • Which doctor, dentist, and other healthcare providers will provide healthcare and treatment for the child; and
  • What type of medical professionals and healthcare providers the child sees.

While joint custody means that parents share decision making for their kids, does this mean that they also share physical custody of the children equally?  In short, the answer is no.  In joint custody situations, parents do not always have equal parenting time.  According to the Circuit Court of Cook County, parents who have joint custody of their children will find that one parent has “residential custody.”  In some cases, this parent might be known as the primary custodial parent.  This term simply refers to a situation where the child resides mostly with the primary custodial parent.

Who Gets Primary Residential Custody of the Kids?

Why is primary residential custody important, and what kinds of decision making can a primary custodial parent undertake?  In general, any major decisions made by the primary custodial parent must be approved by the other parent.  Since these parents share joint custody, they both are responsible for making significant decisions concerning their children’s well-being and care.

Who typically becomes the primary custodial parent?  The primary residential custody of the child usually is determined in one of two ways.  In amicable divorces, parents with joint custody can come to an agreement about who will have primary residential custody.  If the parents can’t agree, then the court will make the decision based on a number of different factors.

Contact a Chicago Family Lawyer

Do you have questions about the rights of parents in joint custody situations?  Or do you have concerns about your spouse having primary residential custody of your child?  Contact an experienced Chicago family lawyer at M. Scott Gordon & Associates to learn more about how we can help you.