The Chicago Family Law Blog

After Divorce, Who Makes Decisions for the Child?

Internet dating is leading to quite a rise in child custody battles between parents in very different places. For couples calling it quits in the United States, it brings to mind the question of which parent gets a say in how to raise the child, including schooling and religion.

So when a couple that met on OKCupid yanks out the arrow and divorces, who makes decisions for the child? Contrary to popular belief, it's not just whomever has physical custody.

Legal Custody

It's legal custody, and not physical custody, that gives a parent the right to make decisions about how to bring up a child. A parent with legal custody can make decisions about really important parts of a child's life, including:

  • Schooling,
  • Religious instruction,
  • Medical care, and
  • Dental care.

Typically, courts award joint legal custody, which gives the role of decision-making to both parents. It's common for divorced couples who share physical custody to also share legal custody.

In many cases, only one parent has physical custody. Still, the court will typically have the couple share joint legal custody. With joint legal custody, a parent who only has visitation rights will still get a say on whether Junior gets a bar mitzvah.

Sole Legal Custody Is Possible

But if circumstances make joint legal custody pretty much impossible -- possibly because one parent is unfit or is incapable of making child-rearing decisions for sensitive matters like religion -- the court can grant one parent sole legal custody.

Like Illinois, most states prefer joint legal custody, so a parent who wants sole legal custody will have to show the court how it would be in the best interests of the child.

Regardless of the court process, for important decisions like schooling and religion, it is almost always better for the parents to work together and try to resolve any issues on child-rearing outside of court. Somewhat ironically, it's what's best for the child.

Related Resources: