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Custody and Visitation - What do Those Words Actually Mean, in Layman’s Terms?

As a divorce mediator in Chicago, Illinois, I spend a lot of my time educating my clients as to what Custody and Visitation mean. In the past, custody always went to the mom and dad got visits every other weekend. Views have changed over the years. Studies are showing that children benefit more when both parents are active in their lives. Dads are taking proactive roles in their children's lives and this is changing the dynamics of custody and visitation.

Custody to some people is awarded to the parent who cares more about the children and visiting goes to the parent who cares less. Nothing is further from the truth. All that matters is what is best for the children. These two words Custody and Visitation are highly emotional and explosive leading to many court battles and the wasting of thousands of dollars.

Custody and Visitation are legal terms. When discussing parenting, first decide what is best for your kids, then who will have them at certain times and why, and lastly what each parents time will be called.

However Custody and Visitation must be classified when there are parenting concerns with one of the parents (i.e.: Domestic Violence, Drug and Alcohol use, ever changing work schedules, parent moving out of state) We are here to do what is best for your children, taking every issue into account when putting together custody and visitation plans.

Another phase that comes up when deciding Custody and Visitation is "primary residence." This is another one of those legal terms that are highly explosive and emotional, especially when custody is shared and time with the kids is right around 50/50. It's issues like these that can turn a peaceful divorce into a fully blown litigated one. I was shocked at the lengthy discussions my couples and I would have around this one issue. In the end some couples would flip a coin, others would do some bartering, and others would "share" primary residence, which in no way benefits their children. However, the majority of my couples end up agreeing on one primary parent when we sit down and discuss what it really means. Here are some reasons why deciding on one primary parent is in your children's best interest:

  • Residency for school, sports, park districts, and future college financial aid.
  • One address to remember, especially important when the children are young.
  • All the papers go to one place; it is better for one parent to get 100% of important papers than for each to get some and not share them.

I hope you have gotten from this article the importance of focusing on what is best for your children and letting go of what the wording in a divorce agreement says. Good Luck.


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Either or both parents may be ordered to pay reasonable and necessary child support, without regard to marital fault or misconduct. If the official Illinois guidelines are not appropriate, the court considers the financial resources and needs of the child, the standard of living the child would have enjoyed if the marriage had endured, the physical, emotional, and educational needs of the child, and the financial resources, needs, and obligations of both the non-custodial and the custodial parent. Support payments may be ordered paid directly to the court.
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