I have written previously about joint custody, and what this term means in the context of Illinois custody litigation. If one thing is clear, it is certain that many lawyers, parents, and even some judges do not have a clear view of what Illinois Joint Custody entails.
Put simply, joint custody awards require the parents to make major decisions about the children together. In the event of a dispute, a means for solving the dispute is implemented. And, the joint custody order should call for periodic review, so that as the children age, their needs can be met with flexible mutually agreed changes, such as parenting schedule changes.
One aspect of joint custody that I feel is not often considered is the requirement that joint custody be ordered when a risk of alienation of the non-custodial parent is a risk. Some judges feel, following In re Marriage of Marcello, that they cannot order joint custody if the parents do not get along, and there is a breakdown of communication. What I have observed in many cases is that the primary caregiver parent, who many times may be the temporary custodial parent, simply becomes difficult, argumentative, or at worst, alienating, with the hope that the non-custodial parent is cut out of the decision making for the children.
In my opinion, an award of joint custody can be a reward for two parents who cooperate well with each other. At the same time, a requirement of joint custody may be one tool the court can implement to require a custodial parent to involve, and share information with, the non-custodial (usually Dad) parent.
Using the father as the noncustodial example in this case, ensuring that Dad has joint custody, and requiring Mom to communicate and decision make with him, meets the test that Seitzinger and other Illinois cases have established regarding joint custody: it’s for the best interests of the kids, and not reserved only for parents that get along. Indeed, the parent that wishes to push Dad away should be required by the judgment to joint parent.
Kids need both loving parents in their lives; mandated joint custody is one way to accomplish this.