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Joint child custody more common than in previous decades

When Illinois fathers get a divorce, they are more likely to seek custody or a more generous visitation schedule than their counterparts may have in the past, and courts are more likely to grant those requests. The legal system generally starts from an assumption of shared legal custody. This means that both parents will have the ability to make decisions about the child's education, health care, religion and other major issues.

Courts are now also more likely to agree to shared physical custody. Physical custody determines which parent the child lives with most of the time. There may be logistical limitations to allowing parents equal time with the child. It can be challenging for working parents to do pickups and dropoffs on weekdays. Courts do still tend to favor the mother for physical custody. However, a 2014 Wisconsin study found that in that state, by 2008, mothers were granted sole custody just 42 percent of the time compared to 80 percent of the time in 1980.

When divorce became more common and less difficult to obtain in the 1960s and 1970s, there was a tendency to assume children were best off with the mother. This attitude shifted as fathers began to play a larger role in their children's lives. Couples are also more likely to negotiate a divorce agreement through mediation than in the past.

If parents cannot agree on custody and visitation, they may have to go to litigation. A judge will take a number of elements into account and make a decision that is based on the best interests of the child. One of those elements is the amount of care-giving each parent does. This might include looking at which parent takes the child to medical appointments and meets with the child's teachers. A noncustodial parent may still be awarded a generous amount of visitation time.

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