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When possible, joint child custody often most beneficial for all family members

When it comes to child custody matters, many factors must be weighed, considered and decided. In previous decades, when a couple split up or divorced, mothers were often granted primary physical custody of a child. However, today this isn't necessarily true.

Research from the American Coalition for Fathers & Children helps point to the benefits of joint child custody agreements and in ensuring fathers are afforded more time with their children. Information related to the positive benefits of a father and child relationship is detailed in many studies and has helped bring about changes in how the family courts in Illinois and many other states, approach child custody matters. As a result, today more family judges duly consider joint custody arrangements when making custody decisions.

When possible, it's best when two parents can come together to discuss and decide upon child custody and visitation matters. In some cases, however, parents may not be able to agree upon the terms of a child custody agreement. This is often particularly true if one or both parents have petitioned for primary custody.

In cases where there is a lot of animosity and mistrust between parents, family courts are unlikely to award joint custody and the matter must go to trial. There are no real winners in a child custody trial. A father or mother is ultimately stripped of many of his or her parenting rights and privileges and a child is the ultimate loser as his or her time with one parent is severely limited. Additionally, the emotional, mental and financial costs associated with a child custody trial are often traumatic and difficult to overcome.

In any child custody matter, the courts objective is to provide for a child's best interests. In cases where both parents want to be part of a child's life, every attempt should be made to make joint custody work. The CDC estimates that one out of every three children in the U.S. grows up in a "biological father-absent home." The role of a father cannot be understated and no child should be denied the opportunity to derive the emotional and financial support of having a relationship with his or her father.

Source: Illinois Legal Aid, "Getting Custody of a Child," 2014

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