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What are child custody and visitation and how do they differ?

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Many Illinois residents do not understand the child custody process and how time with a child is allotted. That's no surprise -- the process and the terminology can be misleading.

The first thing to know is that when it comes to how much time each parent can spend with their child or children, custody is not the only consideration; visitation is too. Child custody represents who the child will live with; visitation addresses how much time the non-custodial parent will have to visit with the child.

The next thing to know is that there are many ways to slice the custody-visitation pie. For example, custody can be split in several ways. The first split is between physical and legal. Physical custody addresses where the child lives; legal custody deals with which parent gets to decide where the child goes to school, what religion (if any) the child practices and so forth. The second split is between sole physical custody and joint physical custody. Sole physical custody means one parent gets the child full-time; joint physical custody means the parents share having the child live with them.

Depending on how the custody question shakes out, the next issue is visitation. All Illinois parents have a right to spend a reasonable amount of time with their children, unless the parent is a serious danger to the child. Ideally, the parents will have a meeting of the minds and set the visitation time together. But, if that proves too difficult, a family court will step in.

Source:, "Child Custody Information," Accessed Jan. 20, 2015

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