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The basics of child custody in Illinois

As a parent, one of your top concerns during divorce proceedings is likely going to be child custody and visitation rights, or -- as they are typically referred to now in Illinois – parenting time. You're probably worried about losing time with your child and wondering how the process works. While every situation is different, some basics apply to most Illinois custody situations. Knowing the general guidelines ahead of time might help give you some peace of mind.

Determining child custody

In Illinois, when parents cannot reach an agreement on a custody arrangement, a court will determine a parenting schedule based on the best interests of the child. When attempting to determine those interests, a family court will consider a number of factors, including:

  • The child's wishes
  • The wishes of both parents
  • The child's relationship with each parent
  • How the custody agreement would affect the child's home, school and community situation
  • The mental and physical health of all parties
  • Whether there exists any history of domestic violence
  • The willingness of each parent to encourage a relationship with the other
  • Whether either parent is a registered sex offender
  • Whether either parent is an active military service member

If necessary, the court will even take witness testimony to come to a decision. Additionally, if the relationship between you and your spouse is especially hostile and you are having a difficult time reaching an agreement, the court may require the two of you to participate in something called mediation. This is when both parties attempt to work together to resolve the issues you are facing with the help of a qualified third-party mediator who does not already represent either you or your spouse in the divorce proceedings.

Joint Custody

Whenever feasible, Illinois family courts prefer to award joint legal custody. Of course, this is not possible in all situations, and the court will consider many factors that are relevant to your child's best interests, as well as the living accommodations of both you and your spouse when deciding whether joint physical custody is appropriate.

When an Illinois court does award joint custody, both parents must sign an agreement explaining each one's rights and responsibilities for the child's care. The agreement will also contain a clause ordering mediation on all disputes in regards to the joint custody arrangement.

Visitation and Modification

In Illinois, a parent who does not have custody of his or her child is generally entitled to visitation rights and parenting time unless a court has determined that it would endanger the child's health in anyway. Courts will generally not consider modification to existing child custody until at least two years after the custody order, unless the court believes that the child's health – be it physical, emotional, mental or moral – is in danger under the current custody arrangement.

Child custody is likely one of the most critical issues you will face in your divorce proceedings. Whether you are considering divorce or have just started the process, or if are looking to modify an existing custody arrangement, it is probably not an issue you are taking lightly. As such, a seasoned family law attorney may be your best hope for assistance in this complex and highly emotional matter.


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