Child custody basics in an Illinois divorce

Illinois requires that the child’s best interests guide all child custody decisions.

Divorce when children are involved is usually complicated and can be particularly stressful to divorcing parents, as well as to children. A parent has to deal with the uniquely painful contemplation of the potential loss of control of and contact with a beloved child after the divorce is final.

Parents in the divorce process are also understandably worried about how their children will weather the major changes in their lives that the end of the marriage will certainly bring.

Aspects of child custody

For example, physical custody must be determined, meaning which parent will have physical care and control of the child. Physical custody can be either joint or sole, but usually the child lives primarily with one parent and has liberal visitation or parenting time with the other.

In addition, legal custody is at issue, which determines which parent will have the power to make important decisions on behalf of the child such as religious, medical, educational and so on. Legal custody is often shared between the parents, meaning they will have to work together after the divorce to make major decisions for the child, but legal custody can also be awarded to only one of them.

Seek legal counsel

Any parent in Illinois who faces a divorce in which issues of child custody will have to be decided should seek out the legal advice of an experienced family lawyer as early as possible. A knowledgeable divorce attorney can provide education and guidance so the client knows what to expect and is in a better position to make informed decisions.

The lawyer can also explain how things are likely to go considering the unique circumstances of the particular family. In addition, legal counsel can help sort out what is important to the client and what Illinois law has to say about each issue as strategic and potentially life-changing decisions are made.

Marital settlement agreements

Finally, a skilled lawyer can help negotiate with the other spouse's attorney on the parent-client's behalf to attempt to craft a marital settlement agreement setting out agreed-to terms of the divorce like property division, alimony, child support, custody and more.

A negotiated child custody arrangement in which joint custody has been agreed to is laid out in a joint parenting agreement, a legal document that is submitted to the court as part of the marital settlement agreement in the divorce proceeding. The agreement provides important information likes where the child's physical residence will be, the other parent's right to visitation and the visitation schedule.

Child custody in court

If the parents are unable to negotiate an agreement on child custody, the issue will have to be decided by the judge in the Illinois state court divorce proceeding. As in other states, Illinois law requires child custody to be resolved in light of the child's best interests.

The parties may submit their own evidence, but the judge may also request other evidence like a home study or a child custody evaluation by a social worker or mental health professional.

Illinois law instructs the judge to consider "all relevant factors" to determine the child's best interest, including 10 enumerated factors such as child and parental wishes, family relationships, everyone's mental and physical health, issues of violence and abuse, parental sex offender status, military family-care plans, child's adjustment to current living situation and more.

In Rockford, the Illinois family lawyers at The Law Office of Bradley R. Tengler, Inc., represent clients in divorce and child custody as well as in a range of other family law matters.

Keywords: Illinois, child, best interest, child custody, parent, divorce, marriage, physical custody, joint, sole, visitation, legal custody, decisions, settlement, joint parenting agreement, court, parenting time, judge, factors