Protecting Your Family And Future

  1. Home
  2.  » 
  3. Child Custody
  4.  » Child custody in Illinois: Knowledge is power

Child custody in Illinois: Knowledge is power

On Behalf of | Jun 26, 2024 | Child Custody |

In any situation where a child’s parents are no longer a couple, child custody can become a critical (and hard-fought) concern. 

Custody decisions not only directly impact the well-being of the children involved, but they also affect each parent’s rights and the relationship they may have with their children moving forward. You never want to step into a custody battle unarmed – or armed with misinformation. Here are the basics you need to know:

Legal and physical custody are not the same thing

Most parents assume that “custody” is both the right to have their child in their care and the right to make all the decisions about that child’s well-being. That’s not actually true, however. Illinois divides parental responsibilities for a child into two parts: physical and legal custody. 

Physical custody determines each parent’s time with their child and where the child will live. Legal custody determines each parent’s involvement in important decisions about their child’s life, such as where they will go to school, what medical care they will receive, what extracurriculars they can participate in and what sort of religious upbringing they will have.

Both physical and legal custody can be jointly shared or solely awarded to one parent over the other (although physical custody may not be divided evenly even when it is shared).

The courts tend to prefer shared custody, but there are exceptions

Broadly speaking, Illinois courts tend to favor custody arrangements that keep both parents actively involved in their child’s life. When a parent threatens to “take custody” of a child, it is up to them to prove that sole custody is actually in the best interests of their child. 

Here are some situations where the court may agree that sole physical or legal custody is warranted:

  • There is domestic violence or abuse involved: Evidence of domestic violence by a parent or their partner (such as a step-parent) can quickly tilt the court toward sole custody, even if the child was not the target of the abuse. Protecting the child’s safety is a major concern for the court.
  • Evidence of a parent’s substance abuse: When parents have substance abuse issues, they may be deemed unfit for custody until they complete a rehabilitation program and demonstrate their continued sobriety. There is always a risk that their addiction could lead to situations where the child is endangered.
  • Concerns about a parent’s mental health concerns: The court isn’t likely to strip a parent of custody because they receive treatment for mild depression or anxiety – but severe mental health issues that impair their ability to care for their child properly can lead to sole custody being awarded to the other parent.
  • One parent wishes to relocate: Joint custody may not be feasible when one parent intends to relocate halfway around the country (or to another country entirely). The court will have to consider the impact of the move on the child’s relationship with both parents and may opt to award sole custody to the parent who can best ensure continuity in the child’s education, social life and familial connections.
  • It’s a high-conflict situation: Sometimes, there are no good compromises between parents to be found. If the parents are deeply opposed in their beliefs or unable to communicate without turning every situation into a protracted fight, the court may decide that joint custody would expose the child to situations that would be detrimental to their emotional health. Sole custody may be the only way to end the conflict and provide stability for the child.

When custody disputes arise and parents cannot agree on what’s in the best interests of their children, the court has to intervene. If you suspect that you are headed for a custody dispute that may not be resolved through direct negotiation with your co-parent, it’s wisest to seek early legal guidance.