What Types of Child Custody Arrangements are Available in Illinois?

illinois-child-custody-lawyerSome of the most heartfelt decisions couples must make during a divorce relate to their child’s custody and upbringing.  When making these decisions it is helpful to know the law concerning child custody in Illinois. Information about the different custody arrangements available can aid you in making an educated decision regarding which custody arrangement may be best for you and your family.

Legal Custody

Like most other states, Illinois looks to the best interests of the child as well as parental preferences when determining how to award child custody following a divorce or separation.

Illinois state law recognizes two main types of child custody: legal custody and physical custody.  Legal custody gives parents the authority to make important decisions concerning how to raise a child.  A legal custody holder may make medical decisions, decisions about the child’s education, and may determine what religion, if any, the child will learn to practice.  When both parents share legal custody, it is called joint legal custody.  In Illinois it is more common for a judge to award joint legal custody as opposed to sole legal custody to a single parent.

Under a joint custody arrangement, the parents discuss major rules of how the child should be raised and memorialize these rules in a parenting agreement.  Generally, one parent cannot make major decisions on behalf of the child unless both parents agree or one parent obtains a court order.  If you and your former spouse have been awarded joint legal custody and subsequently disagree on a primary issue concerning how to raise your child, provisions set forth in the parenting agreement should provide direction as to how you should resolve the disagreement.

Sometimes parents initially plan to have joint legal custody but ultimately learn that they cannot agree on major childrearing decisions, such as in what neighborhood the child should live and whether the child should go to a public or private school.  If parents cannot agree on a co-parenting strategy, the court may deem it against the child’s best interest to award joint legal custody.  Judges may then order an out-of-court professional evaluation to determine a custody arrangement that best suits the child’s needs.

While joint legal custody is not expressly presumed in Illinois law, the law directs family law judges to seek out maximum cooperation and involvement from both parents in the child’s life.

Physical Custody

The second major type of child custody in Illinois is physical custody.  Physical custody refers to where the child is physically spending her time.  Even when parents share joint legal custody, Illinois law usually designates only one parent to be the primary custodial or residential parent.   The residential parent is the parent with whom the child usually lives and spends most of her time.  This residential parent’s address is the child’s legal address to be used for school and other purposes.  Regardless of the visitation schedule, the parent who is not the residential parent, the “non-custodial parent,” is typically responsible for paying child support to the residential parent.

In some cases, parents may share joint physical custody of their child.  In these cases, parents spend virtually the same amount of time with the child.  In a typical joint physical custody arrangement, a child may alternate residences every other week or month or every three or four days.  If parents with joint physical custody have similar incomes, a court may refrain from requiring either party to pay child support.

Joint physical custody arrangements typically work best when both divorced parents get along well and are highly motivated to cooperate in the interests of the child.  Another quality successful joint physical custody parents tend to have is the ability to remain realistic and amenable to modifying custody schedules to grow and change with their child. As a practical matter, joint custody arrangements also tend to work more effectively when parents live nearby one another, which minimizes the stress of uprooting the child from a comfortable, consistent environment.
In child custody matters, DuPage County family law attorneys at Kathryn L. Harry & Associates, P.C. do their best to listen to individual family custody needs, propose pragmatic solutions and work to make the transition as easy as possible for clients’ children. Contact us today at (877) 889-4515 to discuss your Illinois child custody case in a free initial consultation.

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