For married couples who no longer get along, a divorce may be the best option. However, parents have an obligation to work together after a divorce to promote the healthy development of their children. In Illinois, a judge must make all custody determinations based on the best interests of the child. Understanding which factors a judge looks at in making decisions, as well as the importance of being able to communicate with your former spouse, will ensure a custody arrangement that benefits both parents and the child.
Legal custody refers to a parent's authority to make major life decisions for her child, such as where the child will go to school, religious affiliation and medical treatment. Physical custody, on the other hand, refers to where a child lives. Both types of custody may be shared between parents, commonly referred to as joint custody. It is important to understand that joint custody does not necessarily mean that each parent has equal parenting time.
By law, judges in Illinois are required to make custody determinations based on what is in the best interests of the child. The law provides several factors that a judge may consider, with each factor not necessarily carrying the same weight in the determination. These factors include the parents' and child's wishes, the child's emotional and physical needs and the child's adjustment to home, school and to the community. In deciding whether joint custody serves the child's best interest, a judge will also look at the parents' living conditions, as well as their ability to communicate and cooperate with each other.
If sole physical custody is awarded to a parent in Illinois, the noncustodial parent usually has a right to reasonable visitation with the child. However, restrictions may be imposed if it can be demonstrated a parent might be harmful to the child's mental, physical or emotional health and well-being. This could be proved by a pattern of domestic abuse against the other parent or child. Further, a judge is required to deny visitation to a parent who has been convicted of a crime involving the sexual abuse of a minor, until the parent completes a court-approved treatment program.
To modify a custody order in Illinois, parents must wait a minimum of two years from the date of the order. Two exceptions to this rule are if the parties agree to the modification or it can be demonstrated that the current arrangement severely endangers the mental, physical or emotional health and well-being of the child. To obtain a modification, a parent is required to prove that circumstances have changed since the date of the original order or previously unknown and important facts have come to light since the original order. For example, if a child or parent developed a serious disability, that might be grounds for modification. However, a judge may only modify the order if the new arrangement better serves the child's interest.
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