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Illinois child custody: A basic primer

In an entry last week, we discussed the basic principles involved in a divorce in Illinois. This week, we will follow a similar thread: the basic principles behind a child custody decision.

Child custody is perhaps the most important determination that must be made in the divorce agreement. The decision will drastically affect not only the lives of the parents, but it will shape and define the child's future for years to come. Given the importance of the proceedings, it follows naturally that there are strict laws in place that govern the child custody determination.

When parents decide upon child custody, they must first determine whether to seek sole custody or joint custody. When a parent is given sole custody of a child, they are given total or near-total control over the decisions that must be made in the child's life, such as choices regarding medical treatment, schooling or extracurricular activities.

On the other hand, couples who seek joint custody will need to share the decision-making power. This sort of agreement requires that both parents are able to cooperate when arriving at such decisions. It may be unsuitable in particularly acrimonious divorces.

Parents must then agree upon a visitation schedule. This determines when the child will visit each parent. Parents should be flexible in determining the visitation schedule, and remember that it is intended to serve the child's best interests, not their own.

In divorces involving minor children, the non-custodial parent will generally have to pay child support. This is a right that is held by the child; it cannot be given up or refused by the custodial parent. The amount of monthly child support is determined by state law.

If parents are unable to come to an amicable agreement on custody or visitation, the matter will be settled by a judge in a family law court. Whether the matter is taken to trial or not, it is important that both parties seek the assistance of an attorney to help guide them through the particulars of their case. This can improve the chances of a favorable result, and ensure that the case is conducted in a way that is both legal and equitable.

Source: The Madison-St. Clair Record, "The basics of a divorce case," Rita Novak, Jan. 7, 2012

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