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Child custody basics in Illinois

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Illinoisans going through the child custody process should realize that child custody is not a one-time event; it is an ongoing process that ends only after the child has become an adult. What are the stages in that process?

The first step is often the trickiest: getting the parents to sit down and discuss what they believe the child custody arrangement should look like. If the parents can do so, they have a lot of freedom to fashion an agreement. They can decide that one parent should get exclusive custody of the child (the law calls this "sole custody"). Or they can agree to split time 50/50. Or they can come up with some other type of arrangement. For example, if the parents live far apart, one parent may have custody during the school year while the other parent has custody during the summer.

If the parents cannot come to an agreement, a court will do it for them. On the plus side, having a court step in means that a decision will be made. Sometimes a decision, any decision, is better than leaving the topic unresolved. But a court's decision is unpredictable. Neither parent may like the final decision. Of course, even agreements made by the parents themselves are generally subject to court approval.

Why is the decision so unpredictable? Because a court must consider many factors to decide what is in the child's best interest. The court may have a much different vision than the parents of what is in the best interests of the child.

Still, that decision does not end child custody. It merely sets child custody for the moment. Illinoisans may have to revisit that decision again and again as circumstances change. Children grow, people move, situations shift. When they do, so should the child custody arrangement.

Source: FindLaw, "Custody Considerations: Step-By-Step," Accessed May 23, 2015

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