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Child Custody and Visitation

When you are going through a divorce nothing is more important than your children.  Who will they live with?  How much will I see them?  When will I see them?  Will they be o.k. after all of this?  These are questions that most parents think of first when faced with ending a marriage.  It is important to find the right lawyer to help you answer all of these questions, a lawyer who will look out for not only your interests, but the interests of your children.

Visitation:  Before the divorce is even finalized, you most likely will have to design a visitation plan for your children.  Every parent is guaranteed reasonable visitation with their children, unless the court finds, after a hearing, that visitation with a parent would seriously endanger the child’s physical, mental, moral or emotional health.  750 ILCS 5/607.  What is reasonable visitation is different for every family and often depends on a family’s way of life: what has been the family structure leading up to the divorce, where do both parents live in relation to one another, what are the work schedules of the parents, what are the ages of the children and what activities are the children involved in, are all questions that should be asked and considered in order to make a visitation schedule that is not only good for the parent, but good for the child as well.  A visitation plan should be individualized for the family and the child and should not just be a cookie cutter version of “what is normally done.”  Visitation is defined in the Illinois statutes as “in-person time spent between a child and the child’s parent.”  750 ILCS 5/607(a)(1).  It is up to the parent to ensure that visitation is quality time spent with a child.  This quality time can include sharing an experience together, doing homework together, cooking dinner together and may even include disciplining the child if necessary.  Quality time with a parent includes talking over problems with a teenager, guiding a child in the right direction and helping a child find his or her way in life.  An appropriate and fair amount of visitation for a parent is meant to give the parent and child time to continue the bond that they have formed during the marriage while the parents lived together.  If a parent has to move away from a child, or a parent is on a business trip, visitation can take place by electronic means, such as Skype, texting or email.

A divorce may be an adjustment and a major life change but setting visitation that is in the best interests of the child will ensure the relationship between parent and child will still continue to grow and be strong.  Divorce does not mean losing time with your child, it means rearranging the time you spend with your child, making that time count and continuing the bond and relationship that you have already formed.

Child Custody:  Child custody is always a concern for any parent in a divorce.  Each parent must set aside the issues that they have with their spouse and focus on what is in the best interest of the child.  Just because a person may be a bad husband or wife does not mean that that person is a bad parent. Studies have found that maximum involvement of both parents in a child’s life is often the best for the child.  There are two types of custody in Illinois, sole and joint.  Both types of custody preserve parental powers, rights and responsibilities.  Joint custody of a child means that you will be sharing major decision making responsibilities with the other parent.  Such major decisions include issues regarding education, health care and religious training.  750 ILCS 602.1(b).  Other decisions may be agreed upon by the parties to be made jointly, such as decisions regarding extra-curricular activities.  In order to have joint custody, parents must be able to communicate and cooperate with each other regarding the children.  750 ILCS 602.1(c)(1).  Parents should be flexible when working with each other to come to a decision about the children and should remember to put the children’s best interest first before all other concerns.  If parents are not able to communicate or cooperate enough to come to decisions regarding the children, then the court will have to grant sole custody to one parent.  Sole custody grants all major decision making rights to one parent.  Cases involving an order of protection having been issued against one parent to protect the other parent will result in sole custody being granted to the protected parent.  The Illinois courts are required to take into consideration statutory factors when determining the custody of a child.  The factors that a court must consider when granting custody of a child to a parent include: 1) the wishes of the child’s parent or parents as to his custody; 2) the wishes of the child as to his custodian; 3) the interaction and interrelationship of the child with his parent or parents, his siblings and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interest; 4) the child’s adjustment to his home, school and community; 5) the mental and physical health of all individuals involved; 6) the physical violence or threat of physical violence by the child’s potential custodian, whether directed against the child or directed against another person; 7) the occurrence of ongoing or repeated abuse…whether directed against the child or directed against another person; 8) the willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child; 9) whether one of the parents is a sex offender; and 10) the terms of a parent’s military family-care plan that a parent must complete before deployment if a parent is a member of the United States Armed Forces who is being deployed.  750 ILCS 5/602(a).  The court is to presume that maximum involvement and cooperation of both parents regarding the physical, mental, moral, and emotional well-being of their child is in the best interest of the child.  This means, that unless the court is given good reason, whether sole or joint custody, the court will look in maximum involvement in the child’s life for both parents.

A divorce is stressful for everyone involved, including the children.  A parent’s assurance to the child that they will continue to have as much involvement as possible will help the children transition into this new way of living.  A parent must follow through with participation in the child’s life and activities in order to continue a relationship with the children.  The courts can be used to ensure that maximum involvement with your child after divorce is granted to you and you and your child remain in a close, loving relationship.