Child custody determinations are likely to be some of the most stressful experiences of divorced parents’ lives. It can be incredibly difficult to come to terms with the idea of dividing child custody with your child’s other parent, but it is a necessary part of any divorce between parents. If you plan to divorce in Springfield, IL, and have concerns about child custody and child support, review the following frequently asked questions and answers to learn more about what you can expect from your custody determination.

Q: Can My Spouse and I Create a Custody Agreement on Our Own?

A: Illinois state law requires a family court judge to review and approve of any child custody determination to ensure it suits the best interests of the children the order will affect. Divorcing parents cannot privately negotiate child custody and reach any firm determinations. They can, however, negotiate a parenting plan that outlines their preferences and personal interpretations of their children’s best interests. A judge will still need to review and approve this proposal, but if the judge determines the parents’ negotiated agreement suits the best interests of their child, they may approve it with minimal or no alterations.

Q: What Is the Difference Between Legal and Physical Custody?

A: “Legal” custody pertains to the ability to make decisions on behalf of a child. “Physical” custody refers to where the child will spend their time. Many child custody determinations result in joint custody shared between the parents. However, joint custody does not necessarily mean the parents will split legal and physical custody 50/50. When joint custody is approved, it will generally include 50/50 legal custody and a different physical custody arrangement based on the needs of the couple’s children and the judge’s assessment of their best interests. For example, parents may share legal custody 50/50 and need to consult one another about major decisions for their children, but the physical custody arrangement could be 60/40 or 70/30 depending on how much time the children spend with each parent per their custody order.

Q: Can I Change My Custody Order?

A: The Illinois family court system understands that life can change unexpectedly, and parents accountable to a custody order may encounter issues that materially influence their existing custody terms. If something has happened that you believe alters the nature of your current custody terms, or if you believe that your current custody order does not adequately suit the best interests of your children, you can petition for modification of your custody order.

The modification process is relatively straightforward. The party petitioning for modification will submit their petition and summary of their suggested changes, and the court sets a hearing date. During this hearing, both parties have the right to make their cases concerning the proposed modification. The judge overseeing the modification proceedings must determine whether the suggested change suits the children’s best interests.

Q: My Ex Violated Our Custody Agreement. What Can I Do?

A: If you are under a child custody order, you must abide by the terms of the order as closely as possible. If unforeseen events arise that impact your ability to assume custody at an appointed time, you need to promptly inform your co-parent about the issue. If your child’s other parent violates your custody order in any way, it is best to consult your Springfield, IL, family law attorney about the matter. They can help you determine whether you should try to resolve the issue independently or file contempt proceedings against your co-parent.

Q: Can I Move With a Custody Order?

A: If you are offered a job in another state or have another opportunity to move, your relocation would likely render your current custody order untenable. If you have a custody order and want to move, you need to notify your child’s other parent about your intended relocation as soon as possible. If your relocation would not materially influence your custody order, such as moving across town, there may be no need to alter it. If you are planning a longer move, your co-parent must agree to the relocation and be willing to alter the terms of your custody order.

Relocation is often a contentious issue when it comes to child custody. The parent who isn’t moving may feel as though the other parent is trying to take their kids away. When a relocation issue arises, the parents must go to court to determine whether the relocation can go through and how the custody order must change. The non-relocating parent may agree to part with some of their custody rights, or they may attempt to fight for full custody if the relocating parent is entirely set on moving.

Q: Can a Divorced Parent Lose Custody Rights?

A: A parent’s custody rights can be involuntarily terminated under certain conditions. Typically, this will only occur if the parent harmed their child in some way. The other parent can petition the Springfield, IL, family court to terminate the other parent’s custody rights and assume sole custody of their child. It is also possible for a parent to voluntarily relinquish their custody rights; however, this will not cancel their support obligation. For example, if a parent does not want to be involved in their child’s life and their co-parent has remarried a stepparent willing to adopt, they may relinquish their custody rights to allow the adoption to go forward. Child support may still be required in some cases. Still, usually, if one parent surrenders their custody rights and a stepparent is willing to adopt the child, there will be no requirement for further support from the biological parent.

Child custody can be a very difficult issue for some families. One of the best things you can do to avoid future custody disputes is to ensure your original child custody order is as comprehensive and future-proof as possible. However, you must remember that unforeseen events can arise at any time and influence your custody determination. If you are unsure of what to expect in your child custody determination, it is essential that you speak with an experienced Springfield, IL, child custody attorney as soon as possible.