A lot of things in your life change during a divorce, including your relationship with your children. If you are like many parents in Illinois, you may have suffered silently through an unhappy marriage for many years before finally filing for divorce. You probably did that to save your children the turmoil of a divorce.

It’s also very common, especially for fathers, worried about the outcome of child custody proceedings when considering divorce. Once you understand the way Illinois law works, you’ll have an idea of how custody proceedings will likely develop in your case.

That information can help you make more informed decisions about your divorce and perhaps put your mind at ease if you are worried about custody, which Illinois calls the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities.

The Illinois courts focus on the best interest of the children

Although every family has its own circumstances that impact the outcome of a divorce, the judge who presides over each individual divorce must make a decision based on family law in Illinois. The law specifically mandates that the judge needs to consider the best interests of the children when deciding how to divide up parental rights and responsibilities.

That is a good thing for the whole family because it means that judges typically won’t award custody to one parent and leave the other parent relegated only to visitation. Psychological research over decades has made it clear that children do best when they maintain strong ties with both parents after a divorce.

Judges are going to do everything in their power to give both parents a fair degree of access to and time with the children. There are, however, a few circumstances in which one spouse may secure sole custody.

When will the courts award custody to one parent?

Believe it or not, the most common reason that one parent gets full custody and the other parent only ends up with visitation is because the parent who receives visitation doesn’t seek custody. If you don’t advocate for your rights and for your relationship with your children, the courts could agree to your ex’s request for sole custody.

Unless your ex asks for sole custody and you don’t fight back, there are only a few circumstances in which the court is likely to grant their request. The first is obviously situations that involve abuse. If there is a legal, medical or criminal record of child or spousal abuse in your family, that can have a direct impact on how the courts allocate parental responsibilities.

The courts are also more likely to award sole custody to one parent if there is any history involving addiction, substance abuse, or severe emotional or social instability. Unless your family circumstances fall into one of these categories, you will most likely wind up sharing custody with your ex in a divorce.

Understanding this can help you develop a better strategy for divorce. It can also save you unnecessary worry and heartache as you enter into this next chapter of your life.