How Do I Get Custody of My Child? Your Essential Custody Guide
Author: Prime Law Group
The nuclear family is melting down. 70% of children under 18 in 2020 lived with two parents. That sounds like a big number, but it’s a drop of 15 percentage points since 1968.
More and more couples with kids are getting divorced. Yet negotiating child custody remains extremely difficult.
You may be asking yourself, “How do I get custody of my child?” To answer that question, you have to answer a few others.
What kind of custody can you receive? How can you reach an agreement with your ex about custody? How can you prove you can take care of your child?
Answer these questions and you can get the custody you deserve. Here is your comprehensive guide.
Understand the Different Types of Custody
Child custody can mean a few different things. Before you hire a child custody attorney, you need to break the concept down and understand what it entails.
Physical custody is a parent’s right to have their child live with them. A parent can have partial or full physical custody.
Parents are under no obligation to split physical custody evenly. One parent can take over during the weekends while the other manages the children during the week. One parent that is not granted custody can have visitation rights, spending a few hours with their child every week.
Courts leave it up to parents to figure out the housing and financial arrangements that support physical custody. Some parents split expenses 50-50, while others pay for their child while their child is living with them.
Legal custody is the right to make decisions about a child’s upbringing. It allows a parent to decide where a child will go to school, what healthcare they will receive, and what culture and religion they will be raised in.
In general, a parent with partial physical custody will also have partial legal custody. A parent with visitation rights can be consulted on legal matters, but final authority rests with the custodial parent.
It is rare for a court to deny one parent any legal custody. But a court can do so if a parent is abusive or incapable of making decisions for their child. If a court will deny a parent legal custody, they will likely deny them physical custody as well.
The majority of custody arrangements are joint arrangements. Parents share custodial rights and responsibilities according to an agreement they reach with a judge.
Arrangements can be modified over time. Courts expect updates to an arrangement if one parent becomes disabled or needs to move to another part of the country.
Parents can get as creative with their arrangements as they want. To avoid disrupting their child’s schedule, they can adopt joint custody schedules that let them switch off every month or quarter. They can also try birdnesting, keeping the child in the family home while the parents cycle in and out.
Research the Local Child Custody Laws
Each state has its own set of child custody laws. Illinois laws apply to your case if your child has lived in the state of Illinois for at least six months prior to your custody action. If they have lived elsewhere, you need to look at that other state’s laws.
Yet Illinois laws are fairly similar to the laws in other states. Illinois has passed laws like the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act to smooth over differences between its laws and others. Judges will determine custodial rights based on the best interests of the child.
It is often in a child’s best interests to be with both of their parents. But a judge is under no obligation to give each parent equal rights or any rights at all. In order to receive full custody of your child, you need to prove that the other parent will harm your child’s interests and health.
Judges can talk to children if they are mature and can express their preferences. Children can receive their own legal representatives as well.
The state recognizes the rights of grandparents to visit their grandchildren. A judge can give your parents or your ex’s parents visitation status, especially if one of you does not have full legal rights. They will do so if your child already lives with their grandparents or if you consult with your parents on your child’s upbringing.
Get a Lawyer
It is essential that you hire a child custody lawyer as soon as possible. Your ex is probably hiring their own attorney, and it is hard to build a custody case by yourself.
At a minimum, a lawyer can give you more information about Illinois divorce and child custody laws. Schedule a consultation with them and ask any questions you may have, including, “How do I get full custody of my child?”
But you should talk about how you can construct a case to get custody. To help your attorney, you should hand over any relevant documents. You should give them information about your finances so you can prove that you can cover your child’s expenses.
Your lawyer can handle scheduling a child custody hearing and filing paperwork for you. You should remain in touch with them so you know how things are going.
Talk to Your Ex
A judge is more likely to approve custody arrangements if both parents agree to the arrangements. You should have a conversation with your ex to work things out and find arrangements you like.
If you’re not willing to meet with your ex by yourself, you can bring a lawyer or a mutual friend. You can also go to a mediator who will act as a third party and can tone down the hostility in the room. If you don’t want to be in the same room as your ex, you can work out arrangements through an intermediary.
You don’t have to work out everything. But having a mutual understanding of who will pay the bills or what visitation would look like can help a judge reach a final agreement.
Fill Out All Essential Forms
Illinois requires you to fill out many different forms in order to apply for child custody. At a minimum, you must file a parenting plan in which you describe how you will care for your child. You need to propose what the physical custody schedule will be like and how you can cover expenses.
If you are getting divorced, you need to fill out a Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage form. You must give complete financial details, including what your personal property is like. You can fill out other forms in the divorce process at another time.
Take time with these forms. Any inaccurate or vague details will make your side less credible. Ask your attorney to review these forms so they can correct anything wrong.
Prepare for Emergency Custody Orders
Most parents reach an informal agreement with each other to share custody while they negotiate final custody arrangements. You should talk to your ex and work out an agreement.
However, you can file for an emergency child custody order. You qualify for one if there is a family emergency like domestic violence and your child’s health and safety are at risk when they are around the other parent.
The filing process is expedited so a judge can give custody within a couple of days. The custody order may last only a few days or weeks, and a non-custodial parent may still have visitation rights. If you want your ex to avoid contacting you or your child, you need to file a restraining order or an order of protection.
If you need to file an order, you should not hesitate. You should call your lawyer and head to the courthouse so you can fill out your documents. You may want to change your living situation so you and your child stay safe.
If an order is being filed against you, you need to contact your lawyer and the courthouse. You can attend your ex’s hearing and defend yourself in front of the judge. A judge can reject an emergency order if they don’t feel an emergency has occurred.
Attend Your Custody Hearings
Once you file your child custody forms, the court will ask you to schedule a child custody hearing. The initial hearing will be brief, with the judge reviewing forms and asking questions to both sides.
You should think about what you want to say. If there is a long list of issues you need to address, you should focus on the most salient points. Practice what you are going to say with your attorney.
If you have time, try attending hearings that your judge is overseeing. Each judge is different, and some like certain arguments and questions better than others. Take notes on what you observe and adjust what you say accordingly.
After the initial hearing, the judge may schedule additional hearings and a formal trial. They may need to hear more information before making a decision, especially if you and your ex don’t agree on terms. You should prepare for each hearing by talking to your lawyer and practicing your remarks.
Prove You Are a Fit Parent
Proving fitness as a parent means proving a lot of different things. You need to show that you understand your child’s needs and respond to them in an appropriate manner. Your child should connect with you and feel that you respect them.
You must show that you have remained consistently involved in your child’s life. You have helped your child in a number of different ways, including with their schooling.
You need to show that you have not abused your child in any way. You can receive custody even if you have a history of substance abuse, but you need to show you have taken steps to curb your addiction. You can also ask your judge to issue an order restricting your use of the substance.
Parents with mental health and social functioning issues can receive custody as well. But you must show you are active in getting treatment and managing your issues.
You will need to testify about your parenting abilities. This includes being cross-examined by your ex’s attorney and answering questions from the judge. You can also ask people to testify on your behalf as character witnesses.
A judge is not required to render a verdict as soon as all of the hearings are done. They may need some time to reflect on what they’ve learned, and they may have other cases they have to deal with.
Do not make any drastic changes to your life until the verdict is in. Attend to your personal responsibilities, including caring for your child. Engage in self-care and take steps for coping after divorce, such as letting yourself grieve.
Do not tell your child about the custody case or divorce. It is hard for young children to understand what is going on, and the drama can overwhelm older children. If they ask you a question about the hearings, tell them that you are working things out with your ex and that you still love them.
You must respect any decision that your judge reaches. If you don’t get custody, you should not panic. You can file an appeal and ask an appellate court to reconsider the decision.
In the meantime, you should try adjusting your parenting style and skills. You can take a parenting class and try to get a job that will help you earn more money. You can also move into a larger apartment or home to give your child more space.
So How Do I Get Custody of My Child?
Many parents ask, “How do I get custody of my child?” The process is complicated because there are a few kinds of custody. You need to follow Illinois laws, complete extensive paperwork, and perform well during hearings.
Try to negotiate with your ex on as many terms as possible. If you can’t agree on everything, contact an attorney and prepare a strong case for your rights. You should find witnesses who can testify to your good character.
Do not hesitate when you’re dealing with custody. Prime Law Group serves the Woodstock area. Contact us today.