There are various reasons why one or both parents might want sole custody in a divorce or separation. In some cases, there are concerns that spending time with the other parent could put the children in danger. In others, the parents are so at odds that they don’t want to interact after their divorce. In others still, one or both parents want to spend as much time with their children as possible.

Regardless of the reasoning, when one parent wants sole custody, this will create challenges during the parents’ divorce or separation. The other parent will almost certainly want custody rights as well, and even if sole custody is warranted, obtaining sole custody will most likely mean going to court. When seeking sole custody, it is important to have realistic expectations. Whether you or your child’s other parent wants sole custody, it will be important for you to work with an experienced divorce attorney.

Is Sole Custody an Option in Illinois?

Sole custody is an option in Illinois, but it is an option that is reserved for only a minimal set of circumstances. Illinois law favors allowing children to maintain relationships with both of their parents, and obtaining sole custody requires evidence that this is not in the best interests of the children involved.

The children’s best interests are the guiding factor in all child custody matters in Illinois. As a general principle, Illinois law presumes that it is in a child’s best interests to spend time with both parents after a divorce or separation. Obtaining sole custody requires the ability to overcome this presumption. This is not an easy task, but it is possible given the correct set of circumstances.

Obtaining Sole Custody Requires Evidence that a Parent is “Unfit”

To obtain sole custody, it is necessary to show that maintaining a parent-child relationship with the parent in question is not in the children’s best interests. This requires evidence that this parent is “unfit” to serve in a parental capacity. Some examples of factors that may suggest that a parent is unfit include:

  • Abuse – A history of abuse is among the strongest factors weighing in favor of sole custody. If one parent has been abusive toward the couple’s children, this may warrant a determination that they are unfit to parent. However, even in this scenario, the courts will often favor counseling, rehabilitation, and limited (and perhaps supervised) parenting time over complete termination of parental rights.
  • Incapability – If a parent is emotionally and physically incapable of serving their children’s best interests, this can also support a sole custody determination in some cases. Absence, or abandonment, is among the strongest indicators of incapability, though there can be other relevant considerations.
  • Living Conditions – In appropriate cases, the Illinois courts will also consider the living conditions each parent can offer their children. If one parent’s post-divorce or post-separation living conditions will be dangerous for the child (i.e., if drugs or violent individuals are present in the home), then this may counsel in favor of an award of sole custody.

But, even if one or more of these factors are present, this does not necessarily mean that a judge will award sole custody. In Illinois, all child custody determinations are heavily dependent on the specific facts and circumstances involved. Obtaining sole custody requires an extremely strong showing. As a result, it will often be necessary to prove more than one of the factors listed above, and it will be necessary to prove each factor to such an extent that there is no question sole custody is the right option.

Proof of a parent’s unfitness can take a variety of different forms. Depending on the circumstances, possible evidence in support of a sole custody determination may include:

  • Evidence of a criminal history
  • Reports of domestic violence
  • Police and medical records
  • Restraining orders
  • Text messages or other communications between the parents
  • Photos or videos
  • Social media posts
  • Testimony from neighbors, friends, and family
  • The opinion of a counselor, therapist, or doctor
  • Any other evidence sole custody is in the best interests of the children involved

Alternatives to Sole Custody in Illinois

Given that there are only limited circumstances in which the Illinois courts will grant sole custody, parents interested in seeking sole custody will also want to consider their alternatives. In appropriate cases, alternatives to sole custody may include:

  • Primary Custody with Visitation Rights – In many cases, the Illinois courts will prefer to grant limited visitation rights instead of denying parental involvement entirely.
  • Supervised Visitation – If appropriate, the Illinois courts can grant supervised visitation rights given the circumstances at hand. This allows the couple’s children to maintain a relationship with both parents without concerns that one parent may be putting the children in danger.
  • Joint Custody – Even when one parent wants sole custody, a joint custody arrangement may still be warranted under Illinois law. When this is the case, the parents can either work together to establish a mutually agreeable parenting plan, or they can ask a judge to determine their rights for them.

With that said, if you believe that sole custody is right for your situation, you should absolutely consult with an attorney to determine if this is an option you can pursue. An experienced Illinois family lawyer will be able to thoroughly evaluate your personal and family circumstances and help you make an informed decision about how to move forward. On the same token, if your spouse or partner is seeking sole custody, an attorney can use Illinois’s “best interests” factors to help you preserve your relationship with your children.

Talk to a Gurnee, IL Family Lawyer in Confidence

Do you have questions about sole custody? If so, we encourage you to schedule a confidential consultation. To discuss your situation with Gurnee, IL family lawyer Deanna J. Bowen in confidence, call 847-623-4002 or request an appointment online today.