As a parent, your decisions regarding child custody will be among the most critical decisions you make during divorce. These decisions will have a profound impact not only on your life but on your children’s lives as well. While there is no “right” answer, you must make an informed decision based on your unique family circumstances. What makes sense for someone else won’t necessarily make sense for you, and you need to try to choose a custody arrangement that provides as much stability as possible for the years ahead.

Of course, it’s not entirely up to you. Your spouse will play a role in the process as well. While divorcing parents must ultimately make their custody-related decisions based on what is best for their children, they don’t always agree on what is best—at least not initially. But with a calm, reasonable, and informed approach, it is often possible to come to terms and find an amicable solution without going to court.

Understanding the Two Different Types of Custody in Illinois

Taking an informed approach to child custody starts with understanding the two different types of custody in Illinois. When discussing custody, we can have physical or legal custody (or, in some cases, both).

When they hear “custody, “most people think of physical custody. If a parent has physical custody rights, they can provide a home for their children. As discussed below, in some cases, one parent will have primary physical custody while the other will have visitation rights, or both parents may share equal physical custody rights. There are other options for physical custody as well.

Legal custody refers to the right to decide on a couple’s children. This includes decisions about education, religion, and where the children should live. While physical custody and legal custody rights often go hand in hand, this doesn’t have to be the case, and divorcing parents must consider all of their options before deciding which to pursue.

5 Types of Child Custody Arrangements

Now that we’ve covered physical and legal custody, we can discuss the various options for child custody arrangements in Illinois. While divorcing parents have the flexibility to develop a custody arrangement that works for them (as long as it reflects the best interests of their children), most custody arrangements will generally take one of the following forms:

1. Primary Custody and Visitation

One of the most common child custody arrangements involves one parent having primary custody (both physical and legal) while the other parent has scheduled visitation time. In this arrangement, the children may live with one parent the majority of the time and visit their other parent’s house on certain days of the week or every other weekend.

These types of custody arrangements are common because they provide stability for the children, who live in one home most of the time. Of course, the downside is that they spend significantly less time with one of their parents—and, for this reason, this option isn’t necessarily the best in all circumstances.

2. Joint Custody

An alternative to the more traditional custody-and-visitation arrangement is joint custody. With this arrangement, the children spend equal (or roughly equal) time with both parents, and the parents typically have equal legal custody rights.

Joint custody arrangements are becoming increasingly common. Although they can be more challenging to manage (and in some respects more disruptive) than primary custody with visitation, the benefits of the children spending equal time with both parents will outweigh these considerations in many cases. Illinois law requires that divorcing parents focus on their children’s best interests—and if this means developing a joint custody arrangement, the parents must be prepared to manage on an ongoing basis.

3. Co-Parenting

Co-parenting is an alternative to primary and joint custody arrangements that involve the parents continuing to participate together in their children’s lives. One parent’s home is typically the children’s “home base.” Still, the children will usually spend equal time at both parents’ homes. The parents will celebrate birthdays, holidays, and other significant milestones together. They will frequently attend other child-related events and take a flexible approach to managing pickups, drop-offs, and other day-to-day tasks.

While co-parenting isn’t for everyone, it can work well in the right circumstances. If you (and your spouse) are interested in co-parenting, this is an option you should discuss with your divorce attorney.

4. Bird’s Nest Parenting

Bird’s nest parenting is similar to co-parenting regarding the parents’ joint involvement and flexibility; instead of the children splitting time between their parents’ homes, they will live in one home full-time. This is the “bird’s nest,” and the parents will take turns spending time there and tending to their children’s needs.

5. Sole Custody

A fifth child custody option in Illinois is sole custody. In an exclusive custody arrangement, the children live with one parent full-time, and the other has limited visitation. Depending on the circumstances, this visitation time may be supervised. Obtaining sole custody requires a showing that the noncustodial parent is “unfit” to have custody, and there are specific requirements for making this showing under Illinois law.

Sole custody arrangements are relatively rare, but when necessary, they can help protect the interests of the children involved. If you think sole custody may be in your children’s best interests, you should also discuss this option with your divorce attorney.

Discuss Your Custody Options with Gurnee, IL Family Lawyer Deanna J. Bowen

If you are preparing for divorce (or separation) in Illinois and would like to learn more about your child custody options, we invite you to get in touch. To request a free initial consultation with Gurnee, IL, family lawyer Deanna J. Bowen, please call 847-623-4002 or contact us online today.