Before we address the question, let’s look at what the two terms “physical custody” and “legal custody” mean.

Physical custody means that the parent takes care of the child. The parent is able to live with the child and vice versa on a daily basis. In most cases, there is a primary physical caretaker and a secondary caretaker. If you are the sole physical custodian, the child lives with you and the other parent likely has visitation rights.

Legal custody is about taking care of the various important decisions regarding the child’s well-being, whether that is regarding medical issues or educational decisions. This also includes religious upbringing as well as extra-curricular activities. If you have joint legal custody, then you share the decision-making responsibility with your co-parent.

What Does it Mean to Have Sole Physical Custody?

Having sole physical custody means that your child lives with you full-time and you take care of their welfare on a day-to-day basis. The other parent will probably have visitation rights and pay child support to provide for your child.

Illinois has actually done away with the traditional custody terms, i.e., physical custody and legal custody. They are now officially referred to as parenting time and decision making responsibilities. Still, old habits die hard, so the old custody terms are still in use.

Sole physical custody is actually quite rare in Illinois, and usually is mostly found if one parent was neglectful or even abusive. However, it can also occur for more innocuous reasons, for example if one parent has challenges with making use of visitation rights, whether that’s due to work scheduling issues or the cost of traveling to be with the child.

Even if one parent has sole physical custody, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the other parent doesn’t have visitation rights at all. It just means that the child lives with the parent who has custody full-time, and that the other parent has visitation rights and gets to spend time with the child.

Since the Illinois child custody laws insist that the best interest of the child should guide their decision, there must have been a good reason that led them to giving one parent sole physical custody or parenting time. This is in fact much the same as it would have been in other states, since Illinois and the other states have all joined in adopting the Uniform Child Custody Act (UCCA).

What Does it Mean to Have Shared Legal Custody?

If you have shared legal custody with your co-parent, that means that you get to share the decision-making process about every important part of your child’s life. That includes schooling, medical care, and religious upbringing. It also includes decisions about extra-curricular activities, such as sports, music lessons, theater classes, and more.

Can Child Custody Be Modified?

If you are in the position of where the other parent has sole physical custody rights, you may be unhappy with that arrangement. Perhaps you want to spend more time with your child and not just visitation time.

If you are the parent who has sole physical custody, you may be ready to share the responsibilities of raising your child with your co-parent and wonder whether that would be feasible. Reviewing some information about Illinois child custody laws can help.

Usually, a custody judgment cannot be modified until two years after it was first entered, unless both parties agree to a modification. If you would like to spend more time with your child, you need to gather and present evidence that demonstrates that the modification would benefit your child. At the same time, if you would like to share custody more evenly, you could do the same.

If you are wondering what you can do to increase your chances at getting a larger share of parenting time, you should talk to an experienced family law attorney. He or she can give you pointers regarding the kinds of things to avoid during any disputes about custody.

These include the following:

  • Do not yell at the other parent or your children
  • Do not engage in physical confrontations with the other parent or children
  • Do not criticize the other parent to family members or friends
  • Do not withhold child support payments

There is more, but these should give you a good idea of what to avoid and how to engage in a more positive interaction with your co-parent and your children. This includes spending as much time with your children as possible, and getting involved with your children’s school and extracurricular activities. Also be sure to document your involvement in your children’s lives.

If you’re the parent who wants the other parent more involved in the parenting part of raising your mutual child or children, you too should get the advice of an attorney.

Why You Should Seek Help

State laws are constantly changing, and it can be impossible to keep up with all those changes. To help you with getting the best child custody arrangements for your situation, it is important to work with a local lawyer specializing in child custody cases in Chicago.

Whether you are the parent who wants more physical custody or you want to share more evenly with your co-parent, speak to an experienced child custody attorney. We care about your children and help you find the best solution for them. We’ll also help you navigate the legal system so it won’t trip you up.

Call or email us for a free consultation. We look forward to talking with you.