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Are child custody agreements set in stone?

When two parents split-up or divorce, matters related to child custody must be determined. Even in cases where a split or divorce is amicable, parents would be wise to take steps to establish a formal and court-enforceable child custody agreement. Doing so helps protect the custody rights of each parent in the event one's relationship with an ex changes or one parent moves to another city or state.

There are two basic types of child custody, joint and sole. In a sole custody agreement, one parent retains full physical and legal custody of a child. Barring charges of domestic abuse or violence, the other parent is typically awarded visitation rights to a child. In joint custody agreements, parents have an equal say in matters related to their child's care and wellbeing. Frequently, joint custody arrangements also provide each parent with access to and time with a child.

Parents would be wise to follow the terms of a child custody agreement or they could face legal action. That's not to say, however, that child custody agreements can't be modified or changed. As a child ages and the lives of both parents change for the better or worse, one parent may petition for a modification to an existing child custody agreement.

In Illinois, parents who wish to petition for a modification in child custody may do so provided the original agreement has been in place for at least two years and there has been a change in a parent’s circumstances. Additionally, a parent must be able to demonstrate the requested change to a custody agreement would benefit a child.

Say for example that a child's mother was previously dealing with a substance abuse problem. Consequently, the woman's ex-husband was awarded sole child custody and the woman was only granted limited visitation rights. Fast forward two years and the mother has successfully completed treatment and has markedly improved her quality of life. The mother may seek to modify the terms of the existing child custody agreement to seek joint custody of her child.

Parents who are seeking to modify the terms of a child custody agreement or who wish to defend against an ex who is seeking a modification, would be wise to retain legal counsel.

Source: Illinois Legal Aid, "Changing Child Custody," 2014

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