Custody is determined by what is in the best interest of the children. The court weighs many factors to reach that decision.
The person who typically is granted custody of the children is the person who spends the most time with the child -- for example, the person that takes the child to the doctor, takes the child to school, and attends parent/teacher conferences. Since the traditional family used to leave the day-to-day events of the child to the mother, fathers often have been short-changed when it comes to receiving custody of their children.
A father who wants to obtain custody has to make the effort to spend time with the child, and not just the fun activities. A father needs to help with homework, prepare meals, and pick the child up from school. Get to know your child's teachers and volunteer for field trips.
The court attempts to minimize the impact that the child will go through during a divorce. As the child gets older, the child will have a voice in custody, and the judge will take that into consideration.
Another important factor the court considers is the ability of the custodial parent to foster a relationship between the non-custodial parent and the child. Never discuss the other parent negatively. Your child can read your body language as well, so work toward developing a relationship with your ex-spouse that revolves around respect. Even if you are not successful in receiving custody, your willingness to create an amicable relationship can impact the time you have with your child.
Kimberly J. Anderson is a partner with family-law firm Anderson & Boback in Chicago. She has training in collaborative law and occasionally serves as a child representative throughout Cook County.