For the majority of the 1900s, divorced fathers in Illinois and the rest of the country who wanted to share child custody did not have many options. Family courts tended to favor mothers almost exclusively by giving them full custody. However, during the last three decades, an increasing number of divorced fathers have been able to obtain shared parental custody. According to one associate law professor, the manner in which the family courts have evaluated child custody over the last few decades have changed.

One type of child custody is legal custody, which gives the parent complete control over the decisions regarding the health care, religion, well-being and education of the children.

The other type of child custody is physical or residential custody, which is where the children reside at night. Although divorce laws differ in each state, joint legal custody is the starting point that is routinely used by the family courts, and shared residential custody is not only strongly considered, but also encouraged. Having residential custody divided into equal halves is typically uncommon because of logistical issues, and the division of residential custody still tends to favor mothers.

Another law professor asserts that the changing ideas regarding the role of fathers in parenting and the social acceptance of divorce both contributed to the rise in the 1970s in the divorce rates and rates at which shared custody was granted by the family courts. Those two factors are also believed to be responsible for accelerating rates in the 1980s.

A family law attorney may advise divorcing parents about the legal strategies that should be pursued to obtain shared or sole custody of their children. The attorney might litigate on behalf of clients to obtain favorable custody terms. Depending on the circumstances of a case, negotiation may be used to settle custody disputes.