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Kevin O'Flaherty

In all states, a person under 18 years old is considered a minor and is, in almost all cases, unable to make legally binding decisions. Child custody is considered a legally binding decision, as it is a court order based on a judge’s decision, and minors can therefore not make it. However, child custody decisions are based on what is in the child’s best interest. One area that often raises questions is the child’s right to refuse visitation with a parent. In Illinois, the state does not specify a particular age at which a child can legally choose not to visit a parent. This decision is determined on a case-by-case basis. Instead, child custody decisions, including those involving visitation, are based on determining what is in the best interest of the child.

This might seem straightforward, but in reality, it is a complex process to decide which parent is best suited for custody, involving numerous factors. The court takes into account:

  • The child’s wishes
  • Their age and maturity
  • The parent’s ability to provide care
  • Any history of abuse or neglect

Each case is unique, and as the court determines the decision in each case, it is tailored to the specific circumstances.

We will now examine the child’s wishes’ role in visitation matters, what factors influence a child’s ability to refuse visitation, and the circumstances in which the court intervenes.

The Role of the Child's Wishes in Visitation Matters

The child’s voice plays a pivotal role in custody and visitation matters. In Illinois family court, a child’s preference is a significant factor considered when determining custody and visitation arrangements. However, it is not the overriding factor. The law mandates that the courts consider the wishes of the child in visitation matters, taking into account the child’s maturity and ability to express reasoned and independent preferences.

While the child’s wishes are valued, the court also looks beyond the child’s stated desire. The child’s maturity is integral in determining how much weight the court gives to the child’s preference, particularly as there is no fixed age when a child can decide their living arrangements in Illinois. Gaining insight into a child’s reasoning for not wanting to visit a parent can inform the process of addressing visitation refusals, as direct conversations with the child can elucidate underlying issues.

Understanding the Significance of Age 14 in Illinois Custody Cases

In Illinois, 14 years old is recognized as an age at which a child’s preference is given more consideration in decisions regarding their living arrangements. The opinion of a child, particularly when they reach the age of 14, is given substantial support by Illinois courts due to a general regard for their increasing maturity.

Illinois courts conduct In Camera interviews in the judge’s office to ascertain the child’s wishes, providing a private and secure environment for the child to express their preferences concerning parental responsibilities.

Assessing Maturity: More Than Just a Number

When it comes to assessing a child’s maturity, the court looks beyond their age. The court is more likely to give weight to the opinion of a child who, by the age of 17 and of sound mind, is able to express a mature, reasoned choice in visitation matters. In evaluating a child’s maturity, among the factors considered are the child’s adjustment to their home, school, and community, showing that child’s maturity encompasses more than just age or preference.

Factors Influencing a Child's Ability to Refuse Visitation

What then, are the factors that influence a child’s ability to refuse visitation? Apart from the child’s wishes and maturity, their mental and physical health also play a crucial role. These factors significantly impact the child’s well-being and, therefore, are given due consideration by the court. Judges evaluate the following factors during custody decisions, as they influence the assessment of a child’s maturity level:

  • The child’s mental health
  • The child’s physical health
  • The mental health of all involved parties
  • The physical health of all involved parties

The Legal Process When Children Resist Visitation

Child representative communicating with a child

When a child resists visitation, it can lead to legal complexities. In Illinois, parents are legally obligated to make their child reasonably available for visitation as specified in the custody order. If a child refuses visitation, the custodial parent must communicate with the non-custodial parent to attempt to resolve the issue and maintain a good faith effort to abide by the custody order.

What happens if parents cannot reach an agreement on visitation? What part can mediation and counseling play in resolving these disputes? We will explore these questions in the subsequent sections.

Mediation and Counseling Options

Mediation and counseling can be effective tools for resolving conflicts over visitation. Family mediation is a cooperative problem-solving method where a neutral, trained mediator assists parties in resolving conflicts through communication and negotiation. Agreements reached through mediation can address varied family interests as well as emotional issues, and the skills learned can aid in establishing a cooperative relationship for future interactions.

What Happens If Parents Disagree?

When parents cannot settle a dispute over parenting time or parental responsibilities, the court steps in using the best interest factors to guide custody decisions. If a child’s welfare is imperiled and there is a continuous refusal to comply with arranged visitation, the disagreement may necessitate resolution in a court setting.

The Role of a Guardian ad Litem or Child Representative

In some custody cases, a guardian ad litem or child representative may be appointed to advocate for the child’s best interests. These individuals act as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the court, providing valuable input to help the court make informed decisions. They do not have legal custody or control over the child, but they do have the responsibility of:

  • Gathering information about the child’s needs and circumstances
  • Conducting interviews with the child, parents, and other relevant parties
  • Observing interactions between the child and parents
  • Reviewing documents and records related to the child’s well-being
  • Making recommendations to the court based on the child’s best interests

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a 12 year old decide which parent to live with in Illinois?

In Illinois, while there is no specific age at which a child's preference is considered, at around 14 years old, the court starts to give more weight to their choice of parent, until they reach the age of 18.

What not to say during custody battle?

During a custody battle, avoid raising petty complaints and rants about past behavior. Focus on valid concerns, such as substance abuse or abusive behavior.

What if a child doesn't want to live with a parent?

If a child strongly prefers not to live with one parent, it may be necessary to ask the court for a modification of custody.

What is the basis for child custody decisions in Illinois?

In Illinois, child custody decisions are based on the best interest of the child. This ensures that the child's well-being is the primary consideration.

Can a non-custodial parent enforce visitation rights?

Yes, Illinois courts can enforce visitation orders through measures like mandating makeup parenting time or requiring the violating parent to cover legal expenses. It's important to understand the options available for enforcing visitation rights.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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