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This article will give you a general overview of Illinois Child Custody Laws for 2024 including changes to parenting time and parenting responsibilities, best interests of the child, and factors determining joint custody vs. sole custody.  

Illinois Does Not Refer To Child Custody As Custody Anymore

The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act eliminated the word “custody” from the Act back in 2016. This may seem confusing, and it is, but we will guide you through the new concepts of:

  1. Parenting Time - the time in which each parent will spend with the child or children.
  1. Parenting Responsibility - the decision-making responsibilities that each parent has over their children decision making is broken down into healthcare decisions for the child, educational decisions for the child, and religious and extracurricular activities of the child.

Illinois Looks to the Best Interests of the Child in Making Child Custody Determinations

In Illinois the courts will look to the best interests of the child in making “child custody” (as noted child custody does not exist in the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act) determinations. Many people believe that the mother automatically by default will gain custody of the child or children but that is simply not true. The Judge will look at the totality of all the facts and circumstances and weigh many factors to determine what is in the child’s best interest.  

Child custody determination Illinois

Decision Making vs. Parenting Time

Legal custody now decision making involves making important decisions about the child’s upbringing such as religious choices, educational choices, medical decisions, extracurricular activities.

Parenting time can be defined under the old term physical custody.  

The Illinois Best Interest Factors for purposes of allocating parenting time, the court will balance the following factors always looking to the child’s best interest:

  1. Each parent’s wishes seeking parenting time.
  1. The child’s wishes
  1. The amount that each parent spent in executing caretaking responsibilities pertaining to the child in the 24 months before the filing of any petition for allocation of parental responsibilities, or if the child is two-years of age or younger, since the child was born
  1. Any course of conduct or prior agreements between the parents pertaining to the caretaking functions with respect to the child.
  1. The interrelationship and interaction of the child with his or her siblings and parents and with anyone else who may substantially impact the child's best interests.
  1. The adjustment the child is making to his or her community school and home life.
  1. The mental and physical health of all the parities
  1. The needs of the child
  1. The distance apart from which the parents live from one another, the difficulty and cost of travel and transportation of the child, each parent and child’s daily schedule and the willingness of each parent to cooperate in the travel arrangement of the child.
  1. Whether a restriction on parenting time is proper.
  1. Physical violence or threat of physical violence by the parent to the child or another member of the child’s residence.
  1. Each parents’ willingness to place the needs of the child ahead of the parent’s needs.
  1. The ability of each parent to foster and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and child.
  1. The abuse against the child or other member of the child’s residence
  1. Whether a parent is a convicted sex offender and if so the nature of the offense and what treatment if any has the sex offender parent participated in.
  1. The parent’s military family-care plan that a parent is required to complete before deployment if a parent is a member of the US military who is being actively deployed.
  1. Any other factor this court finds to be relevant

Joint Custody

In Illinois joint custody is where both parents share both the decision-making and the parenting time 50% & 50% between each parent. Joint custody in Illinois presumes that each parent can agree to effectively communicate and work together to co-parent and raise their children. If one parent objects to joint custody because they do not think it is possible to effectively work with the other parent that parent can point out to the judge that joint custody will not work because the parents cannot work together. The court will award the parent who is willing to work with the other parent more parenting time.

For detailed information on joint custody in Illinois, check out our article: Joint Custody Parenting Plans.  

Sole Custody in Illinois

Sole custody in Illinois is possible but it rarely happens. Illinois courts are reluctant to grant sole custody unless there is abuse or neglect of the child that has or put the child’s health safety or welfare in jeopardy. If after a court hearing an Illinois judge finds by a preponderance of all of the evidence that a parent acted in a way that seriously endangered the child’s physical health mental health or safety or conduct that significantly impaired the child’s emotional development that court shall enter an Order to protect the child. If the judge finds that a parent has engaged in this conduct the judge will do one of two things:

  1. Supervised parenting time, this is the step right before sole custody
  1. Reducing or eliminating parenting time or both parenting time and decision-making responsibilities.

Supervised parenting time is where one parent is supervised by a relative or a close friend that both parents know and trust that can accommodate the parenting time. Guardian ad litem is appointed to investigate what is going on in the case, guardian ad litem owes a duty to the child to act in the child’s best interests and must advocate for the child. Read our article Preparing To Work With A Guardian Ad Litem In Your Child Custody Case for more information on this.  

If a person that both parents know such as a relative or friend of the parents cannot help supervise the child visitations, the supervised parent must hire a parenting supervisor. Because the parenting supervisor is paid, they can testify to the behavior of the parent. Supervision of the parent will not stop until the supervised parent accomplished some feat such as requiring the parent to complete drug or alcohol abuse treatment or requiring a parent to complete a treatment program for abuse, or any other reason for which the parenting time was limited in the first place.

Supervised parents either step up to the plate and change or disappear out of the child’s life. If the supervised parent disappears out of the child’s life, the other parent will gain sole custody by default. Once a parent has an extended absence away from the children it would not be in the child's best interest to reintroduce the parent back into the child’s life.

To learn more about the custodial parent's rights and responsibilities, read our article Illinois Parentage FAQs.

Married Parents Rights

In Illinois married parents have both decision making and parenting time of the child or children that are born of the marriage while the parents continue to be married.  

Parent rights in child custody

Non-Married Parents Rights

Under Illinois law for unmarried parents, the mother has sole decision making and parenting time of the child or children, until the father comes forward and establishes paternity or the court determines paternity, or the father petitions the court for any form of custody.

Disagreements Between The Parents Regarding Custody

If the parents cannot come to an agreement on the custody either parenting time and or decision making of the child or children, then the judge will have to decide what is in the best interests of the child or children. This could result in termination of parental rights for one or both of the parents. Usually, the court will award the parent who is more cooperative and willing to foster the parental relationship between the other parent and child more decision making and parenting time. The courts do not like when parents cannot communicate with each other regarding the children, it is in both parents’ best interests to work together to come up with a solid parenting plan and put their differences in the past.  

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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