Child custody considerations in an Illinois divorce

Illinois child custody law is complicated and focuses on determining the best interest of the child.

Every family is unique, as are the reasons for a divorce, which in turn impact considerations of child custody and visitation. In Illinois, the circumstances of each family are weighed in light of the best interests of the children to determine child custody arrangements.

On one end of the spectrum, divorcing parents may actually be amicable and agree to continue to parent together as much as possible. When mutual respect survives the stress of a divorce, the parents may be able hammer out mutually agreed-upon terms of a settlement that sets out a cooperative child custody and visitation agreement called a joint parenting agreement.

In another scenario, one parent may face the child custody part of divorce with fear or anger. The other parent may have a history of excessive behavior related to alcohol, drugs, illegal acts, questionable influence, dishonesty, control of others, verbal abuse, anger issues, dubious discipline methods or worse. Understandably, there are concerns about whether such a person can effectively and safely fulfill parental duties.

It is likely to be harder to negotiate to an acceptable agreement on custody and visitation in such a situation. If a marital settlement agreement is impossible, the matter will end up in court for decision by the judge assigned to the divorce.

In Illinois, physical custody is who has responsibility for direct care and control of the child and legal custody is which parent has the right to make major decisions for the child like those dealing with health, education, religion and so on. Both kinds of custody can be awarded jointly for the parents to share or solely to one of them.

In addition, part of the custody picture is visitation, meaning contact by the noncustodial parent, either in person, by phone or electronically. Visitation may include overnight visits and time during holidays and school breaks.

Illinois statute directs the court to decide custody matters based on the child's best interest, considering all relevant factors in the case, but including:

  • Parental wishes
  • Child's wishes
  • Relationships of the child with the parents, siblings and other significant people
  • Child's adjustment to "home, school and community"
  • Everyone's physical and mental health
  • Threats of or actual physical violence
  • Domestic abuse
  • Parental willingness to facilitate a relationship between the child and the other parent
  • Parental sex-offender status
  • Parental military family-care plan

In addition, the judge is not to consider parental conduct that "does not affect his [or her] relationship to the child," a factor not all states' laws mention.

Except in cases of ongoing domestic abuse, the court is to presume that "maximum involvement and cooperation of both parents" concerning the welfare of the child is in that child's best interest, but there is no presumption for or against the award of joint custody.

To help the judge decide, he or she may order that the parties enter mediation in which a neutral third party trained in conflict resolution and negotiation assists them in trying to come to agreement. The judge may also order a family investigation.

For a more comprehensive understanding of Illinois custody law and how it will impact his or her child custody issues, a parent facing divorce should contact an experienced Illinois family lawyer for information, guidance and representation. With offices in Chicago and Lake Zurich, the law firm of Susan E. Kamman & Associates serves clients in family law matters in the Chicago area and statewide.

Keywords: Illinois, child custody, best interest, divorce, visitation