Illinois child custody rules are not always straightforward. Needless to say, in a divorce proceeding, a lot is potentially on the line. Understanding the child custody rules in Illinois is critical for ensuring the best outcome for you and your children. Let’s review the basics of child custody below:

Illinois Child Custody Rules

Child custody generally falls under state law. This means that practically every state will have different rules, although many of those rules end up being quite similar.

As a general rule, child custody rules are very flexible. The court enjoys broad discretion in creating child custody arrangements.

Who Gets Custody Over a Child in Divorce?

There is no set formula.

One parent, both parents, or even a third party can maintain custody over a child.

In a child custody proceeding, the court will try to come to a solution that is in the best interest of the child.

What is the “Best Interest of the Child” standard?

This standard depends on the facts of the case.

Specifically, the court will look to the child’s age, his or her interaction with either of the parents, each parent’s mental health status, and the wishes of both the parents and child, among many other factors.

The court does not give a legal preference to one gendered parent over another. Who the court chooses to maintain custody will depend entirely on the child’s personal situation.

There is no magic formula here. The court has broad discretion in making this determination.

Sole vs. Joint Custody

Many divorce proceedings end in sole custody, meaning that only one parent gets full custody of the child.

However, sole custody does not mean that one parent will be completely unable to see his or her child. The parent without custody likely will have a visitation schedule outlining when that parent is allowed to see the child.

In some divorce proceedings, child custody will go to both parents. This is called joint custody.

Under Illinois child custody law, parents sharing joint custody over a child share decision making power. Joint custody will require a joint parenting agreement. This agreement will require both parents to make decisions jointly about their child’s education and basic care.

The joint parenting agreement will explain both parents’ obligations to their child and outline their rights to things like visitation. There is a lot of legal flexibility in drafting this agreement.

Note that joint custody does not imply “equal” custody or parenting time. One parent may have substantially more parenting time than the other. The arrangement largely depends on the joint parenting agreement.

Can a Child Decide Who Gets Custody?

Although a child’s wishes might be considered by the court, the decision is not the child’s to make.

The court may choose to listen to a professional opinion about what is best for the child, among other evidence, but the child may not make the decision directly.

When Does a Third Party Get Child Custody?

If neither parent wants custody over a child, or if both parents are incapable of maintaining custody, then a third party may step in. That third party, like a grandparent or step-parent, can petition for custody.

This scenario is rare, but it happens.

The court might consider financial hardship or a substance abuse by the parents when granting custody to a third party. As with nearly all issues in child custody, the decision depends on each child’s situation.

Illinois Child Support Basics

Child support refers to payments made by a parent to help take care of a child, whether they have partial or zero custody over that child.

Much like custody, who pays child support is based on each person’s specific situation. This is a facts-based determination. The court can remain very flexible in creating child support obligations.

Who Gets Child Support?

The court will look at each parents’ financial situation and their child’s needs.

The court’s determination will not necessarily consider the actual custody arrangement. A parent who does not get custody of a child may still be responsible for making child support payments to the other parent with custody.

If Parents Get Joint Custody, Does Either Get Child Support?

Since the custody arrangement is not a determining factor, the court still can be flexible in creating a child support obligation.

This means that, even with joint custody, one parent might still be responsible for paying child support.

Remember, the court makes its decision based on the financial situation of both parents and the interests of the child. If that means that it would be best for the child for one parent to shoulder a greater financial burden, then the court will do that.

Conclusion – Consult with an Experienced Illinois Family Law Attorney

The court has a lot of discretion when creating a child custody and child support arrangement.

Having an experienced attorney can help you make sure that you are getting the best result possible for your legal situation. Without one, you increase your risk of making a mistake, which could cost you during a divorce proceeding.

When you have a well-defined strategy, you will be more likely to protect your legal interests through the proceeding. This is precisely where an attorney can help.

Divorces can be difficult to navigate, emotionally and legally. The experienced attorneys at Johnston Tomei Lenczycki & Goldberg LLC understand this tough position. We will help you design a legal strategy that best fits your needs. Call us today at (847) 549-0600 or email us at to schedule a free consultation.

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