In divorce and family law cases, issues related to children will often be among the most significant concerns that may affect the parties. Child custody is an area where parents may clash, especially if they have different expectations about how certain matters related to their children should be handled. Because of the emotional nature of these disputes, they can often lead to serious conflict. However, it is important for parents to understand that child custody decisions are primarily based on what is in the best interest of the child. While the parents’ desires and other issues may play a role in a case, there are numerous other factors that may be considered. Parents will need to be sure to understand how these issues will be approached in family courts.
When addressing child custody concerns, it is crucial for a parent to be represented by an attorney who has a strong knowledge of the applicable laws, as well as experience handling these types of cases. At [[title]], our lawyers have represented numerous clients in complex cases involving child custody disputes and other legal concerns. We are dedicated to helping our clients achieve positive outcomes that will allow them to successfully parent their children in the years following the conclusion of a case. We take a compassionate approach, focusing on what is best for children while also helping parents determine how to proceed as they work to resolve disputes and manage their ongoing responsibilities.
Illinois Child Custody Laws
In general, child custody is a term that is understood to refer to the relationship between a parent and a child, a parent’s responsibility for providing care for a child, and arrangements for where a child will live. Child custody is often divided into the categories of legal custody and physical custody. The right to make important decisions about the child’s life is usually known as legal custody. These decisions may address issues such as schooling, medical care, and religious activities. Physical custody refers to the time a child will spend in the care of a parent, including when they stay overnight in a parent’s home or are with them in other locations.
Illinois law uses the term “allocation of parental responsibilities” instead of “custody.” Rather than having parents share legal custody or granting sole legal custody to one parent, Illinois courts will allocate decision-making responsibilities between parents. There are four areas of decision-making responsibility: healthcare, education, religion, and extracurricular activities. In many cases, parents will share equal responsibility in each of these areas, although depending on the issues involved in a specific case, certain areas of responsibility may be allocated to one parent. In these situations, a parent may have sole decision-making authority for certain types of decisions, or they may be given primary decision-making responsibility while being required to consult with the other parent.
Physical custody is known as “parenting time” in Illinois. Most of the time, neither parent will be designated the “custodial” or “non-custodial” parent. Instead, parenting time will be allocated between the parents, and each parent will be able to spend time with their children on a regular, ongoing basis. During periods of parenting time, parents will have the responsibility to provide all necessary care, including food, clothing, shelter, and supervision, and they will be able to make decisions about issues such as discipline, routines, and emergency medical care. Parenting time can be divided in any number of ways depending on the unique factors involved in a specific case.
Factors Considered in Child Custody Cases
Parents are usually encouraged to work together to make decisions about how parental responsibilities and parenting time will be allocated. However, there are some situations where reaching an agreement may be impossible. High levels of conflict between parents may prevent them from having civil discussions, or one party may be unwilling to participate in mediation or other forms of dispute resolution.
If parents ask the court to make the final decisions about child custody in their case, a judge may appoint a guardian ad litem or another child custody evaluator. A professional who is trained in family-related issues and who understands the applicable laws may interview the parents, children, and others who may provide insight into the case, such as extended family members, teachers, doctors, or counselors, and they may also visit the parents’ homes and review other records. They may then provide recommendations to the court for solutions that will provide for the children’s best interests.
When making decisions about child custody, a judge may look at many different factors, including:
The wishes of the parents – Each parent may provide reasons for why they believe their desired outcome will be best for their children, including why they should have primary or sole decision-making responsibility in certain areas or why the children should live with them most of the time. A judge may consider these stated reasons and look at how differences between the parents’ desires may be resolved.
The children’s wishes – If a child is old and mature enough to be able to express their desires, statements they give to a child custody evaluator or in a private conference with a judge may be considered. While this may be an important consideration, a judge may also look at the reasons behind the stated desires, such as whether a child may wish to live primarily with a parent who has rules that are less strict.
Home, school, and community – A judge may look at how well a child has adjusted to their current living situation. If a child has been primarily living in one neighborhood, going to the same school for several years, and participating in community activities such as sports programs, a judge may not want to disrupt the child’s life by having them move to a different community with a parent. To address these issues, a judge may encourage parents to continue living in the same community, ensuring that their children can maintain important relationships and avoid major changes to their living situation.
The children’s needs – Parents will need to make sure they will be able to provide for all of their children’s ongoing needs. If there are any issues that could affect this, such as when a parent’s home does not have enough room for children, a judge may take these factors into account when determining how child custody will be handled. Any extraordinary needs that children may have will also need to be considered. For example, if children have medical issues or disabilities that require specific types of care, a judge will want to make sure a parent will be capable of handling these concerns.
Previous participation in decision-making – A judge will look at how involved each parent has been in making major decisions for their children in the past, and this may inform how decision-making responsibilities will be allocated. For example, if one parent had been primarily responsible for taking children to doctors and providing medical care, that parent may be granted primary responsibility for health-related decisions going forward.
Previous participation in child care – When addressing issues related to parenting time, a judge may consider the amount of time each parent has spent performing “caretaking functions” within the two years immediately preceding the beginning of a family law case. These activities may involve a variety of parental responsibilities, including preparing and serving meals, managing bedtime routines, assisting with bathing and grooming, providing medical care, attending extracurricular activities, playing and interacting with a child, helping with homework, providing discipline, transporting a child to school or activities, protecting a child’s safety, and helping direct a child’s overall growth and development. Parents should be able to maintain the same level of involvement in their children’s lives as they have had in the past, and parenting time should be divided in a manner that will allow them to continue to provide for their children’s needs.
Cooperation – When parents share custody, they will need to be able to work together to raise their children. A judge will look at whether the parents are willing to cooperate and put their children’s needs ahead of their own desires, as well as whether each parent is willing to encourage children to have a positive relationship with the other parent. They may also consider whether high levels of conflict between parents may have a negative effect on children. Ultimately, a judge will want to make sure parents can share custody effectively, avoid exposing their children to conflict, resolve disputes as peacefully as possible, and communicate with each other about their children’s needs. If this will not be possible, it may be necessary to take steps to minimize contact between parents and require them to communicate with each other or exchange children through third parties.
Previous agreements or conduct – A judge may consider how parents have handled parental responsibilities in the past, and they may seek to keep these arrangements in place to avoid disruptions to children’s lives. If the parents had agreed that one parent would be primarily responsible for certain issues, such as directing children’s education, that parent may continue to have primary responsibility in that area.
Distance between parents’ homes – Depending on where parents will be living after a divorce or the end of a relationship, arrangements may need to be made to ensure that children can be transported between parents’ homes and other locations. Parents’ work schedules and children’s school schedules may also need to be considered to ensure that parents will be available to provide care for their children when necessary. Transportation concerns may not be a major consideration if parents will be living close to each other, but if one parent chooses to move to a different state or to a new location within Illinois that will require a long drive when transporting children, this may need to be taken into account when addressing issues related to parenting time. If a parent wishes to move to a new location with their children, the parties may need to address issues related to parental relocation.
Children’s safety and well-being – Any issues related to domestic violence, threats by a parent against the other parent or a child, accusations of abuse, or other issues that could affect children’s safety may need to be considered. In some cases, a judge may determine that restrictions on parental responsibilities or parenting time are appropriate.
Other relevant factors – In addition to the issues that are specifically included in Illinois law, a judge may consider any other information that may affect a case. They will look at anything that could affect children’s best interests as they make decisions related to child custody.
Contact Our Elmhurst Child Custody Lawyers
Child custody cases can involve a variety of complex factors, and they often require a delicate balance as a parent details their desires while also focusing on their children’s best interests and demonstrating a willingness to cooperate. At [[title]], our experienced DuPage County child custody attorneys can help parents navigate these issues and make sure that all relevant information is considered by the court. We will advocate for solutions that will protect children’s best interests going forward. Contact us at [[phone]] to set up a consultation and get legal help with child-related issues.