How Courts Decide Custody in Illinois
No issue is more important to a parent than the role he or she plays in a child's life. The importance of this active participation in a child's life particularly comes into play during divorce. The process of separating and dividing a household and family brings unavoidable change to a parent's relationship with his or her child. In an ideal situation, parents work out a shared custody arrangement so the child does not lose too much interaction with either parent. Still, parents do not always agree on what is best for the child.
If a Court has to intervene and decide child custody, Illinois has a specific set of provisions that govern how Judges should make these determinations. Currently, Judges have discretion to order the custody arrangement they decide is in the best interests of the child. However, several groups supporting the rights of fathers in Illinois are pushing for legislation that would create a presumption in favor of joint custody, requiring a parent who opposes an agreement to argue why joint custody is not appropriate.
Judges and family advocacy groups disagree such a change is prudent since a 50/50 split is not workable in some families. Given that child custody is such an integral issue for any parent contemplating divorce, an overview of how Courts assess this issue is necessary.
Illinois divides parenting responsibilities into two categories: parenting time and decision-making. Both of these duties are allocated between the parents according to the best interests of the child, with an emphasis on how well the parents can work together and avoid conflict. A Judge is not required to allocate these responsibilities between the parents, and is permitted to award sole custody to one party if the circumstances warrant such a decision.
However, for purposes of parenting time, each parent is assumed to be fit and entitled to a reasonable amount of time with his or her child. Only in cases with evidence that a parent poses a physical, mental or emotional risk to the child's health will parenting time be completely denied or restricted.
When deciding how much time to allocate to each parent, the Court examines a number of factors designed to appraise the type of arrangement that is best for the child. Factors include the following:
- Each parent's wishes;
- How much time each parent was the primary caretaker over the previous two years;
- Any previous agreements or conduct related to caretaking;
- The quality of the relationship between the child, the parents and any siblings;
- The child's needs; and
- How ready and willing each parent is to encourage and promote the child's relationship with the other parent.
The allocation of decision-making responsibilities is the area of parental responsibilities that tends to be awarded solely to one parent if there is a high amount of conflict. The specific areas of the child's life this authority covers are education, health, extracurricular activities and religion. The Court, as with parenting time decisions, looks at factors related to the child's best interests to determine which parent should receive the right to hold this responsibility, including:
- The child's adjustment to home, school and community;
- The mental and physical health of the all parties;
- How much each parent participated in making these kinds of decisions in the past;
- How far apart the parents live from another, the logistics of transporting the child between each residence, the parties' daily schedules and likely level of cooperation of each parent; and
- The wishes of the child if the child is of sufficient age and maturity to make a reasoned decision.
While this allocation of decision-making responsibility governs the big items in a child's life, each parent has complete authority to make routine decisions related to the child during his or her parenting time, as well as any necessary emergency matters.
Consult a Family Law Attorney
Child custody issues are one of the most important matters a parent can face. Do not tackle this crucial issue alone. Talk to a passionate Palatine family law attorney about protecting your rights as a parent and doing what is best for your child. The Law Office of Nicholas W. Richardson, P.C. represents clients in northwest Chicagoland, and can help you through the legal system so you can focus on what is most important — your child. Contact the office for a free consultation.