In a perfect world, all children would live with both parents in a safe and loving home. However, this stable and supportive situation does not exist in all families, and children can end up splitting their time between parents, living solely with one parent, or being cared for by relatives.
Child custody, referred to as parental responsibilities under Illinois law, legally and traditionally rests solely with the parents. Parents are presumed to be fit, and efforts are made to keep children under their parents’ care. For a variety of reasons, however, parents are sometimes unable or unsuitable to take on this responsibility, and in these cases, a safe and stable alternative must be found that protects the best interests of the child. The road to achieve custody rights as a non-parent can be difficult, but not impossible.
Challenges to Custody
The biggest challenge any non-parent will face when seeking to assert custody rights is whether he or she has standing to bring the matter before the court. Standing refers to the petitioner’s ability to maintain a legal case. With non-parents, standing will only be found if the child is not in the physical custody of either parent (step-parents and grandparents do not necessarily need physical custody to gain standing if certain conditions are met). The person caring for the child must have obtained possession by consent, acknowledgment, or acquiescence of the parents, and the arrangement needs to be more than temporary....
One of the most difficult aspects of divorce is dealing with child custody. The possibility of having to relocate or switch schools, in addition to spending less time with both parents, can leave a child feeling stressed, anxious and opinionated about the parent with whom he or she wants to live. However, when making an award of child custody or visitation, the Court must consider the child’s best interests. Additionally, there are a number of factors the Court must weigh. One factor is a child’s preference, pending the Court determines that the child has “sufficient maturity to express a preference.”
Best Interests and Child Preference in Illinois Custody Awards
Unlike some states, Illinois does not have a definite age at which a Judge must consider a child’s preference. Therefore, a Judge has wide discretion in determining whether or not to give any weight to a child’s preference, or even if a child will be allowed to express a preference....