How Do Illinois Family Courts Approach Child Custody During a Divorce?

Every custody case is different because each family and their circumstances are different. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to determining custody, and the courts look closely at numerous variables when making decisions.

But the first thing to understand is that Illinois’ primary focus during child custody proceedings is on what’s in the child’s best interests. What each parent wants or hopes for will be considered, but it will be viewed through the lens of doing the best thing for the child. The court will be less interested in what the parents think is best for the parents.

What Types of Custody Exist in Illinois?

People tend to think of child custody as strictly focused on where the child lives, but that’s not the case. It’s essential for parents to understand what courts consider to be custody. There are two forms of custody in Illinois: legal and parenting time.

Legal Custody

This is the type of custody many people aren’t aware of. It has nothing to do with where the child lives or when one parent gets to visit them. Instead, it focuses on the decision-making responsibility regarding the significant decisions parents have to make regarding their child’s life and upbringing, including educational choices, religious training (if applicable), medical and healthcare decisions, travel plans, summer camps and extracurricular activities, etc.

Legal custody can be joint or sole. When the parents share it jointly, they have to come to a consensus about the major decisions. This doesn’t include minor daily decisions such as what the child will have for lunch or if they can have a friend over to play–those decisions are handled by the parent who has the child with them at that moment.

If one parent has sole custody, they have the legal right to make all significant decisions for the child without any input from the other parent.

Parenting Time

Also known as physical custody or visitation, parenting time is the type of custody that determines where the child lives. There are two types of parenting time in Illinois.

  • Joint parenting time. This means the parents share physical custody of the child, perhaps equally, or if that doesn’t work, with one parent having more time and the other having less, but each having some period of physical custody.
  • Sole parenting time. This means one parent has sole physical custody of the child. Illinois courts strongly prefer joint custody because they recognize the value to the child of having both of their parents involved in their life. However, there are situations in which not allowing one parent to have access to the child may be preferable, including cases of abuse. However, there may be cases where one parent is given sole physical custody, but the other parent is awarded visitation. This is especially likely in cases where one parent has a demanding job or has to travel extensively for work, making physical custody unmanageable, yet they still want and deserve time with their child.

Custody issues, whether legal or parenting time, are complex and benefit from having the assistance of an experienced divorce and child custody attorney.

What Factors Do the Court Consider When Determining Either Form of Custody?

There are many because each situation is different. In general, these are the factors that weigh heavily on Illinois courts.

  • The best interests of the child
  • The wishes of the parents
  • If the parents have developed a parenting plan already that the court deems acceptable
  • The mental, physical, and financial condition of each parent
  • The child’s current situation regarding home, school, location of family and friends, and support systems

What Might Happen When One Parent is Awarded Sole Parenting Time But the Other Parent Is Given Visitation?

Suppose one parent can’t provide routine physical custody, whether due to a demanding job or frequent travel (or something else), the court may award sole parenting time to one parent but visitation to another. That can take the form of alternate weekends, occasional weeknights, pre-determined holidays, occasional vacations, etc. Much will depend on the time each parent has to offer the child and whether they can agree on an extended visitation schedule.

Can the Child Choose Which Parent Has Parenting Time Custody in Illinois?

There is no point at which the child’s wishes are the only criteria. However, the older the child, the more weight their wishes may have. A younger child may express a preference but may be deemed too young to understand what’s at stake. An older child or young teen might be considered mature enough to understand the factors involved and offer an informed opinion.
Regardless of the child’s age, if they’re a minor, the likelihood is that the court may listen to their wishes but still consider the other factors equally.

What Should I Do if I Need Help with a Child Custody Battle in Illinois?

Call the Law Offices of Robert Buchanan at 312-757-4833 for a no-obligation case evaluation. Child custody is so important to both parents and because of that, it can make an already stressful situation (divorce) even more fraught. It’s natural to want what’s best for your child, but sometimes, parents will need to negotiate to find what that looks like. Our team of knowledgeable, experienced divorce and child custody attorneys can advise you on your specific case and what the best outcomes may be.