There was a time when the courts overwhelmingly favored the mother in child custody cases. However, times have changed. Today’s courts look at a variety of factors when determining who will receive custody, and it’s not a given that the mother is the frontrunner. That can be good news for fathers who would like to have custody, or it could mean mothers who want custody will need to develop a stronger case than in earlier years.

Another change is that Illinois courts adopted the phrase “parental responsibilities” as a replacement for “child custody.” Here’s what you need to know about how parental responsibilities are determined in Illinois.

What do Illinois Courts Look at When Determining Parental Responsibilities?

Illinois courts take many factors into account when determining parental responsibilities, but the primary objective is what is in the child’s best interests. That’s an all-encompassing directive that looks at a variety of conditions and situations. The “best interests of the child is a concept developed by the United Nations (UN) as part of its Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Convention states that when a decision needs to be made regarding a child or group of children, those making the decision must evaluate and balance “all the elements necessary to make a decision in a specific situation for a specific individual child or group of children.”

What Factors Are Considered When Looking at the Best Interests of the Child?

Every parental responsibility case is unique, so the factors considered in each will vary. That said, some common concerns will be addressed in nearly every case.

Some of the aspects the court will consider:

  • Which parent is better situated for daily life with the child. If one parent has been the stay-home parent while the other works, or both work but one has to travel extensively for work, the judge may view the parent who’s home more as the better candidate to be the primary caregiver.
  • The child’s current situation (home, school, family, friends) and what would be least disruptive or most beneficial
  • Whether either the child or the other parent has been threatened with or the victim of domestic abuse
  • The relationship between the parents (is it functional or dysfunctional)
  • The child’s relationship with each parent, along with siblings or anyone else that plays a vital role in the child’s life
  • The physical and mental health of the child and the parents
  • The parents’ wishes and, as explained below, sometimes the child’s wishes

Do Illinois Courts Prefer to Award Sole or Joint Parental Responsibilities?

In general, the courts in Illinois tend to prefer joint parental responsibilities because that’s perceived as being in the child’s best interests. Sole parental responsibility is granted only when the court has strong reasons to believe that the child would benefit more from that than joint parenting.

Among the reasons the court would award sole parental responsibility:

  • One parent is abusive to either the child or the other parent, or both.
  • One parent cannot financially support the child and pay for its basic needs.
  • One parent lives in unhealthy and/or unsafe conditions.
  • One parent is either physically or emotionally unable to care for the child.

Does the Child Have Any Say in Which Parent Receives Parental Responsibilities?

The judge may ask the child involved what their preferences are and why, but the judge has the final say. The older and more mature a child is, the more their preferences may matter. However, as minors, they don’t have full weight in the eyes of the court. That’s because the judge is aware that the child may feel pressure from one of the parents to select them, or they may feel they have to pick one parent over the other for different reasons.

But if the child wants to stay with one parent due to things like remaining in their current school, having access to extended family members, or being able to be near current close friends, that may have some sway with the court.

What Is the Difference Between Physical and Legal Parental Responsibilities?

There are two types of parental responsibilities recognized by Illinois courts: Residential and legal.

  • Residential parental responsibility. As implied by the term, this determines which parent has the child physically living with them. It may be one parent or the other or a joint arrangement where the child spends time with each parent on a predetermined schedule approved by the court.
  • Legal parental responsibility. Like residential parental responsibility, this can be sole or joint. This covers various aspects of the child’s life, including what kind of education they’ll receive and where they’ll attend school; what religion, if any, they’ll be raised in; and medical care, both preventive and at times of injury or illness.

It’s not uncommon for one parent to receive sole residential parental responsibility while both parents are assigned joint legal responsibility. The non-residential parent then can have input on how the child will be raised in accordance with those significant decisions.

What Should I Do if I Need Help with Parental Responsibilities?

Call us as soon as possible at 312-757-4833 for a no-obligation free consultation. Our divorce and family law attorneys are knowledgeable and experienced in working on parental responsibilities cases. We know that the parent-child relationship is one of the most important in your life, and we’ll strive to ensure you receive the best possible outcome from your case.