| Read Time: 6 minutes | Category: Divorce & Family Law Articles

Illinois custody laws provide a framework for determining the allocation of parental responsibilities. These responsibilities are broken into two groups: 1) Decision-making responsibilities (legal custody) and; 2) Parenting time (visitation).

illinois custody laws
  • When parents are in agreement as to how parental responsibilities ought to be shared they submit a joint proposed parenting plan to the court for approval.
  • When parents are not in agreement they are required to attend mediation. The goal here is for a neutral party – a certified mediator – to help the parents come to an agreement with respect to the parenting plan for the child or children.
  • If mediation fails to achieve an agreement between the parents, then a judge will determine the allocation of parental responsibilities based on the best interests of the child.

Regardless of the specifics of your relationship with your co-parent, it’s a good idea to work with an attorney. A qualified child custody lawyer can help guide you through the process and give you advice based on your goals and the specifics of your circumstances.

Quick Links: How Custody is Determined | Visitation | Legal Custody | Petitioning the Court | Unmarried Parents

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Below you’ll find more information to help you understand the laws and processes that govern how child custody is determined in Illinois.


How Is Child Custody Determined Under Illinois Law?

New custody laws in Illinois have changed the terminology we use when discussing child custody. We currently say “decision-making responsibility” instead of “legal custody” and we say “parenting time” instead of “visitation.”

Together, these parental rights are called parental responsibilities, and custody determinations are called an allocation of parental responsibilities. 

Whether determining parenting time or decision-making responsibilities, Illinois judges make their custody determinations based on what is in the best interests of your child. 

Determining Parenting Time

Under Illinois law, parenting time means the time during which a parent is responsible for taking care of the child, and for making non-significant decisions for the child. When the court determines parenting time based on the best interests of the child it considers many factors including:

  • The wishes of each parent;
  • The wishes of the child;
  • The amount of parenting time each parent had in the 24 months before a custody petition was filed;
  • Prior arrangements between the parents;
  • Prior courses of conduct from both parents;
  • The child’s interactions with each parent, sibling, and other significant people;
  • The child’s adjustment to home, school, and community;
  • The mental and physical health of everyone involved;
  • The child’s needs;
  • The distance between the parents’ residences;
  • The child’s schedule;
  • The parents’ ability to cooperate;
  • The sex offender status of the parent and anyone in their home, including the status of related treatments;
  • The terms of military family-care plans a parent must complete before deployment; and
  • Any other relevant factor.

The court does not normally restrict parenting time unless you can prove that it is more likely than not that parenting time would seriously endanger your child’s physical, mental, moral, or emotional health. 

Not every parent who receives parenting time has the right to make significant decisions for their child, but each parent has the sole responsibility to make routine and emergency healthcare decisions for the child during their parenting time.

Determining Significant Decision-Making Responsibilities

Whichever parent has significant decision-making responsibilities makes decisions for the child regarding matters such as: 

  • Education (including choice of teachers and schools);
  • Healthcare (including mental healthcare);
  • Religion; and 
  • Extracurricular activities.

The courts prefer that co-parents work together to reach child-rearing decisions. But if you cannot or will not work together to come to an express or implied agreement regarding your child’s upbringing, the judge will be forced to make many decisions for you. However, if you do not have evidence for the judge regarding an agreement as to your child’s religious upbringing, a judge cannot allocate decision-making responsibilities to either parent regarding religion. 

When a judge allocates decision-making to one or both parents, they base their decision on the best interests of the child, considering the following factors:

  • The wishes of the child;
  • The child’s adjustment to home, school, and community;
  • The mental and physical health of everyone involved;
  • The ability of each parent to cooperate;
  • The level of each parent’s decision-making participation;
  • Prior agreements between the parents;
  • Prior courses of conduct by the parents;
  • The wishes of the parents;
  • The needs of the child;
  • The distance between the parents’ residences;
  • The child’s schedule;
  • The appropriateness of restricting decision-making responsibilities;
  • The willingness and ability of each parent to encourage and foster the child’s relationship with the other parent; 
  • Threats of violence or actual violence against the child; 
  • Abuse against the child or a member of the child’s household;
  • The sex offender status of a parent and any related treatments; and
  • Any other relevant factor.

When determining parenting time and significant decision-making responsibilities, the court cannot consider the conduct of a parent unless that conduct affects the child.

There are many factors that come into play in custody determinations, and an experienced family lawyer can help make child custody proceedings as smooth and just as possible.  


How Petitioning the Court for Custody Works for Both Divorcing and Unmarried Parents in Illinois

Illinois law allows married and unmarried parents to petition the court for the allocation of parental responsibilities. You can initiate proceedings to make this determination by filing for dissolution of a marriage (married parents) or by filing a petition for allocation of parental responsibilities (unmarried parents). 

Proceedings Under Illinois Child Custody Law for Divorcing Parents

If you are a parent going through a divorce, you initiate proceedings to allocate parental responsibilities when you or your spouse files a petition to dissolve the marriage. You and your spouse have 120 days from the date of filing the petition to file a proposed parenting plan. You can file this plan jointly or separately, and it must include decisions regarding:

  • Allocation of significant decision-making responsibilities;
  • Living arrangements;
  • Parenting time;
  • A mediation provision for any proposed reallocations of parenting time;
  • A mediation provision regarding the terms of allocation of parental responsibilities;
  • Rights to access healthcare records; school records, extracurricular records, reports, and schedules;
  • Designation of the parent with majority parenting time;
  • The child’s residential address for school enrollment purposes;
  • The residential address, phone number, and employment information for each parent;
  • A requirement for 60 days’ notice for changes of address;
  • Provisions for notifying the other parent about emergencies, healthcare, travel plans, and other significant child-related matters;
  • Provisions for communicating with the child during the other parent’s time;
  • Provisions to address future relocations;
  • Provisions for future modifications of the parenting plan when specific events happen;
  • Provisions for a parent’s right of first refusal; and
  • Any other provisions regarding the best interests of the child or fostering cooperation between the parents.

The court may restrict a parent’s right to access records or receive contact information if there are concerns about abuse or violence. 

The court may require you to attend mediation to attempt to formulate a parenting plan before it assumes the duty of allocating responsibilities. Divorcing parents can submit an agreed-upon parenting plan any time before entry of a judgment of dissolution of marriage.

A judge chooses to accept or not accept your agreed-upon parenting plan, after deciding if the agreement is in the best interest of your child. If the judge accepts the agreement, they sign off on it and it becomes binding on you and the court. 

Proceedings Under Illinois Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents

Under Illinois child custody laws, unmarried parents have almost the same rights and responsibilities as married parents, but there are some differences. If you are unmarried and seeking custody of your child, you must first establish a parent-child relationship

Establishing a parent-child relationship

Under Illinois law, a parent can establish a parent-child relationship through one of the following ways:

  • By giving birth to the child (unless there was a surrogacy arrangement);
  • By court order;
  • By adoption of the child;
  • By a valid gestational surrogacy arrangement; 
  • By marriage or civil union; or
  • By a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity.

 Once you establish the parent-child relationship, you can seek custody of the child.

Determining child custody between unmarried parents

Unmarried parents initiate proceedings to allocate parental responsibilities by filing a petition for allocation of parental responsibilities with the court. Unmarried parents have 120 days after they file the petition to allocate parental responsibility to file a parenting plan. This plan must cover the same provisions as parenting plans for married parents, and the court may require mediation before making a final determination. 


Speak with a Qualified Child Custody Attorney Today

Family matters can be complicated, especially when you must involve the law. The attorneys at Vantage Group Legal Services use their legal expertise to simplify family law matters and give you the support you need to protect your family.

Our lawyers are here to answer your questions and help you with the paperwork. You are our priority. Call us at 773-232-6892, or contact us online for a free consultation.