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illinois custody laws unmarried parents

Illinois custody laws for unmarried parents and married parents provide the same rights and obligations, but with one huge exception: The state automatically recognizes paternity if the child’s father is married to the mother.

However, paternity is not automatically recognized if the parents are not married. For an unmarried father to enjoy the same rights as married parents, he must prove their paternity. Unmarried mothers’ rights in Illinois are the same as married mothers’ rights. 

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How to Establish Paternity in Illinois

Before paternity is established, mothers have sole custody. Once paternity is established, fathers have the same rights as mothers, regardless of marital status. If paternity is not established, the mother retains all parenting time and parenting responsibilities.

There are three ways an unwed father can establish paternity:

  1. If the man is married to the mother at conception;
  2. If the child’s birth certificate names the man as the biological father and both parents sign a statement that the mother got his permission before naming him as the father; or
  3. If the father files a paternity action with the court urging it to establish paternity via genetic testing and wins.

At the very least, unwed fathers should register with the Illinois Putative Father Registry to ensure they receive notification if the mother decides to pursue adoption or other legal matters involving their child.


Parenting Time and Parenting Responsibilities

In 2016, the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act eliminated the word “custody” from the law.

Although the vocabulary for Illinois custody laws changed, the new concepts of “parenting time” and “parenting responsibilities” cover the same old concepts related to child custody.

It is important to note that the concepts of “sole” and “joint custody” in Illinois for unmarried parents are relatively outdated. Unmarried parents have the same rights as married parents as long as they are legally recognized as the parent. Those rights either concern parenting responsibilities or parenting time.

Parenting time is the time that a parent spends with their children. Parenting responsibilities involve decision-making that each parent has over their children, which might involve decisions regarding healthcare, education, religion, and extracurricular activities. 

RELATED: How to Prepare an Effective Illinois Parenting Plan

Parenting Responsibilities

A court will allocate decision-making responsibilities based on the child’s best interest. The court determines the child’s best interest using a number of factors, such as:

  • The wishes of the child;
  • The child’s adjustment to their home, school, and community;
  • The mental and physical health of all individuals involved;
  • The ability of the parents to cooperate to make decisions, or the level of conflict between the parties that may affect their ability to share decision-making;
  • The level of each parent’s participation in significant decision-making with respect to the child;
  • Any prior agreement or course of conduct between the parents relating to decision-making with respect to the child;
  • The wishes of the parents;
  • The child’s needs;
  • The distance between the parents’ residences, the cost and difficulty of transporting the child, each parent’s and child’s daily schedules, and the ability of the parents to corporate in the arrangement;
  • The willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child;
  • The physical violence or threat of physical violence by the child’s parent directed against the child;
  • The occurrence of abuse against the child or other members of the child’s household; and
  • Whether one of the parents is a sex offender.

When a child is physically present with a parent, they have the right to exercise sole responsibility for making routine decisions and for emergency decisions affecting the child’s health and safety. The court will not consider the conduct of a parent that does not affect that parent’s relationship with the child. 

Parenting Time

Similar to parenting responsibilities, the court uses the best interest of the child test. However, there are some important distinctions between parenting time and parenting responsibilities. When it comes to parenting time, the court may restrict parenting time if it finds that a parent’s exercise of parenting time would seriously endanger the child’s physical, mental, moral, or emotional health. 

The court determines the child’s best interest using a number of factors, such as:

  • The wishes of each parent seeking parenting time;
  • The wishes of the child;
  • The amount of time each parent spent performing caretaking functions with respect to the child in the 24 months, or since birth, preceding the filing of any petition for allocation of parental responsibilities;
  • The interaction and interrelationship of the child with their parents and siblings and with any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests;
  • The child’s adjustment to their home, school, and community;
  • The mental and physical health of all individuals involved;
  • The child’s needs;
  • The distance between the parents’ residences, the cost and difficulty of transporting the child, each parent’s and child’s daily schedules, and the ability of the parents to corporate in the arrangement;
  • The physical violence or threat of physical violence by the child’s parent directed against the child;
  • The willingness and ability of each parent to place the needs of the child ahead of their own needs;
  • The willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child;
  • The occurrence of abuse against the child or other members of the child’s household; 
  • Whether one of the parents is a sex offender; and
  • Other factors related to active duty military parents.

The court will also consider any other facts that might be relevant. Even if a parent does not have significant decision-making responsibilities, the parent may still receive reasonable parenting time (unless the child would be in danger). The court has the power to restrict parenting time or modify an existing parenting time order if a parent motions the court to do so and the court grants the motion. 


Child Support Laws in Illinois for Unmarried Parents

Illinois law requires unmarried parents to use the same child support calculation that married parents use. In calculating a child support obligation, the court considers: 

  • Each parent’s income, parenting time, and financial resources;
  • The child’s standard of living; and 
  • The child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs.

RELATED: Illinois Child Support Laws in 2022

Unmarried parents can also ask that the child support be ordered back to the date of the child’s birth. If unmarried parents lived together for some period of time after the child’s birth, judges begin child support obligations when the unmarried parents stop living together. 


Get a Free Consultation from a Qualified Child Custody Attorney

If you are an unmarried parent and cannot come to an agreement on either parenting time or decision-making for a child, then you may need a lawyer to advocate for your parental rights. If you have a family law matter, Vantage Group Legal Services can help you work through these trying circumstances.

Our legal team connects you with a Chicago child custody attorney who will be uniquely suited for your case.

Contact us for a free consultation at 773-938-4747.