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Illinois Child Custody Laws

In Illinois, child custody laws are governed by Chapter 750 of the Illinois Statutes which outlines the legal processes and standards used to determine the allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time. The law prioritizes the best interests of the child, considering factors like parental abilities, child's wishes, and school situation.


Best Interests of the Child

Central to Illinois child custody laws is the “best interests of the child” standard. The court considers various factors, such as the child's wishes, the mental and physical health of all parties involved, and the child's adjustment to their home, school, and community, to determine what arrangement would best serve the child's overall well-being.

Allocation of Parental Responsibilities

In Illinois, “parental responsibilities” is the term used to describe what was formerly known as custody. It encompasses both significant decision-making responsibilities and parenting time. The court allocates these responsibilities based on the child's best interests, considering factors such as the parents' ability to cooperate and make decisions jointly.

Types of Custody in Illinois

Illinois law focuses on the allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time based on the child's best interests. The term “shared custody” is no longer used in Illinois child custody laws, though it is still sometimes used informally. However, the IMDMA does recognize two types of custody arrangements: joint custody and sole custody.

  • Joint custody is defined as “a legal arrangement whereby both parents share significant decision-making responsibilities for the child and parenting time with the child.”
  • Sole custody is defined as “a legal arrangement whereby one parent has sole decision-making responsibilities for the child and parenting time with the child.”
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The Child Custody Process in Illinois

The child custody process in Illinois involves several steps:

  • Filing a petition for allocation of parental responsibilities
  • Attending mandatory parenting education classes
  • Participating in mediation (if required)
  • Temporary custody orders may be issued
  • Expert evaluation and involvement of a guardian ad litem (if necessary)
  • Pretrial proceedings and settlement negotiations
  • Trial and finalization of the custody order

Step 1

Filing for Custody

To initiate a custody case, a parent must file a petition for allocation of parental responsibilities. This involves completing a parenting plan, the required forms, paying the filing fees, and serving the other parent with notice of the petition. Legal representation is highly recommended due to the complexity of these cases.

Step 2

Mediation and Parenting Education

Illinois requires parents in custody disputes to attend mandatory parenting education classes. These classes aim to help parents understand the impact of their separation on their children. Mediation may also be required to help parents resolve disputes and reach an agreement on the allocation of parental responsibilities.

Step 3

Temporary Custody Orders

Temporary custody orders provide interim arrangements for child custody, child support, and parenting time while the case is ongoing. These orders can address parenting time, decision-making responsibilities, child support, and other matters until the final custody order is issued.

Step 4

Expert Evaluation and GAL

In some cases, the court may appoint a custody evaluator or a guardian ad litem (GAL) to assess the child's best interests. These professionals provide recommendations to the court based on their evaluations.

Step 5

Pretrial Proceedings and Settlement

Before the trial, there may be pretrial proceedings and settlement negotiations. During this stage, parents can reach an agreement on the allocation of parental responsibilities, which can then be approved by the court.

Step 6

Trial and Finalization

If an agreement cannot be reached, the case proceeds to trial. Here, evidence is presented, witnesses testify, and the judge makes the final decisions on the allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time. The judge's decisions are formalized in a custody order.

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Child Placement

Child placement in Illinois refers to the physical location where the child will primarily reside. The court's decision on this matter is guided by a multitude of factors, all aimed at safeguarding the child's best interests. These factors encompass the child's personal circumstances, the parents' capabilities and wishes, and the quality of the parents' relationship with the child.

The court considers several key factors when determining child placement:

  • Child's adjustment to home, school, community
  • Parents' wishes
  • Child's wishes if mature enough
  • Child's physical and emotional needs
  • Parents' ability to meet the child's needs
  • Quality of parent-child relationships

The court carefully weighs all these factors to make a decision that best serves the child's overall well-being. The ultimate goal is to ensure the child's safety, happiness, and development are at the forefront of any placement decision.

Placement Schedules

Placement schedules, also known as parenting time schedules, outline when the child will spend time with each parent. These schedules can be flexible or fixed, depending on the circumstances of the case and the child's best interests.


Co-parenting involves separated or divorced parents working together to raise their child. While Illinois courts encourage cooperative co-parenting, it can be challenging. Successful co-parenting requires commitment, mutual respect, compromise, and excellent communication skills. With understanding and practice of effective co-parenting strategies, parents can overcome obstacles and focus on their child's best interests.

Custody Laws in Illinois for Unmarried Parents

In Illinois, an unmarried mother has sole custody of a child until paternity is legally established. Once paternity is confirmed by the court, custody rights are equal for both parents. The assumption is that both are fit to parent, so both will receive parenting time. However, if equal parenting time is found to not serve the child's best interests, the court can award sole or primary custody to one parent. The goal is to determine the custody arrangement that is in the child's best interest.

Overview of contempt of court for violating orders

If a parent violates a custody order, they may be held in contempt of court. This is a serious matter that can result in fines, changes to the custody order, and even jail time.

Remedies for violation

Remedies for violation of a custody order can include make-up parenting time, changes to the custody order, and sanctions against the violating parent.

Role of police in enforcement

In some cases, the police may be involved in enforcing custody orders. However, this is typically a last resort, as law enforcement involvement can be traumatic for the child.

Use of parental coordination to resolve disputes

Parental coordination is a dispute resolution process that can be used to resolve disagreements about the interpretation, implementation, or compliance with the custody order. A parental coordinator is a neutral third party who helps the parents resolve these disputes.

Enforcement of Custody Orders

If one parent fails to comply with a parenting time order, the other parent has legal options to enforce the order through the courts. Possible resolution methods include trying to resolve it cooperatively, pursuing mediation, or petitioning the court for enforcement. This section provides an overview of enforcing existing parenting time orders when violations or interference occurs.
For professional guidance on enforcing your parenting time rights, book a consultation with Sterling Lawyers.

Modification of Custody Orders

In Illinois, what is commonly referred to as “custody modification” is now officially called “Modification of Parental Responsibilities.” This legal process involves changing the existing court order that allocates parental responsibilities over a child. Parental responsibilities are broken down into two key areas: 1) decision-making and 2) parenting time. The process for modifying parental responsibilities has undergone important changes in Illinois law.
Given the legal complexities surrounding modification, it's highly advisable to consult with an experienced child custody lawyer who can help determine if you meet the legal grounds for modification and represent you in drafting and filing the petition to modify.
Contact Sterling Lawyers to discuss modifying your order – having legal guidance maximizes the chance of success.

Modification of Custody Orders

Custody (parental responsibilities) orders can be modified if there has been a substantial change in circumstances that affects the child's best interests. This could include changes in the child's needs, the parents' living situations, or the parents' ability to cooperate. However, if two years have passed since the order was entered, the court can modify the order if it finds that a modification is necessary to serve the best interests of the child, even without a substantial change in circumstances.

Grounds for modification

Grounds for modification within the first two years include a significant change in circumstances, such as a parent's relocation, a change in the child's needs, or a deterioration in the parent-child relationship. After two years, the court may modify the order if it finds that a modification is necessary to serve the child's best interests, regardless of a substantial change in circumstances.

Factors considered in modification

When considering a modification, the court will again apply the “best interests of the child” standard. The same factors considered in the initial allocation of parental responsibilities will be evaluated.

Relocation and Child Custody

Relocation can significantly affect child custody arrangements. In Illinois, a parent who has the majority of parenting time or either parent who has an equal amount of parenting time must get court approval if they plan to move more than 25 miles from their current residence in certain counties, or more than 50 miles if they live in any other county. The notice and court approval requirements apply specifically when the parent moving is allocating the majority of parenting time.

Domestic Violence and Child Custody

Domestic violence is taken very seriously in custody cases. If there is evidence of domestic violence, the court will consider this when determining the child's best interests. Protective measures, such as supervised visitation or restrictions on parenting time, may be implemented if deemed necessary to ensure the child's safety and wellbeing.

Financial Considerations

Child support is often determined in conjunction with custody. Illinois uses an “income shares” model for determining child support to take income into consideration. The court also considers factors such as the needs of the child, and the standard of living the child would have enjoyed if the marriage had not ended.

Special Considerations in Illinois Custody Cases

Certain factors, such as relocation, domestic violence, and parental alienation, can have a significant impact on custody cases in Illinois. Additionally, the rights of grandparents and other third parties may also be relevant.

Child Support and Alimony in Illinois

Child support is handled independently from alimony but the combination cannot exceed 50% of the paying spouse's net income. Alimony is factored after child support when determining each spouse's ability to pay or need.

Calculating Child Support

Child support is calculated based on the Income Shares Model, considering the incomes of both parents, the number of children, and the children's needs. The court sets a specific monthly amount, consistent with Illinois Family Law guidelines.

Impact on Alimony Determinations

The amount of court-ordered child support is considered when evaluating what each parent can pay or needs for alimony. Alimony is determined after child support obligations, and while there are guidelines suggesting that the combined amount of child support and alimony should not exceed 50% of the payor's net income, this can vary depending on specific circumstances. The court may consider various factors in determining alimony, including the standard of living during the marriage, the needs of both parties, and the ability to pay, among others, in accordance with Illinois Statutes Chapter 750.

Frequently Asked Questions

How is child custody determined in Illinois?

Child custody is determined based on what is in the child's best interest. The court examines multiple factors about the child's needs and parents' abilities to make appropriate custody arrangements, such as the child's relationship with each parent, the mental and physical health of all involved, and the parents' ability to cooperate and make joint decisions. 

Who gets primary custody in Illinois?

There is no presumption of primary custody favoring one parent. Custody is determined on a case-by-case basis considering the child's best interests.

What are the grounds for sole custody of a child in Illinois?

A parent may be granted sole custody if the other parent is deemed unfit, such as cases involving abuse, neglect, or substance abuse. The court examines various factors.

What rights does a father have to his child in Illinois?

Fathers have the same legal parental rights as mothers under Illinois law. However, in practice there are sometimes still gender biases, even though fathers and mothers have equal rights and play an equally important role in custody decisions.

Who has custody of a child if there is no court order in Illinois?

If parents are married and there is no court order, then both parents have custody of the child. If parents are unmarried, then the mother has sole custody until the father's rights are established when paternity is proven.

What do judges look for in child custody cases in Illinois?

Judges examine multiple factors to determine the outcome that best serves the child, such as the child's needs, parental abilities, relationships, and home environments.
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