10 Steps to a Child Custody Case in Illinois

The child custody process is focused on what is in the best interest of the child. All cases start with one party filing with the court and end when the parents come to an agreement. If the parents cannot agree, the court decides for them. Whether a step is necessary will depend on the specifics of each case.

Child custody cases are stressful, and a big part of that stress comes from not knowing what the future will look like. Without talking to you in person, we can’t tell you how your case is likely to end up, but we can tell you what steps each case goes through.

Cases for Parental Responsibilities and Parenting Time

In Illinois, child custody is called parental responsibilities, and child placement is called parenting time. Using these terms, the first document you need to file for your case is the Petition for Allocation of Parental Responsibilities. But before you even file, you want to know what your case will look like.

Each case looks different because different situations will require different things. In some cases, parents are able to work together, so mediation is a great step for them. In other cases, one parent hides things from the other, so the custody study and discovery steps are very important. And in other cases, parents are never able to come to an agreement, so the trial happens and the court decides for them.

Before any of this can actually happen, the first step is preparing.

Step 1: Prepare

Before you begin your child custody case, you need to make sure you have everything in order. You cannot start a child custody case unless paternity has been established. Beyond that, you need to decide whether you need an attorney beside you. If you do want representation, you’ll want a family law attorney such as one from Sterling Hughes.

You can also prepare by reviewing the Illinois custody laws and deciding what placement schedule would be best for your family.

Step 2: File Your Case

The process to file for your custody case is very similar to the divorce filing process. You petition the court by preparing the necessary documents and filing them with your county’s clerk of courts.

After you file your case, you have to serve the other party. This can either be done yourself, by a process server, or by a sheriff. Once the proof of service is provided to the court, the case is officially started.

Some Cases: Get Emergency Orders

Emergency orders can be necessary in certain situations. Emergency orders are only needed when the child’s health and well-being is at risk. They are only needed if a temporary order is not enough because it would take too long.

Step 3: Get Temporary Orders

A temporary order hearing outlines what the orders will be during the case. The orders will cover who makes major decisions for the child and who the child will be with day-to-day. A temporary order can also establish child support if it is needed based on the specifics of the case.

You want to try to get a temporary order as close to what you want for your final order as possible. The temporary order can be seen as a trial period where if the child is doing well, that is proof you know what is good for them.

Step 4: Go to Mediation

In Illinois, mediation is required unless the judge excuses it. Mediation is where a third-party mediator meets with you and the other party and tries to help you two come to an agreement. A judge will only excuse mediation in situations where the parties cannot work together such as in instances of abuse.

Step 5: Take a Parenting Class

Illinois also requires any parents in a custody case to take a parenting class. It must be a parenting class that the court has approved. Also, it must be completed within 60 days after the initial case management conference

For Immediate help with your family law case or answering any questions please call (312) 757-8082 now!

Step 6: Attend Status Conferences

After the case has been open for a couple months, the court schedules a status conference. The status conference is also sometimes called a scheduling conference or review hearing. This is where the judge or commissioner will ask you what the current status is of your negotiations.

If there is a written agreement that both parties agree on, then the case can end here. If you have not come to an agreement, the court may now get other professionals involved.

Some Cases: Appoint a Guardian ad Litem

A guardian ad litem (GAL) is appointed by the court to investigate what is in the best interest of the child. They will interview and work with both the parents and the child in the case. Eventually, the court will ask the GAL for their recommendation, and the court can determine whether to rule along with their recommendation or not.

Some Cases: Participate in a Custody Study

A custody study or custody evaluation is rarer because it is usually only needed in high-conflict cases. A social worker and a psychologist do the study to evaluate the parents and child. They too make a recommendation that the court takes into consideration when they make their final decision.

Step 7: Participate in Discovery

Discovery is the exchange of information between parties to prepare their evidence and arguments for the coming trial. Information exchanged could include things like emails, medical records, tax documents, and more. Depositions can also be a part of discovery where each side can question the other side or other witnesses while they are under oath.

Some Cases: Attend Additional Conferences

Before the trial, judges usually require at least one pre-trial conference. There can be more if the case looks likely to be settled. The court only wants to have a trial if it is necessary. Another option is for a party to request a status conference to check in on the case’s progress.

Step 8: Prepare for Trial

Before going to trial, there is more paperwork that needs to be done and you must have your arguments prepared. The paperwork you need can be downloaded on our divorce forms page. You will only need the paperwork in the third folder labeled Pre-Trial Hearing.

As for your arguments, you and your attorney will use the information gained throughout the case and in discovery to prove that what you want is in the best interest of the child.

Step 9: Go to Trial

Each party presents their arguments in favor of the parenting plan and outlines what they proposed. Each party brings evidence and has witnesses testify to prove their side is correct. Once each party has said their piece, the court makes their final decision.

Step 10: Receive Final Orders

The court signs the final orders where they decide which parent’s side they are ruling in favor of or a mix if necessary. Once the final orders are in, nothing can be done to modify the custody orders until certain requirements have been met.

Are you ready to move forward? Call (312) 757-8082 to schedule a strategy session with one of our attorneys.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does child custody work in Illinois?

Child custody is who makes major decisions in the child’s life. The court makes decisions of child custody based on what is in the child’s best interest. Child custody is different from parenting time, which is where the child spends their time day-to-day.

How long does a child custody case take in Illinois?

A child custody case can take anywhere from a couple of months to a year or more. However, any case involving a child must conclude within 18 months of its beginning. The deadline is to make sure the child isn’t left wondering what will happen for too long.

What determines who is the custodial parent in Illinois?

Who the custodial parent is depends on what is in the best interests of the child. The court uses Illinois’s custody laws to determine what is in the child’s best interest. They look at things like what relationships the child currently has and what changes they would have to go through.

Can a father take a child away from the mother in Illinois?

A father cannot take away a child from the mother any more than a mother can take the child from the father. Neither party can take the child from the other without a court order. If the other parent is keeping your child from you and not following the current court order, you can file to enforce your custody order.