Child Custody in Illinois: The Best Interests of the Child
Learn about this legal standard and how it applies in child custody decisions in Illinois.
When divorcing parents aren’t able to agree on how they’ll continue to coparent their children together, they turn the decisions over to a judge, who decides whether to award legal and physical custody of the child jointly to both parents or to award these rights and responsibilities to only one parent. (Physical custody is the right to have a child live with you; legal custody is the right to make decisions about the child’s welfare.)
Best Interest of the Child Standard
In evaluating child custody disputes, the court must determine what will be in the best interest of the child. In Illinois, there is a presumption that the child’s best interests are served when both parents are involved in the child’s upbringing. There is also a presumption that the parents will cooperate for their child’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. A presumption means the judge starts out by assuming those things; the presumptions can be rebutted (challenged) by a showing of evidence to the contrary.
Illinois’ child custody laws outline a number of factors for courts to consider in making determinations about the best interest of the child. These factors are not exhaustive and a court may consider any other factors that are relevant to the child’s particular needs. However, an Illinois court will not consider any conduct of a proposed custodian if that conduct does not affect the best interest of the child—for example, the fact that one parent had engaged in an adulterous relationship would probably not affect the judge’s decision about custody.
The major factors that are considered in Illinois child custody disputes include:
- each parent’s desires for the child’s custody,
- the child’s wishes,
- the child’s relationship with each parent,
- the child’s relationship with siblings or others,
- the child’s involvement in school and the community,
- the circumstances of the child’s home life,
- the physical and mental health of the child, the parents, and any other person who may be involved,
- a history of domestic violence by either parent, even if that violence was not directed at the child,
- whether there is a threat of physical violence against the child or any other person, and
- each parent’s ability and willingness to foster a relationship between the child and the other parent.
While they will take these factors into account, Illinois judges retain a great deal of discretion in determining what is in a child’s best interests.
You can find more in-depth information by reading through our topic area on Child Custody and The Best Interests of the Children.