Child Custody and Relocation Laws in Illinois

Learn whether Illinois parents have the right to move with their children, what they need to do first, and how judges decide whether to allow the relocation and change both parents' time with their kids.

By , Retired Judge
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If you're a divorced parent, no one can stop you from moving—whether it's because you remarried, found new employment, or just wanted a change of scenery. But if you live in Illinois and want to move with your child, you may have to go to court first. And if your ex is the one planning to relocate with your child, you may want to prevent the move or even change the current custody provisions. Read on to see how Illinois law addresses parents' relocations.

The Basics on How Child Custody Works in Illinois

There are two basic types of child custody in any state: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody deals with parents' rights to make the important decisions about their children's lives, while physical custody concerns where the kids live most of the time. Illinois law now uses the umbrella term "parental responsibilities" instead of custody, along with the terms "decision-making responsibility" (legal custody) and "parenting time" (essentially a combination of physical custody and visitation).

After a divorce, one parent may be designated as the "custodial" parent, even if the parents share joint parental responsibilities. This is often for the sake of convenience (think school registration), and because the child probably spends more time with one parent.

(Learn more about child custody laws in Illinois, including parenting plans, how judges make their initial custody decisions, and the requirements for modifying existing custody arrangements.)

When Do Illinois Rules on Relocation and Custody Apply?

Parents who have either equal parenting time or a majority of parenting time may seek to move with their kids under the Illinois rules on parental relocation. For purposes of these rules, the law defines a relocation as a change in the child's primary residence to another one that is:

  • outside of Illinois and more more than 25 miles from the child's current home, or
  • in Illinois but more than 50 miles away—or more than 25 miles away if the current residence is in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, or Will counties.

(750 Ill. Comp. Stat. §§ 5/600(g), 5/609.2 (2023).)

Illinois Notification Requirements Before a Relocation

If you qualify under Illinois law to seek a relocation with your child, you must give the other parent written notice at least 60 days before the planned move, unless a judge orders otherwise or the 60-day timeline is impractical (in which case you must give notice as soon as possible).

The notice must include at least the following information:

  • the date when you intend to move
  • the address of your new residence, and
  • how long the relocation will last, if it's not permanent or indefinite.

You must also file a copy of the notice with the local circuit court.

(750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/609.2 (2023).)

Relocations and Changes to Parenting Plans in Illinois

When a parent moves with a child a considerable distance away, the relocation will almost always affect the other parent's time with the child. That means the existing parenting schedule will need to be changed. Under Illinois law, a relocation automatically qualifies as a substantial change of circumstances—one of the prerequisites for modifying an existing custody order.

If the nonmoving parent agrees to the relocation, the judge will grant the request and amend the existing parenting plan according to the parents' agreement, as long as the changes are in the child's best interest.

(750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/609.2 (2023).)

How Do Illinois Judges Decide on Relocation Requests?

If you and your child's other parent can't agree on changes to your parenting plan because of a relocation, a judge will have to decide for you.

The relocating parent will have to file a petition (written legal request) for a modification of the current parenting time, based on the move. The other parent may propose a different revised schedule or even seek to become the custodial parent—meaning that the child would live most of the time with that parent.

As with all custody matters, the judge will decide on any changes to the parenting plan based on what would be in the child's best interests. When making that decision, the judge must consider all of the relevant circumstances, including:

  • the circumstances and reasons for the planned relocation
  • the reasons, if any, why the other parent is objecting to the relocation
  • the history and quality of each parent's relationship with the child—particularly whether they haven't exercised their parental responsibilities under the existing parenting plan or legal custody order
  • the anticipated impact of the relocation on the child
  • educational opportunities for the child at the existing and new locations
  • whether the child has extended family at the existing and new locations
  • whether the judge would be able to come up with a reasonable parenting schedule for both parents after a relocation, including possible arrangements given the parents' resources and circumstances, as well as the child's developmental level
  • whether there's a way to minimize any negative effect of the move on the child's relationship with the nonmoving parent, and
  • the child's wishes about the relocation, taking into account the child's maturity and ability to express a reasoned and independent preference on the issue.

(750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/609.2(g) (2023).)

Getting Help With Relocation Requests

Legal disputes about a relocation can be stressful, time consuming, and expensive. So you're always better off if you can work out an agreement with your child's other parent. (And one of the best ways to avoid a relocation problem down the road is to address the matter in your original parenting plan, by agreeing ahead of time on how you'll handle future moves.)

A mediator might help if you can't agree on your own. In fact, if you haven't reached an agreement by the time one of you files a modification petition, you may be required to participate in mediation in Illinois, through the local court's custody mediation program. (Ill. Sup. Ct. Rules, rule 905 (2023).)

If you still can't agree, at least consider speaking with a knowledgeable family law attorney who can explain the best way to move forward.

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