Domestic violence causes harm to thousands of Illinois families each year. The state legislature believes that domestic violence promotes a pattern of escalating violence and creates an emotional atmosphere that is not healthy for childhood development. Because of this, Illinois courts pay special attention to claims of domestic violence when deciding child custody.
This article explains how Illinois defines domestic violence and how a history of abuse affects custody decisions. If you have additional questions after reading this article, you should consult a local family law attorney for help.
In Illinois custody cases, the court must decide both “legal custody,” or which parent has the responsibility to make major decisions for the child, and “physical custody,” or the child’s legal residence and visitation schedule with each parent.
Illinois judges can consider all of the following factors when deciding child custody:
Illinois defines domestic violence as injuring, threatening, harassing, or interfering with the personal freedom (such as kidnapping or unlawfully restraint) of another family or household member. Illinois defines family or household members as:
If you have just experienced domestic violence, or are in fear of immediate violence, you should dial 911 for assistance.
If you are not in immediate danger, but are in fear of future domestic violence, you should apply for an “Order of Protection.” An order of protection is a court order that prohibits your abuser from further domestic violence, and has the ability to:
You can apply for an order of protection by visiting your county circuit court clerk’s office. Ask the clerk for a “Verified Petition for an Emergency Order of Protection.” After you complete the petition, you’ll meet with a judge, who can issue the emergency order of protection if he or she believes you are in danger. The emergency order of protection lasts for 21 days.
The court will then schedule a hearing where you and your abuser must appear and testify about any domestic violence. If the court believes you are still in danger, the court will issue a “Plenary Order of Protection,” which can last for up to two years. If your abuser violates the plenary order of protection, he or she can go to jail for up to 364 days and pay a fine.
The Illinois Department of Human Services has a 24-hour hotline you can call for advice if you or someone in your household is a victim of domestic violence. There are also domestic violence agencies you can contact in most Illinois cities.
Illinois custody cases involving domestic violence start with the presumption that it is in the child’s best interest not to live or have visitation with the abusive parent. At the beginning of every custody case, each parent must notify the judge of any court proceedings involving either parent that relate to domestic violence, protective orders, or termination of parental rights.
The judge won’t grant a parent visitation if that parent would endanger the child’s physical, mental, moral, or emotional health. The court can restrict or deny the abuser visitation if the judge believes the abuser is likely to:
The court won’t grant an abusive parent visitation without ensuring that the other parent and child are adequately protected. If the judge does grant visitation to an abusive parent, he or she can put in place protections for you and your household. The court can take any of the following actions:
The court will never grant visitation to a parent who has been convicted of first-degree murder of the parent, grandparent, great-grandparent, or sibling of the child.
Illinois courts can order supervised visitation to protect a child and the child’s other parent from an abuser. The judge may order that visitation take place at a supervised visitation agency, and can order that the abuser pay the supervision fees.
The court may also allow visitation to be supervised by a friend or family member. If visitation is supervised by anyone other than a supervising agency, that person must file an affidavit with the court taking responsibility to supervise all visitation between the child and abusive parent.
The court may terminate parental rights if it is in the child’s best interest to end the child-parent relationship. For a judge to terminate a parent’s parental rights, he or she must believe that parent is unfit to care for the child. The court will only terminate parental rights in rare cases when the abuse is extremely dangerous to the child’s health and well-being, and is likely to continue.
If you have other questions about domestic violence and child custody in Illinois, contact a local family law attorney.