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When a divorce occurs, one of the most important matters that must be resolved is parenting time and responsibility.  Experiencing a divorce is difficult for everyone involved, especially the children who must cope with the splitting of their parents.  It has been shown that children always benefit from having a healthy relationship with both parents, even after a divorce.  This is what makes determining parenting time and responsibilities such an important part of the divorce proceedings.

Divorce Law

In the State of Illinois, the best interests of the child are always the top consideration when determining parenting time and parenting responsibilities.  In this guide, we cover what you can expect from child custody laws and the latest about these laws in Illinois.  If you are going through a divorce in Illinois and you have children involved, our child custody attorneys at Allen Gabe Law, P.C. can help secure an outcome that is in the best interests of your children.

Illinois Eliminated the Term “Custody”

While many people still think of the term “child custody” when it comes to these issues, the State of Illinois no longer uses the term “custody.”  The word “custody” was removed from the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act in 2016.  The official terms used now are “parenting time” and “parenting responsibility.”  Here is how the State of Illinois defines each of these terms:

  • ⋅ Parenting time: This refers to the amount of time each parent spends with their child or children.
  • ⋅ Parenting responsibility: This refers to the decision-making responsibilities each parent has regarding their children. Parental decisions are divided into three main categories: educational decisions, healthcare decisions, and religious and extracurricular activity decisions.

During a divorce proceeding, the courts can help allocate parenting time and responsibilities so that each parent will have their designated time with their children and understand which decisions they are responsible for in their children’s lives.

Best Interests of the Children

When determining arrangements for parenting time and responsibilities, Illinois courts prioritize the best interests of the children.  With this approach, the courts will consider all facts and circumstances involved to ensure that the resolution is truly in the children’s best interest.

Some people may expect the mothers to get custody of the children in these situations, but Illinois law no longer works this way.  In previous years, women were generally awarded custody under what was called the “tender year’s doctrine” which was based on the assumption that children were better off in the care of their mothers during what was considered their “tender years.”  The “tender years doctrine” was abolished after the number of cases in which women got sole custody declined and the number of shared custody cases increased in the 1990s and 2000s.  Under the current laws in Illinois, the decision of allocating parenting time and responsibilities is based on a range of factors, with the best interests of the children always at the forefront.

Divorced Parents Meeting with Child Custody Attorney

Determining Parenting Time and Parenting Responsibilities

The courts no longer handle these matters in terms of child custody, but in terms of parenting time and decision-making responsibilities.  Each parent will be granted parenting time and a number of decision-making responsibilities that will be decided based on a variety of factors.

Parenting responsibilities are broken down into categories, including decisions regarding education, healthcare, religion, and extracurricular activities.  The Illinois courts will consider the following factors when allocating parental responsibilities:

  • Wishes and needs of the children
  • Wishes of the parents
  • Any agreements about decision making that were made previously
  • Which decisions were made by which parent previously
  • Physical and mental health of the parents and children
  • The acclimation of the children to a new living situation including home, school, and community
  • The ability of each parent to come to reasonable agreements regarding decisions for their children
  • The ability of both parents to work together while making decisions for their children
  • The distance between the parents’ homes and how that could affect parenting responsibilities
  • Whether the children’s health, welfare, or safety has ever been put in jeopardy by one of the parents
  • Any child abuse, including emotional abuse and acts or threats of physical violence from the parents
  • Whether one of the parents is a sex offender, including the nature of the offense as well as the charges and convictions involved
  • Any other factor the court deems relevant

When it comes to allocating parenting time, the Illinois courts will consider the following factors:

  • The wishes of the children
  • The wishes of each parent
  • The amount of time each parent has spent taking care of the children in the previous 24 months, or since the child was born for children two years old or younger, before a petition was filed to allocate parenting time and responsibilities
  • Any previous agreements between the two parents involving caretaking time and functions
  • The interaction and relationships between the children and their siblings, parents, and anyone else present in the children’s lives that can affect their best interests
  • How the children are adjusting to home, community, and school life
  • Mental and physical health of the parents and children
  • Specific needs of the children
  • The distance between the homes of each parent, difficulty and cost of travel between their homes, the daily schedules of the parents and children, and the willingness of each parent to cooperate with travel arrangements
  • Whether a parenting time restriction is necessary
  • Each parent’s willingness to put their children’s needs before their own
  • Physical violence or the threat of physical violence from the parents or another member of the household
  • Each parent’s willingness to encourage their children to have a close and continuing relationship with the other parent
  • Any abuse committed against the children or other members of the household
  • Whether one parent is a convicted sex offender, including the nature of the offense and any treatment they have completed
  • If a parent is being deployed by the U.S. military, including their military family-care plan
  • Any other factor deemed relevant by the courts

Joint Custody

Joint custody is when the courts split the parenting time and responsibility 50/50 between both parents.  In order for this arrangement to work, both parents must communicate effectively and work together in the best interests of their children.  One parent can object to joint custody if they believe that this arrangement is not possible with the other parent.  The courts will then reconsider and allocate more parenting time to the parent who is more willing to be cooperative with the other parent and do what needs to be done in their children’s best interests.

Sole Custody

Illinois courts are generally hesitant to grant sole custody to one parent unless the parent has a history of neglecting or abusing the child or has put their health, safety, or welfare in danger.  The court will enter an order to protect the children if the judge finds based on the evidence that one parent has endangered the physical health, mental health, or safety of the child or acted in a way that has impaired the children’s emotional development.

In these cases, the judge will do one of the following:

  • Order supervised parenting time
  • Reduce or eliminate the parenting time and/or parenting responsibilities of the parent

With supervised parenting time, the parent must have a relative or close friend that can be trusted by both parents present during their visit.  There will also be a guardian ad litem appointed who will investigate the situation and present the facts and their recommendations about how to best allocate parenting time in the particular case to the judge.  Parents that do not have a friend or relative that can supervise parenting time must hire a parenting supervisor.  The parenting supervisor can testify in court about the behavior of the parent.

Supervised parenting time will not end unless the parent completes some form of treatment or counseling related to the reason they got supervised parenting in the first place, whether its completing alcohol or drug abuse treatment or a treatment program for abuse.  If the supervised parent does not do what is required to end supervised parenting and disappears from the children’s lives, the other parent will get sole custody by default.

Married Parents Rights vs Non-Married Parents Rights

Married parents who have children during their marriage both have full rights to the decision making and parenting time for as long as their marriage lasts.  In cases of unmarried parents, sole decision making and parenting time goes to the mother under Illinois law.  Unmarried fathers must establish paternity, have their paternity determined by the court, or file a petition for parenting time and responsibilities with the court to change this.

Custody Disagreements Between Parents

In cases in which parents cannot come to an agreement regarding parenting time or decision-making responsibilities, the judge will make a determination based on the children’s best interests.  The judge is likely to allocate more parenting time and decision-making responsibilities to the parent that is more willing to cooperate and help foster a relationship between their children and the other parent.  In more extreme cases, the judge may choose to terminate the parental rights of one or both parents.

Generally, the courts prefer to allocate parenting time and responsibilities to both parents and urge the parents to communicate effectively and work together on a parenting plan that accommodates the children’s and parents’ best interests.

Work with a Child Custody Attorney

The laws in Illinois regarding the allocation of parenting time and decision-making responsibilities show that the courts are awarding custody with the best interests of the children in mind.  If you are entering into a child custody dispute, it helps to have an experienced family law attorney who can help ensure a favorable outcome.

The attorneys of Allen Gabe Law, P.C. are experienced with child custody matters and have won custody rights for both mothers and fathers.  We can help to assure that the focus remains on the needs of your children and will assist you through this difficult time.

Call us at (847) 241-5000 ext. 121 if you need legal representation for a child custody dispute or any other matters concerning family law.



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