Recent changes in Illinois family law have made it more important than ever for parents involved in child custody disputes to understand how courts reach decisions in such cases. Under the old laws, custody disputes were generally resolved by granting joint custody to both parents, or sole custody to one parent. In joint custody cases, both parents shared the authority to make decisions with regard to the child’s education, healthcare, extracurricular activities, and religious upbringing.
Under the new laws, courts have the power to assign decision-making authority over each of these issues to one or both parents. For example, the child’s mother might be granted sole authority over the child’s healthcare and choice of doctors, while the father could retain his claim to directing the child’s extracurricular activities. Each issue is taken into separate consideration by the court, and parental rights and responsibilities are determined through careful assessments and evaluations of each of these major areas.
In each case, the key question the family law attorney and the judge will ask is: “What is in the child’s best long-term interests?” Specific factors are then considered in coming to judgments regarding each issue. In so doing, judges will consider:
- The wishes and preferences of both parents
- The wishes of the child, which may be determined through a private interview between the judge and the child
- The mental, physical, and emotional health of both parents and the child
- How well the child is faring at home, in school, and in his or her community
- The nature of the child’s relationship with each parent
- Whether or not there is any history of household domestic violence or other forms of abuse
- Whether or not each parent is willing to encourage the child to maintain a relationship with the other parent
- The criminal histories of each parent
Under the changes to Illinois law, references to “visitation time” have been replaced by the term “parenting time.” This reflects a shift away from residential custody arrangements, and towards the adoption of a co-parenting model that gives mothers and fathers sole or shared domain over key aspects of the child’s upbringing.
Illinois courts are also changing the long-held notion that child custody disputes have “losers” and “winners.” As such, parents in child custody cases need to be properly prepared for court proceedings, making it important for each party to consult a reputable Illinois family law attorney as far in advance as possible.