Child Custody in Illinois: Everything You Need to Know

If you’re a parent with minor children and getting divorced in Illinois, you have probably been thinking about child custody issues.

Understanding child custody laws can be complex and overwhelming. What’s more, the laws in Illinois differ from some other states. It’s important to understand your rights as a parent or guardian in this situation.

Types of child custody in Illinois

In Illinois, child custody is categorized into two broad types: legal custody and physical custody.

Each of these types can be sole or joint. As such, there are four possible custody arrangements.

Illinois law focuses on the best interest of the child: in short, what most benefits a child’s health, safety, and well-being.

Legal custody

A parent with legal custody of a child makes big decisions regarding the child's life. This includes where they go to school, who provides their healthcare, religious training, and other major issues.

Sole legal custody

In this arrangement, only one parent has the authority to make major decisions for the child. The court usually grants sole legal custody when it determines that one parent is unfit, unable, or unwilling to make decisions that are in the child's best interest.

Joint legal custody

Here, both parents share the responsibility and have equal rights to make major decisions about their child's upbringing. Joint legal custody is granted when the court believes parents can cooperate and communicate effectively for the child's welfare.

Physical custody

Physical custody affects where a child lives and who supervises them on a day-to-day basis.

Sole physical custody

In this case, the child lives with their custodial parent only. The other (non-custodial) parent usually has visitation rights. This arrangement is often implemented when one parent is deemed unfit or if living with both parents on a rotating basis is not in the child's best interest.

Joint physical custody

Under joint physical custody, the child shares large portions of time with both parents. This arrangement requires a high level of cooperation between parents and is usually applied when it serves the child's best interests, such as maintaining stability in their life.

In any custody case, the child's best interest always remains paramount. Factors considered include the child's age, health, emotional ties, adjustment to home, school, community, and the mental and physical health of all individuals involved. The courts also consider the wishes of the parents and, in some cases, the child's preferences.

Read: Understanding and Protecting Kids’ Mental Health in Divorce

How does the child custody determination process work in Illinois?

The child custody determination process in Illinois is largely influenced by whether the case is contested or uncontested. It also involves various options such as mediation and arbitration. The court always aims to make decisions that are in the best interest of the child.

Uncontested child custody cases

In uncontested cases, both parents agree on all aspects of child custody, including who gets legal and physical custody and the specifics of visitation schedules. The parents typically draft a parenting agreement and give it to the court. If the court deems the agreement in the child's best interest, it will likely approve it.

Contested child custody cases

If parents cannot reach an agreement, the case is considered contested. The court must intervene to decide on custody arrangements. The process involves several steps, including discovery, pre-trial motions, and a trial where both parents present their case. 

The judge will consider various factors such as the child's wishes (if they are mature enough); the parents' wishes; the child's adjustment to home, school, and community; and the mental and physical health of everyone involved.

Child custody mediation 

In an effort to resolve disputes outside of court, Illinois encourages parents to consider child custody mediation. This is a process where a neutral third party (the mediator) helps the parents negotiate and reach an agreement. Mediation can save time and reduce conflict, and it often results in better compliance since the agreement is mutually made.

Read: How to Win Child Custody Mediation

Child custody arbitration

Arbitration is less common in child custody cases in Illinois. Unlike mediation, the arbitrator makes a binding decision on the dispute. Given the sensitive and personal nature of child custody decisions, many people prefer the flexibility of mediation or court adjudication over the finality of arbitration.

Illinois law is gender-neutral and does not favor one parent over the other. The court considers which parent would be more likely to foster a close and continuing relationship between the child and the other parent. It also looks at which parent has been primarily responsible for taking care of the child.

Filing fees associated with child custody cases in Illinois

  • Filing fee: This is the initial cost to file your child custody case with the court. The filing fee varies by county, but parents can generally expect to pay around $400.
  • Service of Process fee: After filing your petition, you must serve copies of the documents to the other parent. This can be done by a sheriff or private process server. The cost for this service varies, but there may be an additional charge of approximately $60 if you use the sheriff's services.
  • Court-appointed professional fees: In some cases, the court may appoint professionals such as a guardian ad litem, child representative, or attorney for the child. These professionals conduct investigations and report back to the court. Their fees can vary widely, and both parents are typically responsible for these costs.
  • Court reporter or clerk fees: If you need official transcripts of court proceedings, you may need to pay a court reporter. Similarly, if you need certified copies of court documents, there may be associated fees charged by the court clerk. The costs for these services can vary.
  • Attorney’s fees: If you hire an attorney to represent you, you will need to pay for their services. The cost can vary greatly depending on the complexity of your case and the attorney's experience and reputation.
  • Mediation fees: If you opt for mediation, be prepared for associated costs. However, it's worth noting that mediation can often be a less expensive alternative to a court trial.

Read: Who Gets Custody of the Children in a Divorce?

Joint custody schedules in Illinois

In Illinois, couples are encouraged to work together to establish a joint custody schedule that best serves the child's needs and interests. They have the freedom to create a schedule that accommodates their individual circumstances and the child's routine.

However, if parents cannot agree on a schedule, the court will step in to determine the arrangement. When creating a schedule, the court considers several factors such as the child's wishes (if they are mature enough), the parents' wishes, the child's adjustment to home, school, community, and the mental and physical health of all individuals involved. The court's primary goal is always to ensure the child's best interests are served.

What to know about child visitation in Illinois

Visitation schedules can vary greatly depending on the circumstances of each case. They can range from a few hours each week to alternating weeks, or even months, with each parent. In some cases, overnight visits may be allowed.

The court considers several factors when determining visitation rights, including the child's age, health, emotional ties with the non-custodial parent, the parent's ability to provide care, and the distance between the two parents' homes.

If concern exists for the child's safety, the court may order supervised visitation. The non-custodial parent's time with the child must be overseen by an approved third party.

How is child support determined in Illinois?

The process begins by calculating each parent's net income, which is their gross income minus taxes and other allowable deductions. The parents' combined net income is then used to determine the basic child support obligation according to guidelines provided by the state.

Next, the basic support obligation is divided between the parents in proportion to their respective net incomes. For instance, if one parent contributes 60% of the combined net income, they would be responsible for 60% of the basic support obligation.

The court may consider additional expenses such as healthcare, education, and extracurricular activities. These costs can be shared between parents in a manner that the court deems fair and reasonable.

For a more personalized estimate, you can use the Illinois Child Support Estimator. This online tool takes into account factors like the number of children, parenting time, overnight stays, and both parents' incomes to provide an estimate of potential child support obligations.

How to change a custody or visitation order in Illinois

In Illinois, custody and visitation orders may be modified if a change in circumstances warrants it. The change must be substantial. It could include relocation, a significant change in the child's needs, or a drastic change in the parent's lifestyle or living conditions.

To request a modification, you must file a petition with the court that issued the original order. The petition should detail the reasons for the requested change and provide evidence supporting your claim. It's important to note that minor disagreements or slight changes in circumstances are typically not enough for a court to modify an order.

Suggested: Child Custody Mediation Checklist

Divorce Content Specialist & Lawyer
Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Legal Insights

Bryan is a non-practicing lawyer, HR consultant, and legal content writer. With nearly 20 years of experience in the legal field, he has a deep understanding of family and employment laws. His goal is to provide readers with clear and accessible information about the law, and to help people succeed by providing them with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate the legal landscape. Bryan lives in Orlando, Florida.