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How does a judge determine child custody in Illinois?

Many parents in Illinois who are going through a divorce find that one of the more emotional aspects of the process is how to deal with custody and living arrangements of their children going forward. As is the case around the country, courts in Illinois are required to determine child custody in accordance with the best interests of the children. The Illinois General Assembly has enacted legislation that sets forth a variety of elements that go into this decision. The following brief summary is not intended to constitute legal advice, and every family's situation is different.

Section 602 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act requires the court to consider certain factors, no one of which is controlling. These include the wishes of the parents and, depending upon his or her age, maturity and education, the wishes of the child; the child's adjustment to his or her school, community and home; and the physical and mental health of the child and the parents. Other factors include whether one of the parents is a sex offender or has committed or threatened physical violence against either the child or the other parent and the desire and willingness of each parent to work toward facilitating a continuing relationship between the child and the other parent.

In determining the wishes of the child, the court may interview the child in the absence of the parents, though attorneys for each parent are allowed to be present. The court can also seek the advice of counselors, teachers and other professionals in making its decision.

Either or both parents can petition the court for an award of joint custody, which would allow both parents to share in making major decisions regarding the child's health care, education and religious schooling. An award of joint custody will require the parents to enter into a Joint Parenting Agreement, which will delineate their respective rights, powers and responsibilities with respect to those decisions as well as to the personal care of the child. Joint custody, however, does not necessary imply or presume equal parenting time.

Source: ilga.gov, "750 ILCS 5/602 Best interest of the child", July 25, 2014

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