Whether you are preparing for a divorce or you need to establish custody for a child born out of wedlock, you will need to develop a custody arrangement that reflects the best interests of your child. This isn’t just a moral standard – it is also a legal one. Under Section 602.7 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, the Illinois courts are required to “allocate parenting time according to the child’s best interests.”

Illinois’s “Best Interests” Factors for Allocating Parenting Time Between Parents

Similar to most other states, Illinois has adopted a list of statutory “best interests” factors for allocating child custody (also known as “parenting time”). Section 602.7 lists 16 specific factors that all must be considered to the extent that they are apply (not all factors will apply to all parents), and it also requires consideration of, “any other factor that the court expressly finds to be relevant.” While Section 602.7 speaks directly to the courts, since amicable custody agreements are subject to court approval, divorcing and separating parents must adhere to the statutory “best interests” factors as well.

Here are the enumerated “best interests” factors for allocating parenting time between parents during a divorce or separation in Illinois:

  • Each parent’s wishes regarding parenting time;
  • The child’s wishes, taking into account his or her maturity and ability to express reasoned and independent preferences as to parenting time;
  • The amount of time each parent spent performing caretaking functions in the preceding two years; or, if the child is under two years of age, since the child’s birth;
  • Any prior agreement or course of conduct between the parents relating to caretaking functions;
  • The child interactions and relationship with his or her parents, siblings, and any other individuals who may significantly affect the child’s best interests;
  • The child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community;
  • The mental and physical health of all individuals involved;
  • The child’s needs;
  • The distance between the parents’ residences following their divorce or separation, the cost and difficulty of transportation, everyone’s daily schedules, and the parents’ ability to cooperate in their parenting arrangement;
  • Whether any restrictions on parenting time are appropriate;
  • Any physical violence or threat of physical violence by either parent directed against the child or any member of the child’s household;
  • Each parent’s willingness and ability to place the child’s needs ahead of his or her own;
  • Each parent’s willingness and ability to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the child and his or her other parent;
  • Any incidents of abuse f the child or any other member of the child’s household;
  • Whether either parent is a convicted sex offender or lives with a convicted sex offender; and,
  • The terms of any military family-care plan that must be completed before deployment if either parent is a member of the United States Armed Forces who is preparing to be deployed.

Weighing the “Best Interests” Factors and Making Long-Term Decisions Regarding Parenting Time

As you can see, some of these factors may not necessarily be relevant to your divorce or separation. In addition, certain factors may carry more weight than others depending on your particular family circumstances. Whatever the facts may be, the key is to arrive at a parenting plan that is designed to serve your child’s best interests for years to come.

In this vein, it is worth noting that while it is possible to modify a parenting plan, obtaining court approval for modification requires proof of a material change in circumstances, an agreement between the parents, or both. As a result, in order to avoid issues down the road, parents should devote the necessary time and attention to ensure that their parenting plans adequately address all relevant practical considerations within the restraints of the “best interests” analysis.

Reaching an Agreement Regarding Custody During a Divorce or Separation

As a parent, you want what is best for your child. Your child’s other parent does, too. But, this does not necessarily mean that you will see eye to eye when it comes to establishing custody rights following your divorce or separation. Disputes regarding custody rights are common; and, even if you and your spouse or partner think you are on the same page, it will still be important for you to speak with an attorney to ensure that your proposed parenting plan (i) is comprehensive, and (ii) satisfies the “best interest” standard under Illinois law.

If you and your child’s other parent are not able to fully come to terms on your own, you have a few options available before you need to resort to asking a judge to decide for you. These options include:

  • Private Negotiations – With each parent represented by his or her own attorney, divorcing and separating parents can often arrive at mutually-agreeable terms through private negotiations. Your attorney will be able to advise you of your legal rights while helping you propose and consider terms that should represent reasonable compromises for both parties.
  • Mediation – Mediation involves working with a neutral third party (called a “mediator”) whose role is to help each parent reasonably consider the other’s point of view. The mediator can also offer creative solutions that you and your spouse or partner might not otherwise consider on your own. However, the mediator is not a decision-maker. If mediation proves successful, then you and your spouse or partner will enter into a mutually-acceptable agreement regarding child custody.
  • Collaborative Law – Collaborative law is a step above mediation in terms of formality and third-party involvement, but it is still a far cry from going to court, and you and your spouse or partner retain control over the outcome. Collaborative law involves each parent and their respective attorneys working with outside experts (such as social workers and psychologists) to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the issues that need to be resolved. With this additional insight, the parents can take a more nuanced approach to resolve their differences in the best interests of their children.

Contact Our Child Custody Lawyer in Chicago and Lake County, Illinois

Would you like more information about Illinois’ “best interests” factors or the options that are available for establishing mutually-agreeable parenting? If so, our Lake County, IL divorce attorney encourages you to contact us for a free initial consultation. To speak with Chicago and Lake County, Illinois child custody lawyer Deanna J. Bowen in confidence, give us a call at 847-623-4002 or request an appointment online today.