In Illinois, divorcing parents with minor children are required to establish a custody plan based on the state’s “best interests” factors. Also known as Illinois’s child custody factors, these factors prioritize the needs of the children involved, though they do so with a broad-based approach that factors in the parents’ wants, needs, and capabilities as well.

In a previous article, we provided an overview of Illinois’s child custody factors and discussed some of the practical considerations involved in developing a custody plan during a divorce. Here, we take a closer look at some of the most important factors that parents need to consider during the divorce process.

Illinois’s Child Custody Factors for Divorces Involving Minor Children

The child custody factors are listed in Section 607.2 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. Section 607.2 states that it is presumed that both parents are equally fit to raise their children unless proven otherwise, and it provides that neither parent should automatically be favored over the other absent special circumstances.

It then goes on to state that, “[i]n determining the child’s best interests for purposes of allocating parenting time, the court shall consider all relevant factors, including, without limitation,” those listed in the statute. While Section 607.2 specifically references “the court” considering Illinois’s child custody factors, parents who are handling their divorce out of court must consider these same factors, as their custody agreement will ultimately be subject to court approval.

With this in mind, here is a closer look at some of Illinois’s most important child custody factors:

The Parents’ Wishes

Illinois’s child custody factors require consideration of “the wishes of each parent seeking parenting time.” It is important to note, however, that both parents have the right (and the obligation) to provide for their children’s needs, and the Illinois courts generally consider it to be in a child’s best interests to spend meaningful time with both parents.

The Child’s Wishes

Illinois law also calls for consideration of the child’s wishes, “taking into account the child’s maturity and ability to express reasoned and independent preferences as to parenting time.” However, seeking out a child’s thoughts on post-divorce parenting time is a highly sensitive matter; and, before asking their children where they want to live, parents should consult with a professional who can help guide them through the process.

The Parents’ Respective Contributions Over the Past 24 Months

The third factor listed in Section 607.2 is “the amount of time each parent spent performing caretaking functions with respect to the child in the 24 months preceding” the divorce filing. Like all of Illinois’s child custody factors, this is just one consideration among many that goes into determining what is in a child’s best interests.

Any Prior Agreement or “Course of Conduct”

The child custody factors similarly call for consideration of “any prior agreement or course of conduct . . . relating to caretaking functions with respect to the child.” Here, too, while this can be a relevant consideration, it is not determinative on its own.

The Child’s Relationship with His or Her Parents, Siblings, and Others

The child’s relationship with “his or her parents and siblings and with any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests” is also relevant to determining where the child should live the majority of the time, or whether divorcing parents should share equal custody.

The Child’s Adjustment to His or Her Current Environment

The child’s “adjustment to his or her home, school, and community” is a relevant consideration as well. If a child is well-adjusted to his or her current living circumstances, this could weigh against relocating the child’s primary residence.

All Family Members’ Mental and Physical Health

The Illinois child custody factors require consideration of “the mental and physical health of all individuals involved.” Mental health considerations don’t necessarily weigh one way or the other but rather play a role in determining what is best overall in light of the circumstances presented.

The Child’s Needs

Understanding a child’s needs is a critical factor for determining what is in the child’s best interests. This includes both the child’s needs generally (i.e., the need for a safe, comfortable, and supportive home environment) and any special needs related to developmental, physical, or cognitive disabilities.

The Distance Between the Parents’ Homes

The distance between the parents’ homes post-divorce is a relevant factor for making custody determinations as well. Section 607.2 specifically calls for consideration of “the cost and difficulty of transporting the child, each parent’s and the child’s daily schedules, and the ability of the parents to cooperate in the arrangement.”

Any History of Domestic Violence or Child Abuse

If there is any history of domestic violence or child abuse in the home, this can play an important role in determining what is in a child’s best interests regarding post-divorce custody. Illinois’s child custody factors also call for consideration of any sex offense convictions—not only about the child’s parents but also concerning anyone else living in either parent’s household.

Each Parent’s Willingness and Ability to Prioritize Their Child’s Needs

Illinois’s child custody factors require consideration of “the willingness and ability of each parent to place the needs of the child ahead of his or her own needs.” Again, however, both parents have a duty to prioritize their children’s needs; and, absent high-risk circumstances, a post-divorce custody plan should generally provide for time to be spent with both parents.

Each Parent’s Willingness and Ability to Foster a Relationship with the Other

When developing a post-divorce parenting plan, each parent’s “willingness and ability . . . to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child” is a relevant factor as well. Neither parent should attempt to alienate the other from their children (whether during or after their divorce); and, if this is a concern during your divorce, this is something that you will want to discuss with your divorce attorney.

Schedule a Free Initial Consultation with Gurnee, IL Divorce Attorney Deanna Bowen

Gurnee, IL divorce attorney Deanna Bowen has more than 20 years of experience helping parents successfully navigate the divorce process. If you are contemplating a divorce and would like to know more about Illinois’s child custody factors, you can call 847-623-4002 to arrange a free consultation.