How Is Child Custody Determined in Illinois?

Parents must understand the significant recent changes made to the law

As of January 2016, there are new child custody laws in Illinois that significantly change the way custody is determined. These changes affect nearly all parts of the process, and one of the biggest is that the labels of visitation and custody are now gone. They have been replaced by the new concepts of “parenting plan” and “allocation of parental responsibilities.” A proceeding to establish allocation of parental responsibilities will still with a parent filing a petition with the court. But, after filing, the requirements and procedures will be very different from the past.

Custody Order is now a parenting plan

Within 120 days of service, or filing of the Petition for Allocation of Parental responsibilities, each parent must file a proposed parenting plan with the court. The plan may be filed jointly if there is agreement between the parents, or, each parent may file their own proposed plan. If the parents cannot agree to a parenting plan, the court is required to order them to participate in mediation to resolve their differences. The parents will share the cost of mediation unless the court determines those costs should be waived.

If parents do come to an agreement on a parenting plan, that plan will be adopted by the court. However, in rare situations, the court may find the agreed-to plan is not in the best interests of the child. If the court denies adopting the agreed-to plan, the court must express its reasons for doing so.

If mediation is unsuccessful, and the parents cannot agree to a plan, the court will hold a hearing or trial. The court is then required to take each parenting plan into consideration, and will order a parenting plan that is in the best interests of the child.

What’s in the parenting plan?

Certain information is required to be a part of the parenting plan. The scheduling of parenting time, and the allocation of significant decision-making responsibilities, are the major portions of the plan. A parenting plan must designate whether one or both parents have authority to make decisions for the child’s education, health care, religion and extra-curricular activities. A mediation provision will be required unless one parent is allocated all significant decision-making responsibilities.

Parenting time within the plan must be either: a schedule that designates which parent's home the minor child will reside in on given days; or, a method for determining such a schedule in sufficient detail to be enforced in a subsequent proceeding. Other information required in the parenting plan includes:

  • each parent's right of access to the child’s medical and school records
  • which parent will receive federal or state benefits as custodian (like dependent exemption and child tax credit)
  • the child's residential address for school enrollment purposes only
  • each parent's residence address, phone number and place of employment
  • a requirement that a parent changing his or her residence provides at least 60 days prior written notice of the change to any other parent
  • a requirement for each parent to notify the other of emergencies, child’s health care and travel plans
  • transportation arrangements for the child between the parents
  • provisions for communications with the child during the other parent's parenting time
  • provisions for resolving issues arising from a parent's future relocation
  • provisions for future modifications of the parenting plan, if specified events occur
  • provisions for the exercise of the right of first refusal, if so desired

With all the recent changes to Illinois’ child custody law, it is important that parents understand how these changes will affect their rights and responsibilities. Parents who are facing an impending custody proceeding can prepare themselves by consulting with an experienced Illinois family law attorney prior to filing their case.

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