During any Illinois family law proceedings, some of the most pressing questions parents have involve the determination of child custody. In the past, determining child custody depended solely on the laws set forth by each state, making child custody cases involving parents in different states—or a parent who has recently moved into or out of a state—especially complicated. Fortunately, in part to minimize interstate custody disputes, Illinois adopted the Uniform Child Custody and Jurisdiction Act, or UCCJEA.
Illinois Child Custody Jurisdiction
Before an Illinois judge can issue a custody order as part of a divorce or other child custody dispute, the court must determine that it has jurisdiction—or the authority to issue an order in the case. With the UCCJEA in place, the guidance establishes each child’s “home state” to eliminate conflicting court orders. In the child’s home state, courts have exclusive jurisdiction to determine custody and remain the only court that can hear custody cases.
According to the UCCJEA, Illinois is a child’s home state and can hear a related custody case if one of the following conditions exist:
- The child has lived in Illinois for the past six months or has lived in Illinois since birth if younger than six months old
- The child has lived in Illinois at some point in the last six months but lives out of state currently and one parent remains in Illinois
- The child and one or both parents have a significant connection with the state of Illinois, as shown by substantial evidence that the child’s care, schooling, and personal relationships remain within Illinois, and no other state is the child’s home state, or the state otherwise declines jurisdiction in favor of Illinois
If you believe one of the above conditions applies to your child, an essential next step is to obtain advice from a Bloomington, IL, child custody attorney. Determining jurisdiction is a very complicated matter best pursued by a skilled attorney.
Physical Custody Versus Legal Custody in Illinois
If Illinois holds jurisdiction in your child custody case, it is important to know that Illinois courts recognize sole, joint, physical, and legal custody. Physical custody refers to the court’s decision regarding where the child lives, while legal custody refers to the parent’s right to make decisions regarding the child’s schooling, medical care, religious upbringing, and more. In Illinois, one parent can hold physical and legal custody rights (a situation termed “sole custody”); alternatively, both parents can share physical and/or legal custody (“joint custody”).
Formulating a joint legal custody agreement allows both parents to continue to make important decisions regarding a child’s life and upbringing, while sole legal custody stipulates that the decisions about the child are the responsibility of only one parent. In many cases, one parent is awarded sole physical custody, but the other parent retains visitation rights and decision-making rights through joint legal custody.
Illinois Custody Is Determined Based on the Child’s Best Interests
Divorcing parents in Illinois are encouraged to create a parenting plan that focuses on the child’s best interests and the unique considerations regarding the family relationships at hand. Most parenting plans include considerations regarding:
- The current needs of the children involved
- The changing needs of the children as they mature
- The ongoing nature of each parent-child relationship
- The ability of custodial parents to make daily decisions when the child is in their care
- Accessibility of medical records and other important documents for both parents
- Where the child will spend holidays and birthdays
- The child’s choice (if over the age of 14)
However, even when parents agree regarding a particular parenting plan, or when a child over 14 has made his or her choice regarding which parent they want to live with, an Illinois judge may make a different ruling based on the child’s best interests. In any child custody arrangement, a child’s best interests are always the primary emphasis. The courts may consider several relevant factors to arrive at this decision, including:
- Parental wishes or a parenting plan
- The child’s wishes, if over 14
- The child’s relationship with each parent, as well as siblings and other family members involved
- Physical and mental health of both parents and child
- The child’s established home, school, and neighborhood
- Physical, domestic, or sexual violence in the home, whether on the part of a parent or another person in the home, and whether directed at the child or another person
Consult a Skilled Bloomington, IL, Family Law Attorney
Decisions regarding child custody in Illinois can be complex, require a thorough knowledge of the laws at hand and the many relevant considerations the courts will review. Whether you and your former partner have reached an agreement or wish to dispute one or more aspects of a child custody decision, an experienced Bloomington, IL, child custody lawyer can help you determine your next steps. Contact Stange Law Firm at (855) 055-0595, or reach out online to schedule an initial consultation.