Illinois Child Custody Laws


Area of Law: 

When a couple divorces and there is a minor child involved, the divorce decree will specify who has physical custody as well as legal custody of the child. Physical custody determines where and with whom the child will live. Legal custody specifies who has the legal right to make important decisions about the child related to issues such as education, religion, medical issues, and discipline. Spouses often reach an agreement regarding child custody on their own, but if they do not, an Illinois court will intervene and establish custody arrangements based on the best interests of the child. For a summary of divorce and child custody law in Illinois, go to


There are typically several different custody arrangements that may be made for children of divorced parents. In most cases, courts will award physical custody to one parent with whom the child will live most of the time. The parent with physical custody, or the custodial parent, often shares legal custody, or the right to make decisions regarding the child, with the non-custodial parent. Many child custody arrangements involve joint custody in which the child spends a relatively equal amount of time with each parent.


According to, Illinois courts commonly apply the following standards when deciding how much time each parent should spend with the child:


  • The relative strength, nature, and stability of the child's relationship with each parent and any siblings
  • The child's adjustment to home, school, and community
  • The mental and physical health of everyone involved
  • Any physical violence or threats of physical violence made by a child's potential custodian whether directed against the child or another person but witnessed by the child
  • The occurrence of ongoing abuse in either household whether directed at the child or another person
  • The willingness and ability of each parent to encourage a continuing, close relationship between the other parent and the child
  • The wishes of the parents
  • The wishes of the child if he or she is sufficiently mature to express reasoned and independent preferences


Illinois courts do not consider any parental conduct that does not involve their relationship with the child when making custody awards. Illinois courts have the presumption that both parents should have maximum involvement regarding the physical, mental, moral, and emotional well being of the child. After the parenting agreement is signed by the judge and filed with an Illinois court, both parents are bound by it. If a parent is denied court-ordered access to a child, he or she may bring the issue back before the court. The judge may decide to modify the visitation order, provide makeup visitation for the time missed, or order either counseling or mediation.


In Illinois, both parents have an equal right to child custody. The “tender years doctrine,” which had for most of the last century preferred mothers as custodians of young children in the absence of a showing of unfitness, has not been followed by Illinois courts since the 1970's. There is also no presumption in favor of or against joint custody in the state of Illinois.