Divorce and  Separation concept

Determining child custody during Illinois divorce proceedings can be difficult, especially if the parents are unable to make an amicable decision together. The courts a required to make judgments regarding living arrangements for children, unless their parents can propose a custody agreement that is favored by both parties, which can sometimes lead to conflict within the family.

Children who are older, or those who have strong opinions on where they would like to live, may want to have a say in custody decisions, but Illinois law does not provide a magic age where a child can decide which parent they would like to live with. Instead, children can express their wishes to a judge, who may then take the wishes into consideration.

How child custody is determined

In Illinois, family courts make child custody decisions by looking at several different factors. Taking into account the best interest of a child, judges must determine which parent and which living arrangement will most benefit the child. In order to make a determination, the courts consider the following:

  • The wishes of the parents
  • The wishes of the child, dependent on maturity
  • Relationships with parents and siblings
  • Mental and physical health of all involved
  • The child’s involvement in school and the community

Along with several other factors, judges must weigh each factor in every individual custody case to decide which living arrangement fits with the best interest of the child.

Considering a child’s wishes

While there is no guarantee that a child’s wishes regarding living with one parent over the other will be granted by the courts, a judge may interview a child who shows maturity and understanding of the situation. A child’s wishes may also be articulated to a judge through an attorney; an outside expert, such as a child psychologist; or a guardian ad litem. When deciding a case in which a child has a strong preference, judges typically look at a few criteria, including the following:

  • The reasons the child provides for wanting to live with a particular parent
  • The stability of the preferred parent
  • The social, emotional, and intellectual development of the child
  • If the living arrangement is against the wishes of either parent
  • If there is a long-term benefit for the child
  • If the arrangement will separate a child from others in the family

In many cases a child’s wishes may sway the courts to rule in his or her favor, however a judge cannot make a custody award that overrules the child’s best interest.