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How are Illinois child custody decisions made?

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For Illinois parents and others invested in the well-being of a child, a break up and other scenarios that produce unclear lines of parental responsibility typically poses an important question: how are child custody decisions made? Knowing that can be an important step towards understanding how to maximize one's chances of obtaining custody.

As with so many legal question, the answer is, "it depends." For example, the process will generally look different for divorcing parents than for unmarried parents or for non-parents.

For divorcing parents, child custody decisions can be made in two ways: through parental agreement or at the hands of a court. Parental agreement can be reached informally or through various dispute resolution approaches, like mediation. Court orders, by contrast, generally follow litigation.

For unmarried parents, the usual rule is that the mother receives sole physical custody. That presumption can change though, if the father takes steps to obtain custody. These steps may not result in full custody, but they can lead to partial custody or increased visitation rights. Outside of the pro-mother presumption, child custody disputes between unmarried parents track those discussed above for divorcing parents.

For non-parents (such as extended relatives like aunts, uncles and grandparents), the process is different. There is a specific procedure that they should follow. The process will generally get kicked-off by filing a petition for custody. The petition will normally need to be given to not only the court, but also the biological parents.

Illinoisans interested in learning more may benefit from discussing their situation with an experienced family-law attorney.

Source:, "How Child Custody Decisions Are Made," accessed on Nov. 10, 2015

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