When parents divorce, creating a stable environment for their minor children is a primary concern. If they are unable to agree on a custody arrangement, an Illinois family court judge will make a determination based on the children’s interests. 

In general, the laws favor maintaining the status quo rather than changing the home environment as long as children are happy, safe and healthy. Although the judge can order joint legal or physical custody, Illinois does not presume joint custody is always right for the child. Learn more about the factors that contribute to child custody decisions in Illinois. 

Understanding the child’s interests 

The judge can weigh a range of factors in deciding the living arrangement that is in the child’s interests: 

  • The child’s preference, if he or she is at least 14 years old 
  • Each parent’s preferences about custody 
  • The physical and mental health status of the child and both parents 
  • The child’s existing relationship with each parent and extended family members 
  • The child’s adjustment to the current community, school and home environments 
  • Any history of domestic violence, threat of violence or sex offenses by either parent 
  • Whether either parent serves in the U.S. military and may receive a deployment assignment 

Denying a parent as unfit 

Illinois law prohibits the judge from using either parent’s conduct as a reason to deny custody, unless the conduct in question directly impacts the child’s well-being. Likewise, a history of substance abuse and/or mental illness is not enough of a reason to consider an individual unfit to parent. In most cases, the court will presume that an environment or parental figure with a history of physical violence will not be able to create a stable home environment. 

Once the judge enters a custody decision, parents must wait at least two years to request a modification of custody. Exceptions to this rule include situations in which the child’s interests are in jeopardy or when both parents agree to the proposed modification.