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Child Custody Laws & Process in Illinois

Child custody or, as Illinois law calls it, “parental responsibilities” can turn cooperative splits into hotly contested legal battles.

An attorney who knows the ins and outs of the Illinois child custody process helps ensure equitable parenting time and decision-making power. O.Long Law is here to look out for your parental rights and certify your child is in good hands. Our Evanston, IL custody lawyers are ready to listen and pursue your custody goals with the utmost care and attention.


Child Custody Rights for Married & Unmarried Parents

The process of allocating parental responsibilities in Illinois differs slightly between married and unmarried parents. For married couples, the process begins when you file a petition to dissolve your marriage. Unmarried couples must establish their parent-child relationship before setting up a custody agreement.

Establish a Parent-Child Relationship

Illinois law lists different criteria for men and women when determining the parent-child relationship.

The Parent-Child Relationships for Women

For women, the following may establish their parental relationship:

  • The woman giving birth to the child
  • An adjudication of the woman’s parentage
  • Adoption of the child by the woman
  • A valid gestational surrogacy arrangement that complies with the Gestational Surrogacy Act or other law
  • A presumption of parentage covered under section 204 of the Illinois Parentage Act

The Parent-Child Relationships for Men

For men in Illinois, the following determines a parent-child relationship:

  • A presumption of parentage under section 204 of the Illinois Parentage Act
  • An adequate voluntary acknowledgment of paternity
  • An adjudication of the man’s parentage
  • Adoption of the child by the man
  • A valid gestational surrogacy arrangement that complies with the Gestational Surrogacy Act

To confirm the father’s paternity, the court may sometimes request DNA testing, which a court-appointed expert administers. A paternity test could also be taken voluntarily and, depending on the result, would meet the above criteria.

File a Petition for Allocation of Parental Responsibilities

Once the parent-child relationship is established, you can create a legal child custody plan. This requires you to file a petition to obtain parental responsibilities in Illinois with the Clerk of Courts in the county where the child currently lives.

Your custody petition must include:

  • Your name
  • The other parent’s name
  • The child’s name
  • The child’s birth date
  • The way parentage was established
  • A statement claiming you seek parental responsibilities, including parenting time and decision-making

The court serves this petition to your ex-spouse or the other parent and a summons requiring them to respond within a given timeframe (usually 30 days). This summons also provides a date and time for them to appear in court. Sometimes, your child’s other parent might have to appear in court to establish parentage before allocating responsibilities.

Draft Your Illinois Parenting Plan

Once you file and serve your petition, you have 120 days to submit a proposed parenting plan. You and your ex could draft this plan together or submit separate parenting plans.

No matter how you proceed, your parenting plan must include:

  • Where the child lives
  • The amount of time the child spends with each parent
  • How each parent gets information and records regarding the child
  • How the parents should transport the child for parenting time

If neither you nor your ex drafts a parenting plan, the court will determine how to allocate parenting responsibilities.

Attend Parenting Classes and Mediation

When you first appear before the court in many Chicagoland counties, you will first be sent to mediation if you cannot agree with your co-parent. Also, you will be informed that you must take a specific parenting class.

  • Parenting Classes – You must complete a mandatory parenting education program within the next 60 days
  • Mediation – The court orders mediation when two parents can’t agree on a parenting plan. Here, a third-party mediator works with both parents to devise a solution. Both parents must attend a follow-up conference within 30 days of completing the mediation. In some situations, the judge might appoint a guardian ad litem to safeguard the child’s best interests.

Based on the factors and temperaments of those involved, the allocation of parental responsibilities process could take several paths at this stage. Parents may need to appear at subsequent hearings when custody situations dictate follow-up steps or court intervention. However, the judge could resolve a custody case quickly if both parents come to a fair compromise regarding a parenting plan and have attended all the classes.

In cases where the parents can’t agree and mediation proves unsuccessful, the court will usually appoint another attorney to advocate for your child’s best interests and evaluate the claims of both parents. This person is referred to as a Child Representative or a Guardian ad Litem, depending on their role in the case. After their investigation and report back to the court, the custody matter can also go to trial if the parents still cannot agree.

Taking a Custody Case to Trial

The circuit court handles a child custody trial. Trials are rare and only happen when parents cannot agree on a parenting plan, and mediation is unproductive.

Before a custody trial, both parties engage in the discovery process, which involves both sides exchanging information and gathering evidence to present. The appointed attorney for your child’s best interests, the Child Representative or Guardian ad Litem, is also involved in trial preparation. The research phase of a custody court case can be lengthy, and it allows your attorneys to use the evidence gathered during discovery to strengthen your argument regarding the best possible child custody arrangement.

They may also call witnesses to testify on your behalf and strengthen your case for parental responsibilities. After all the evidence is heard, the judge makes a final decision regarding your case.

What’s In the Final Custody Plan?

Your final custody judgment includes decisions affecting parenting time and decision-making power. The court usually allocates shared decision-making power to one or both parents regarding significant issues such as schooling, health decisions, religious preferences, extracurricular activities, and more, but could allocate these responsibilities to one parent at trial.

The final custody plan also allocates parenting time. The court considers several factors when making this decision if you and your co-parent cannot agree. Your custody plan might state that you have your child at specified times, such as weekends or holidays, and could restrict parenting time for a parent who poses a danger to their child.

What if One Party Doesn’t Abide by the Custody Plan?

The court enforces child custody arrangements, and failure to abide by the custody plan results in a violation. For example, if your ex abuses their parenting time, you could file a petition claiming they violated the agreement. And while the Illinois custody law gives a parent various options to deal with possible violations, your unique case should be addressed by a lawyer.

Can Custody Plans Be Changed?

In some instances, parents don’t agree with how a court rules in a custody case, or a change in circumstance requires a modified custody agreement. And while an allocation of parental responsibilities is legally binding, you still have options.

To modify any rulings regarding decision-making power, you must wait two years. As for parenting time, you could modify this at any time.

Modifications to parenting time must be in the child’s best interest, and both parties must agree on this revised plan. You could work out a new modification plan by filing a motion to modify the allocation of parental responsibilities with the court. You will include information such as the names of yourself, your ex, your children, and your ex’s address.

Child Custody Process Timeline

The length of the allocation of parental responsibilities process in Illinois could vary widely depending on your circumstances and the personalities attempting to share custody. The more accommodating you are with your co-parent, the easier the process will be. However, the process drags on when disagreements occur and mediation or court is required.

Your child custody process could last anywhere from a few months to over a year if mediation and court are necessary. Waiting to draft your parenting plan or failing to attend the required parenting classes also extends the process.

Our Evanston Child Custody Lawyers Can Help

Obtaining favorable child custody terms is possible, and you should work with someone who understands you and your children’s needs. The Evanston, IL custody lawyers at O. Long Law, LLC know what it takes to make this process as smooth as possible while protecting your kids and looking out for your long-term best interest.

Call O. Long Law, LLC today at 847-556-8846.