In 2018, the divorce rate in Illinois was 6.6%, below the national average of 7.7%. But the decision to stay together often comes down to cost: Divorce fees (legal fees, child support, alimony, property division) can total upwards of $35,000. On average, a divorce with children costs $20,700 in Illinois, the 14th highest in the nation, when the median household income is only $65,030.
Children are often caught in the middle of the heated and emotional arguments that ensue over custodial rights. In 2018, single parents comprised 34% of households with children in Cook Country which includes Chicago.
So if you’re considering a divorce or separation in Illinois and you have children, it is vital you understand the legal issues involved in child custody. Here are answers to commonly asked questions around child custody in Illinois.
How is child custody decided?
To save the time and expense of trial, spouses should try to come to a mutually acceptable agreement. If you and your spouse cannot agree, then custody will be decided in Family Court or as part of a divorce action. Until a final determination of custody is made at trial, temporary orders of custody may be issued. These orders often become permanent if no problems arise.
In deciding which parent will receive custody, courts will consider what is in the best interests of the child. Here are some factors courts will look at:
- the child’s wishes, considering the child’s maturity
- the child's adjustment to the home, school, and community
- each parent’s mental and physical health
- each parent’s ability to cooperate and the level of conflict between them
- each parent's past involvement in the child’s life
- any prior agreements between the parents
- the parent’s wishes
- the child's needs
- the distance between the parents' homes and each parent’s schedule
- the willingness of each parent to encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child
- any past threats or actual physical violence by the parent against the child
- any abuse against the child or other member of the child's household
- whether one of the parents is a sex offender
If the parents cannot reach an agreement, the court may appoint a representative for your child, called a custody evaluator or guardian ad litem, to help decide what is in the child’s best interest.
Custody orders may be modified later on. Unless the parties agree otherwise, the court will not modify a visitation order until at least 2 years have passed or there has been a change of circumstances that requires a modification to protect the child mentally, physically, or emotionally.
Modifying a child custody order or visitation time is a complicated process. Court Buddy can connect you with a lawyer to help you better understand your rights.
What is the difference between joint custody and sole custody?
In 2016, the Illinois legislature reformed its family law statutes to reduce bitterness and encourage cooperation between separated parents. The legislature replaced the term “custody” with “parental responsibilities” and completely eliminated the terms “sole custody” and “joint custody.”
Under the old terminology, joint legal custody means the parents have to agree with each other on all major decisions for the child, such as healthcare, education, and even religion. Sole legal custody gives one parent the power to make decisions unilaterally, without consulting the other parent.
Co-parenting is highly encouraged in Illinois, but the courts understand that this may not be a feasible option in all circumstances. So while the term “sole custody” is no longer used, the courts have the power to give one parent sole decision-making power. In any case, each parent is entitled to some visitation time, unless that parent endangers the child.
When does one parent have to pay child support?
According to the latest U.S. Census, the court granted 49.4% of 12.9 million custodial parents the right to receive financial support from the noncustodial parent in 2018.
To calculate child support, Illinois uses a model called percentage of obligor net income. Under this model, the non-custodial parent must pay a percentage of his or her net income to the custodial parent. The percentages are based on the number of children. You can use this Illinois child support calculator to estimate the amount of child support for your case.
A child support order is eligible for a modification review every three years, or when there is a substantial change in the non-custodial parent’s finances or the child’s needs. The review verifies the non-custodial parent’s employment status and other relevant information.
If you think your order needs a modification review, you may request a review by contacting the Maximus Customer Service number (1-888-245-1938) or by submitting a letter of request to your Regional Office.
Please note that if child support is not paid, one parent may not deny the other visitation rights.
What if the other parent tries to move the children to another state?
Congress passed a series of acts to prevent one parent from moving a child to another state and getting a custody order against the other parent in the new state. Under these acts, the original custody order will be enforced in all other states. If there’s no custody order in place, you may need to go to a court in the state where the children are located.
The usual procedure to move out of State would be with the consent of the other parent or by court order after a hearing. Courts generally don’t want children to be relocated if one parent objects.
What should I know before a custody trial?
Anticipate the other side’s arguments for custody. Conduct yourself politely and properly in court because judges will factor their observations of your behavior into their final decision.
Although courts are not meant to show bias between parents, about 79.9% of the 12.9 million custodial parents were mothers in 2018.
Courts have a large amount of discretion in deciding custody cases, but the following may help you maximize your chances of getting a better custodial arrangement:
- Maintaining a stable job with a consistent schedule
- Providing adequate living conditions
- Being able to demonstrate a close, caring relationship with your children over time
- Having no problems with substance or spousal abuse
- Locating a parent
- Legally establishing paternity (the child’s father) if the parents are not married or in a civil union;
- Getting an order for child support and addressing health insurance;
- Collecting payments on a child support order;
This article is intended to convey generally used information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are soley those of the author, and not LawChamps.
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