Who Gets To Decide? The “Best Interests Of The Child” When It Comes To Allocation Of Decision-Making Responsibilities In Chicago Divorces
One of the most important and hotly contested issues in a divorce involving children is child custody. Which parent the child or children should primarily live with, and which parent should make important life decisions on behalf of the child or children, are certainly not issues that all parents agree on when it comes time to decide in the Chicago divorce process. When parties to a divorce cannot agree – or in some cases even discuss – child custody issues, the reality is that decisions regarding both physical and legal child custody will be decided by the family law judge overseeing the divorce case. While it may seem like a “roll of the dice” to some, in fact, judges are bound by Chicago divorce laws to make child custody decisions based not on their own whim and judgment or the parents’ preferences and requests, but in the “best interests of the child”. In Chicago divorces, the factors that lead to a determination of child custody in the “best interests of the child” are established by state family law statutes.
Factors to Consider in Determining the “Best Interests of the Child” When it Comes to Decision-Making Responsibilities
When a divorce involves children, both physical custody – essentially who the child or children will live with – and legal custody – who will make important decisions on behalf of the child – must be determined. A parent who is granted legal custody of a child is the parent that makes important life decisions on the child’s behalf, such as decisions related to religion, medical care, and education. Section 602.5 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, 750 ILCS 5/, is the legal authority that governs the allocation of parental responsibilities and decision-making in a Chicago divorce involving children. Under Section (a) of that section, “the court shall allocate decision-making responsibilities according to the child’s best interests.” The statute goes on to describe the factors that a court must consider when determining the “best interests of the child”, including:
- The wishes of the child, considering the child’s maturity and ability to make such a decision;
- The child’s adjustment to the home, school, and community;
- The mental and physical health of all of the individuals involved (parents, etc.);
- The ability of the parents to cooperate in making decisions regarding the child, or put another way, the level of conflict between the parents that might impact the ability of them to share decision-making power over the child;
- The level of participation of each parent in the past with regard to making significant decisions in regards to the child;
- Any prior agreements or past conduct between the parents that regard decision-making relating to the child;
- The wishes of the parents of the child;
- The needs of the child;
- The logistical arrangement regarding the child in terms of the distance between the parents’ houses and the ability of each parents to adhere to the child’s schedule and cooperate with regard to logistics and scheduling;
- Whether there should be limitations imposed on a parent in terms of decision-making powers;
- The willingness of each parent to encourage and support a relationship between the other parent and the child;
- Any physical violence or threats of such violence by a parent towards the child;
- Any abuse towards the child or someone else in the child’s household by either parent; and
- Whether either of the parents has sex offender status.
In addition, the statute permits a court to look at “any other factors that the court expressly finds to be relevant.” Importantly, the statute mandates that a court not consider any other conduct of a parent that does not affect the parent’s relationship to the child.
Getting Help with Child Custody in Your Chicago Divorce
Although the factors that courts must consider in determining legal custody in a Chicago divorce are established by statute, child custody issues are complex, and it is important to have an experienced legal advocate by your side when going through the contested child custody process. The experienced Chicago child custody lawyers at the law offices of Birnbaum Gelfman Sharma & Arnoux, LLC, offer a confidential consultation to discuss your child custody case and to see if they can help you. Contact the offices of Birnbaum Gelfman Sharma & Arnoux, LLC, and speak to a Chicago child custody lawyer today.