Understanding “Joint Custody” Laws in Illinois

Divorce & Child Custody in Chicago

In an ideal world, parents who are divorcing should be able to negotiate and come to an agreement as to custody and visitation issues, and the well-being of the child should come first.  Unfortunately, this does not always happen, and the courts may need to step in.

While people often want to know about joint custody laws in Illinois, it’s important for parents to understand that the terminology used in the state has changed.

In 2016 the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act was updated to remove the terms “custody” and “visitation” and substitute the terms “parenting time” and “allocation of parental responsibilities.”  The purpose was to encourage parents to have a healthy and safe relationship with each other, reduce disputes over who would be the “custodial parent,” and eliminate making one feel the “winner” and the other the “loser.”

The compassionate and experienced Illinois family-law attorneys at Wolfe & Stec understand the stresses of divorce and custody disputes and recognize that children’s well-being is paramount.  As a result, we offer a free initial consultation to examine your individual situation and help you understand your specific child custody options.

Illinois Custody Law

In a divorce situation, children are best off with schedules that allow them to have their lives disrupted as little as possible so they continue with their friendships, school schedules, and activities. Illinois law requires that parents come up with written parenting plans to determine the “allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time” that are in the best interests of the child.

It is always desirable for parents to come to an agreement on their own as to the time children will spend with each parent and which parent has responsibility for making major decisions in their children’s lives.  Parenting plans should include which days of the year each parent will be responsible for physical custody of the children and which parent will have responsibility for making decisions in the major areas of the children’s lives, including:

  • Education – choice of school, special programs, or tutors
  • Healthcare – choice of health providers and treatments
  • Religious upbringing
  • Choice of extracurricular activities.

For example, the plan may state that one parent is responsible for decisions on education and extracurricular activities, and the other will be responsible for decisions on healthcare.  One parent may still have most of the decision-making responsibilities, or these responsibilities may be decided jointly or split between the parents.

If parents can’t agree on a plan, they will be required to mediate their differences. If, after mediation, the parents still can’t agree, the court will decide how parenting time and responsibility will be divided in an “allocation judgment” based on the best interests of the children.   Usually, the court appoints experts to evaluate the parents, the child, and the living situation and submit a report to the court with a recommendation. There will be a trial, during which each side presents testimony and other evidence supporting its position.  The court will then enter its allocation judgment and decide upon a parenting plan.

What Determines a Parenting Plan

In coming up with a parenting plan the following factors should be considered:

  • The continuity of the parent-child relationship typically is in the child’s best interest.
  • The needs of children change and grow as they mature.
  • Custodial parents make daily decisions (including emergencies) while the child is with that particular parent.
  • Both parents are to have access to a child’s official records.

Parenting plans identify how children will spend birthdays and other holidays; transportation arrangements; when supervision is required; and other considerations. The law provides that a parent who has not been granted significant decision-making activities will still be entitled to a reasonable parenting time schedule with the child, but decision-making rights and parenting time rights are no longer tied together.

Best Interest Factors

Illinois does not automatically favor the mother when deciding parenting time, but determines the best interests of the child on a gender-neutral basis with consideration for which parent has previously been the primary care-taking parent. The goal is to allow parents equality in making decisions, even if one parent has less parenting time.

In setting up the allocation of parenting time and allocation of parental responsibilities, the courts will consider factors such as:

  • The wishes of both parents
  • The wishes of the child, depending on age and maturity
  • The amount of time and resources each parent has put into taking care of the child in the preceding two years
  • Prior agreements between the parents
  • The relationship between each parent and the child
  • The interaction between the two parents and any other adult who may significantly affect the child’s interests
  • The distance between the parents’ residences, the cost and difficulty of transporting the child, each parent’s and the child’s daily schedules, and the ability of the parents to cooperate in the arrangement
  • The mental and physical health of the parents
  • Any adjustments a child must make in communities, schools, and homes
  • Any other factor that the court finds relevant.


Since custody issues are so complex and vital to a child’s well-being, it makes sense for divorcing parents to seek legal counsel for help with any parenting time and responsibility issues.  The skilled Illinois family-law attorneys at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. know the laws and the system and can guide you through the process.  We represent and advise clients in all types of child custody matters.

Don’t delay. For a free initial consultation with an experienced and compassionate DuPage County custody lawyer, contact us online or call our offices today.

Attorney Natalie Stec

Natalie M. Stec, born and raised in Illinois, and earned her Bachelor of Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her practice has been concentrated in significant pre and post decree marital and family law cases; including custody, visitation, support, and paternity matters. She has important criminal defense experience in both misdemeanor and felony cases. She is a very dedicated and passionate litigator. [ Attorney Bio ]