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What factors affect the allocation of parental responsibilities?

In January 2016, changes to the law in Illinois replaced the concepts of child custody and visitation with a new framework based on allocating “parental responsibilities.” Under this new law, these responsibilities are separated into categories such as health, education and religion, which can be allocated jointly or solely to parents by the court.

This replaces the previous notions of joint or sole legal custody, under which the responsibility for all decisions was shared equally between both parents or allocated solely to one parent. With the changes to the law, the court can make one parent responsible for educational decisions and the other for the child's health care, to use just one example.

The court determines how these parental responsibilities are allocated according to the best interests of the child, taking many different factors into account. The parents' wishes are considered, as are those of the child. When weighing the child's preferences, the judge will take into account their maturity and ability to make reasoned decisions. Because of this, an older child's wishes may be given greater weight than those of a younger child.

The connection that the child has to their home, school and community are also taken into account; if he or she is settled and content and involved in extra-curricular activities, the court may consider removing them from that environment to be detrimental.

The mental and physical health of the child, as well as that of their parents, is another important factor. In particular, the court will observe whether the actions of either parent have ever endangered the child’s health or emotional development. As we have noted in a previous post, the physical and mental ability of each parent to raise and care for their child may also be considered by a judge.

The court will also consider whether both parents will be able to collaborate when making decisions that affect their child, or whether the potential for conflict may lead to instability. A judge will examine each parent's prior involvement in making decisions about their child's upbringing, their behavior towards one another and any existing agreements between them during their deliberation. 

These considerations, along with any others that the court considers to be relevant, all factor into the arrangement of parental responsibilities. As we noted in The law aims to protect the child's best interests and enable a positive relationship with each parent as far as possible. For parents who wish to ensure that their child's interests are protected after a divorce, consulting an experienced family lawyer can help to clarify the process and ensure that your concerns are answered.

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Goddard & Malmquist
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