Do I need a custody attorney?
Illinois child custody laws for unmarried parents can be difficult to navigate. When your children are at stake, you need the assistance of an attorney to protect you. Your relationship with your children is invaluable, and you need to secure your parental rights as best as possible. Your parental rights include the right to see your children, the right to raise your children, and the right to have a relationship with your children. Many people refer to the most important parental right as the right to “custody” of your children.
What is custody?
To have custody means “to have protective care or possession” of someone or something, by definition. Custody is the determination of which parent will spend the most time with the minor children, which parent will have the primary role of raising the children, and which parent will be the one to make the day-to-day decisions about the children. The most important consequence is the allocation of parenting time between the two parents.
The core component to a custody determination is the premise known as the “best interest of the child” standard. The judge is required to consider a variety of variables in disputed custody cases, including the following factors:
- The parents’ desires for the child’s custody;
- The preferences of the child;
- The child’s relationship with each parent;
- The child’s relationship with siblings and others;
- The child’s involvement in school and the community;
- The circumstances of the child’s home life;
- The physical and mental health of the child, the parents, and any other person who may be involved;
- The existence of any history of domestic violence by either parent, even if that violence was not directed at the child;
- The existence of any threat of physical violence against the child or any other person; and
- The parents’ abilities and willingness to foster a relationship between the child and the other parent.
Will a judge side with me?
While the law requires the judge to consider the factors above, each judge retains a great deal of discretion in determining what is in the child’s best interests. Custody issues appear in a similar fashion in cases of marital children or whether the children were born out of wedlock. However, the fundamental issue of paternity is treated differently in the context of children born to unmarried parties. The parents of marital children receive greater protection than parents do who have children outside of marriage; for example, the paternity of a married man is presumed, yet the paternity of an unmarried man depends on that man being proactive and securing a legal determination of parentage. This is just one example of Illinois child custody laws for unmarried parents varying from married parents.