How Does a Court Determine a Child’s “Best Interest”?

 

If you or someone you know has ever been involved in a custody dispute, you have probably heard the phrase “best interest of the child”. The reason that you have heard it is because it is an incredibly important concept, which is used by judges and juries across the country to make decisions about child custody, visitation and access, and even termination of parental rights. It is therefore important to understand what Illinois courts look at when determining a child’s best interest.

Best Interest and Parental Decision Making

The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, ILCS Section 602.5, provides that the court shall consider the best interest of the child when determining how to allocate the “significant decision-making responsibility for each significant issue affecting the child”. These significant issues relate to the child’s education, health, religion, and extracurricular activities. The statutes explicitly require the court to consider the following non-exhaustive factors in reaching its best interest finding:

  • The wishes of the child, accounting for the child’s maturity and ability to make such an expression;
  • the child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community;
  • the mental and physical health of all involved;
  • the ability of the parents to cooperate in making decisions, or the level of conflict between parents that would affect this cooperation;
  • the level of each parent’s participation in past decision making regarding the child;
  • any agreement or course of conduct regarding decision making;
  • the parents’ wishes;
  • the child’s needs;
  • the daily schedule of the child, the distance between the parents and their ability to transport and cooperate in the transportation of the child;
  • whether a restriction on decision making is appropriate;
  • the willingness of each parent to facilitate a close and continuing relationship between the parent and the other child;
  • physical violence or the threat of physical violence by a parent against the child;
  • a parent’s abuse against the child or other household member;
  • if a parent is a sex offender, the nature of the offense, and whether treatment was successfully completed; and
  • any other factor that the court expressly finds to be relevant.

Best Interest and Parenting Time

Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, ILCS Section 602.7, provides a non-exhaustive list of factors that the court should consider when deciding how to allocate (or limit) parenting time between parents. You will notice that these factors are largely the same as the best interest factors regarding decision-making. These include:

  • the wishes of the parents;
  • the wishes of the parents, accounting for their maturity to make such an expression;
  • the amount of time each parent has served as caretaker for the child in the preceding two years;
  • any agreement or prior course of conduct relating to the caretaking of the child;
  • the “interrelationship” between the child, parents, siblings, and any other person “who may significantly affect the child’s best interests”;
  • the child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community;
  • the mental and physical health of all involved;
  • the child’s needs;
  • the distance between the parents’ residences, everyone’s daily schedules, and the costs and difficulty of transporting the child, as well as the ability of the parents to cooperate on transporting the child;
  • whether it appropriate to restrict parenting time;
  • physical violence or the threat of physical violence by a parent;
  • the willingness and ability of a parent to put their child’s needs ahead of their own;
  • the willingness and ability of each parent to “encourage a close and continuing relationship” with the other parent;
  • abuse against the child or other household member;
  • whether a parent or someone a parent lives with is a registered sex offender, the nature of the offense, and successful treatment;
  • the military family-care plan for a parent is a member of the armed forces who faces deployment; and
  • “any other factor” that the court expressly finds to be relevant.

As you can tell from these wide-ranging, numerous, broad considerations, courts are given quite a bit of discretion to make decisions regarding children. In other words, almost any evidence may be relevant to support a best interest determination.

You Need an Attorney

If you are seeking initial orders, or a modification of child custody and parenting time orders, call the Law Offices of Robert S. Thomas. I know how important your children are to you and will aggressively advocate for your legal rights. I have over twenty years of experience in family law and provide you with intelligent, professional legal assistance. Contact our office today at 847-392-5893 to schedule an appointment or visit our website today.

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