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Understanding the best interests of the child

Any Illinois divorce that involves minor children will have several issues that depend on the court's determination of how to protect the "best interests of the child." On its face, the term "best interests of the child" is not very specific, but any judge who has served more than a few years is well-acquainted with how the term should be defined and applied. Because the crucial issues of child custody and support depend upon the court's interpretation of the best interests of the child, anyone contemplating a divorce should have a basic understanding of the term.

Illinois statutes require judges to consider the best interests of the child in awarding custody, setting the amount of child support and in allocating decision-making responsibility between the parents. The statute enumerates fifteen separate factors:

  • The wishes of the child, if the child is suitably mature to reliably express an preference;
  • The child's adjustment to his or her home, school and community
  • The mental and physical health of the child and both parents
  • The ability of the parents to cooperate with respect to issues affecting the child
  • The amount of involvement by each parent in prior decision-making regarding the child
  • The wishes of the parents
  • The child's needs
  • The distance between the parent's residences
  • The willingness of each parent to encourage a close relationship with the other parent
  • The occurrence or threat of physical violence directed against the child
  • Whether one of the parents is a sex offender
  • Any other factor that the court expressly finds to be relevant

The last factor is obviously a catch-all that the court can use to inject other factors into its calculation of the child's best interests. Judges are also bound by the decisions of the state's appellate court in how to determine and apply the best interests of the child. An experienced divorce lawyer can provide useful guidance to any parent who is concerned about how a particular judge may define and use the standard best interests of the child.

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