What does the phrase ‘best interests of the child’ mean?

Parents in the Chicago area who are going through a divorce may have heard of the phrase “best interests of the child” being used in the context of child custody and parental responsibility orders. The ‘best interests of the child’ is the standard courts in Illinois use when making child custody and parental responsibility decisions. The idea is to prioritize the child’s well-being foremost so that the child’s physical and emotional needs are met. Thus, it is important for parents to understand exactly what the phrase “best interests of the child” means under Illinois law.

There are various factors courts will generally consider when determining what is in the best interests of the child for child custody purposes. They include, but are not limited to: the child’s and parents’ wishes; the child’s adjustment to their residence, school and community; the parents’ and child’s mental and physical health; the parents’ capacity to work together to make decisions regarding the child; the parents’ past involvement in making significant decisions regarding the child; any previous agreement the parents have made with regards to making decisions related to the child’s care; the child’s needs; how far apart the parents live from one another; the parents’ capacity to ensure the child has a meaningful relationship with both of them; whether domestic violence is an issue; and whether one parent is a sex offender.

When it comes to allocating parental responsibilities, the standard used is still the best interests of the child. Many of the same factors that are considered when making child custody decisions will also be used when allocating parental responsibilities. In addition, when making parental responsibility decisions, courts may also consider how much time each parent spent taking care of the child in the past; the interaction and relationship the child has with any siblings; and each parent’s capacity to put the child’s needs first.

This post is only a brief overview of what factors will be considered when determining the best interests of the child for child custody and parental responsibility purposes, and it should not be relied upon as legal advice nor can it promise any specific results. Parents going through a divorce will want to seek the assistance of a professional who can explain how the law affects their case.