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Who Is Allowed to Have Parental Responsibilities for a Child?

By Nottage and Ward on June 21, 2021

Determining who should be given parental responsibilities for a child, sometimes known as custody, can be a contentious topic.

Parental responsibilities may be determined by both parties in divorce court, and they may also be brought up if a parent seems to be failing in his duties to his child. No parent wants to lose their right to take care of their child, but when the matter of parental responsibility is called into question, it is the judge who gets the final say.

With that in mind, just who can be given parental responsibilities, and who does the court most often side with?

Parties Eligible for Parental Responsibilities

Every state has different parties who are eligible to be considered for parental responsibilities. In Illinois, the main concern is placing the children with family. The Illinois courts understand that a family unit is best for children when it comes to proper development, and familial love is key to a happy childhood. That is why the parties that are considered eligible for parental responsibilities in Illinois are:

The mother or the father: The biological mother and father are the ones first considered when it comes to parenting time and parental responsibilities. Unless the parents separate, neither has to ask the court for parental responsibilities, as these are automatically granted when the child is born.

Stepparents: Stepparents are not automatically considered for parental responsibilities in the way that biological parents are. However, they can petition the court. In order for their petition to be successful, they must be able to show that the parent with primary parenting time has either died or is unable to parent the child, that the stepparent is already caring for the child, that the child wants to live with the stepparent, and that the stepparent would be the best available caretaker for the child.

Other parties: In most cases, only the parents of the child can petition the court for parental responsibilities. However, if the child has been left in the care of a third party, such as a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, or an older sibling, for an extended period of time (several months or even years), then that third party may ask the court to be given primary parental responsibilities.

Determining Parental Responsibility

Ultimately, the first and last thing that a judge will take into consideration is the welfare of the child in question. The courts will always put a child’s best interest above anything else. There are many factors that go into deciding who should get parental responsibilities, including:

  • What each of the parents want
  • What the child wants
  • The child’s relationships with his or her parents, as well as siblings and other family members
  • The mental and physical health of each parent
  • Whether either parent has committed domestic violence or other violent crimes
  • Whether either parent has committed sexual crimes, especially against minors
  • The financial ability of both parents
  • The child’s housing and living conditions

With all of these factors considered, the judge will grant parental responsibilities to the parent that the child would do best with. That does not mean the court will put what the child wants first, especially if the child is under the age of 14. Younger children can be easily manipulated, and they may not truly understand which parent will be the best caretaker.

If neither of the parents is considered a safe option for the child —  if they have both exhibited extreme mental illness, violent and abusive tendencies, or criminal histories — then the court may give parental responsibilities to a different party. That may be a stepparent, or another member of the family. Again, the safety of the child will always be the most important factor to the court.

The Most Commonly Chosen Parties

The biological parents, particularly the mother, will usually be the first one considered when the question of parental responsibilities comes up. Fathers who have legal paternity will be second, and stepparents who can show that they are the best option for parental responsibilities will be considered third. Other parties, such as grandparents, siblings, or even family friends, will only be considered under special circumstances.

However, just because one party is chosen more often does not mean that parental responsibilities will be determined before you can present your side of the story. The judge will want to know all the facts in order to select the best caretaker available.

If you are petitioning the court for parental responsibilities, then you need a Chicago family law attorney at your side, fighting for your case. Call Nottage and Ward, LLP, at (312) 332-2915 to speak to our top team of attorneys.

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Posted in: Child Allocation

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