IL Parental Responsibilities & Parenting Time Overview

Illinois courts use the terms "parental responsibilities" and "parenting time" in place of "legal custody" and "physical custody," respectively. You'll often hear "custody" used informally.

Parental responsibilities are the power to make significant decisions for a child, while parenting time is the right to spend time with the child.

Judges assume parents will share both, unless evidence shows that wouldn't be in the child's best interests.

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Parental responsibilities

When parents have shared responsibilities, both can make decisions for their child. Their parenting plan specifies if and when they must reach decisions together.

A parent may get sole responsibilities if the other parent shows no interest in caring for the child or cannot care for them due to physical or mental health conditions.

A parent with no parental responsibilities can still make minor and emergency decisions when the child is in their care.

Parenting time

In a shared parenting time arrangement, the child spends time with each parent, as laid out in the family's parenting time schedule.

The parent with more time is called the primary parent, while the other is the nonprimary parent. If parents split time equally, one is designated the primary parent for legal purposes.

The vast majority of parents have shared parenting time, even if one has sole parental responsibilities. The court usually only awards sole parenting time if one parent poses a danger to the child or doesn't want to be involved.

A nonparent can petition for visits or electronic communication with a child over 1 year old. The petitioner must prove that the parents are unreasonably denying access or that visitation would be in the child's best interest.

Non-parents lose all visitation rights if the child is adopted outside the family.

The custody process

Parents seeking custody must file a petition for parental responsibilities and parenting time with their local circuit court's family division.

Parents can agree to settle at any time, and a judge will typically approve their parenting plan as is. Many parents turn to collaborative law or another method of alternative dispute resolution for help reaching a settlement.

If parents cannot agree, the judge will order mediation. If parents are still unable to resolve their differences, the case will continue through the litigation process and ultimately go to trial.

Length of proceedings

The more parents disagree, the longer the process will take.

Parental responsibilities and timesharing cases should resolve within 18 months, unless the court grants additional time.

Cases with little conflict often resolve in about three months. Most cases last six to eight months.

If parents choose to settle, they can do so any time before the 18-month deadline.

Alternative dispute resolution options like mediation and collaborative law can help speed up the timeline.

Costs to expect

The cost of litigating child custody varies, but more complex and contentious cases will be more expensive.

Most lawyers charge by the hour. Depending on location and expertise, rates can range from less than $100 to more than $500 per hour. Parents that go to trial usually pay thousands of dollars in attorney fees.

Some firms offer flat fees for limited services, and certain families may qualify for pro bono (free) legal aid. You can represent yourself (details below) to save money, but it is not recommended.

Depending on your case, you may have to pay specialists like a child custody evaluator, an attorney for the child or a parenting coordinator.

Settling is more affordable than litigating, because it moves faster. The sooner you settle, the more you save.

Representing yourself

Parents often represent themselves in custody cases to save money, but experts strongly advise against it.

If you choose to represent yourself in court, you are called a pro se party.

Pro se parties must follow the same rules and procedures as lawyers. Failing to file the proper paperwork or use appropriate courtroom etiquette could negatively impact your case, so use all the pro se resources at your disposal to prepare thoroughly.

Some law firms in Illinois offer unbundled legal services to help pro se parties with paperwork or provide consultations specific to one issue.

Keep in mind that either parent can request a modification of the final judgment down the road, which would require you to make additional appearances in court and learn new procedures.

Parents must have legal representation if they use collaborative law.

Children in court

While judges ultimately decide how to allocate parental responsibilities and time, they may factor in the child's desires.

Children 14 and older can share their opinions with the judge, as can younger children whom the judge deems sufficiently mature.

The judge will interview the child in chambers with the child's representative present (if applicable). The conversation is documented in writing, but sealed by the court, restricting parents from reading the contents.

Children only testify in the courtroom in rare instances, such as when abuse is alleged.

Your child should not be present in court if they are not testifying. Cook and Lake counties offer waiting rooms for children whose parents are in court.

Mandatory parenting classes

Parents seeking custody must attend a parenting education class that explores how to communicate with children and how to reduce litigation.

You cannot attend class with the other parent. You may be excused from the class if you and the other parent have decided to settle.

Each county has a list of court-approved course providers, and some judges allow you to take the class online. Costs vary by provider, with some providing waivers or adjustments based on income.

The class lasts four to five hours in total.

The court will receive your certificate of completion. Failing to attend may result in sanctions from the court.


Court files, in general, are public records. However, in family law cases, certain documents remain confidential, such as reports from child custody evaluations. These are only accessible to a handful of people, including the parties and their lawyers.

You can request confidentiality for other documents, but courts don't grant these requests easily.

Illinois custody laws

For more details on parental responsibilities and parenting time, see Part VI of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act.

Staying organized

The process of allocating parental responsibilities and parenting time requires serious organization. You may need to create a parenting plan, draft multiple parenting time schedules, track your time with your child, calculate expenses and more.

The Custody X Change app enables you to do all of that in one place.

With a parenting plan template, custody calendars, an expense tracker and more, Custody X Change makes sure you're prepared for whatever arises in your journey to parental responsibilities and parenting time.

Take advantage of our technology to stay on top of all the moving parts of your case.

Bring calm to co‑parenting. Agree on a schedule and plan. Be prepared with everything documented.

Make My Illinois Plan Now

Bring calm to co‑parenting. Agree on a schedule and plan. Be prepared with everything documented.

Make My Plan

Bring calm to co‑parenting. Agree on a schedule and plan. Be prepared with everything documented.

Make My Illinois Plan Now

No thanks, I don't need a parenting plan