Parental Responsibility Trials in IL: Go in Prepared

If you are unable to reach an agreement with the other parent, you will ultimately end up in trial.

Because trials are expensive and stressful, most parents opt to settle. Courts encourage this by requiring parties to attend mediation before resorting to trial.

In a trial, both parents have the opportunity to explore evidence and question witnesses in front of a judge before a final judgment is issued.

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Preparing for trial

If you hire an attorney, they will guide you through the preparation process and help you gather evidence. Your job is to provide everything your attorney asks for and be completely honest so they can prepare for arguments the other party may be compiling.

If representing yourself, experts recommend consulting a lawyer to ensure you're ready for court. This is different from hiring a lawyer to represent you; they will just provide advice during a limited number of meetings.

You'll need to present evidence to support your case, which can include exhibits and witnesses. Stay focused on the custody issues you originally filed for, as the judge will rule only on those matters. Review the Illinois Rules of Evidence, and remember that witnesses cannot testify to hearsay (anything they did not directly observe).

Exhibits may consist of:

Make sure the judge knows what you believe is best for your child by bringing a proposed parenting plan and parenting time schedule to trial. As with all documents, bring a copy for the court, one for the other parent and one for yourself.

Witnesses can be anyone with knowledge relevant to the case. Parents almost always testify as witnesses, whereas a child is more likely to do an interview with the judge outside of the courtroom. Children very rarely testify.

Expert witnesses provide professional opinions and are appointed by the court or hired by a party. Examples of expert witnesses are child custody evaluators or forensic psychologists.

Lay witnesses do not offer expert opinions, but instead testify about their personal knowledge of a situation. These witnesses often include family members, friends, teachers, religious leaders, etc.

Both parties seek to learn more about what the other side is preparing through a process called discovery. In discovery, each party can interview the other's witnesses and require the other parent to share personal documents relevant to the case, such as emails or financial statements.


Trials usually take place several months after the initial filing. If the case is not progressing 18 months after filing, the judge may decide to issue a ruling at that time.

Trials expected to be a few hours will often be done in one sitting. Longer trials may be broken up into sessions spread out over days (not always consecutive), weeks or, in some complicated cases, even months.

Be aware that the court may delay your trial date due to requests for more time from the other parent.


Trials take place in a courtroom in front of a judge. Parents sit with their lawyers and interpreter, if applicable. Family, friends and the public sit in the gallery behind them. Witnesses cannot attend until after they have testified.

If your case has a guardian ad litem, a child's representative or an attorney for the child, they will sit in for your child. Do not bring your child to the trial unless ordered to by the judge. Check if your county court has a child care facility on site.

Trials are open to the public, but extraordinary circumstances may require the court to limit access.

The parent who requested parental responsibilities (the petitioner) may give an opening statement to explain how they see the case. The other parent (the respondent) can then follow. If you are represented by an attorney, they will speak on your behalf.

The petitioner calls witnesses and presents exhibits first. Any number of witnesses can be called to testify, as long as they were on the list filed with the court and provided to the other parent. Witnesses swear to tell the truth and answer questions from both parties and the judge.

Next, the respondent calls their witnesses and presents their exhibits.

Later, each side can submit additional evidence (called rebuttal evidence) to disprove the other side's claims.

Finally, both parties give closing arguments to summarize their points.

Frequently, judges announce rulings immediately following closing arguments, but they may take several days or even weeks to decide.

The final judgment replaces any temporary orders previously put in place. Your options for changing a final judgment include appealing to a higher court (if there was an issue with the case) or applying for a modification (if you have a substantial change in circumstances).


  • Prior to your trial, observe other trials with your judge.
  • Invite anyone to sit in the gallery who will give you confidence.
  • Do not bring your child, unless they are testifying.
  • Dress like you're going to a job interview.
  • Arrive early so you can find your courtroom, and keep your calendar open for the day.
  • Don't talk about the case when you're in or near the courthouse.
  • Don't be too friendly with witnesses who are supposed to appear unbiased.
  • Show respect to everyone. Never interrupt, and refer to the judge as "Your Honor."
  • Be honest when you are testifying; you are under oath.
  • Take your time answering questions, but don't ramble.
  • Ask for clarification if you don't understand a question.
  • Admit when you don't know something.
  • Remain respectful even if you are upset by the judge's decision.

Staying organized

Going to trial over parental responsibilities and parenting time requires serious organization.

You'll need to present evidence, which could range from messages with the other parent to a calendar showing when you care for your child. You should also present a proposed parenting plan and schedule to the court.

The Custody X Change app lets you create and manage all of these elements in one place.

With parent-to-parent messaging, personalized parenting time calendars, a parenting plan template and more, Custody X Change makes sure you're prepared not only for trial but for every step of your case.

Take advantage of our technology to get what's best for your child.

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