In many divorces, the most contentious issue is the ultimate parenting schedule. If parents are able to agree to a schedule – either between themselves, through attorneys, or through a mediator – then the assignment of parenting time can be a relatively straightforward process. However, if parents are unable able to agree, then going to court will become necessary, and a judge might ultimately have to make the final decision regarding your children’s “best interests.”

In order to determine your children’s “best interests,” a judge will look at several different factors that are all stated as part of Illinois law. Some of these factors may include your child’s preferences, in addition to the child’s relationship with each parent, the ability of one parent to facilitate the child’s relationship with the other parent, and each parent’s historical involvement with their child, amongst several others.

In Illinois, although your child’s preferences are a factor, a judge has to consider, the judge has discretion regarding how much weight to give your child’s preferences. There is not a magic age when a judge will automatically follow the child’s preferences when making a decision regarding a parenting schedule. Rather, a judge will evaluate a child’s preferences on a case-by-case basis.

In my experience, typically a child’s opinion does not start to have significant weight until a child turns 13, and that weight gradually increases as they enter high school and move closer to 18 years old. Even then, the judge will make sure that the child is determining their preferences based on sound reasoning.

For example, if a 13-year-old were to say that they want to spend more time with their father because that is where their favorite video games are and their father lets them stay up late at night, the judge would not give a lot of deference to that preference. If a child instead reasoned that they wanted to stay with their father more because they always go to school on time, always eat nutritious meals, and their dad helps them with their homework – those preferences would carry a lot of weight for the judge.

When analyzing a child’s preferences, the judge will also make sure that a child has not been influenced by their parents through coaching, wherein a parent influences a child regarding what they should say during the court’s involvement. Judges and other professionals are trained to make sure that the children are not being manipulated by one parent.

It is rare that a child would speak directly to a judge, and even more unusual for them to testify in court regarding a parenting schedule due to the negative impact exposure to the court system can cause. Often, a judge will appoint a guardian ad litem or child’s representative, who is an attorney who will advocate for the child’s best interests. These professionals are able to communicate to the judge what the child’s preferences are and what the reasons are for those preferences.


Marcus Dominguez, Associate

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