How does a judge determine the "best interests of the child"?


In disputed custody cases, all states use a “best interest of the child” standard to determine which parent will have custodial rights. But what does the “best interest of the child” standard entail? While it is partly subjective and in the end will be up to a judge, there are a few things all courts look at, such as living situation, schools, child/parent relationship, abuse or neglect, safety, and the child’s age.

In Illinois, courts assume it’s in the child’s best interest to have both parents involved. They also assume both parents will consider and cooperate to maintain the child’s mental and physical well-being throughout life. These assumptions can be challenged by lawyers from either party.

These are the most important factors judges look at when determining the best interest of the child:

Living situation

Can the parent provide a safe and comfortable home for the child? Will the parent be home or have the resources to hire childcare? Will the child be able to attend school, be engaged in activities, and generally be happy in the home? These questions are all considered.

Child preference

This is taken into consideration more for older children, but even with young children if there’s a clear preference for one parent that will be taken into account.

History of abuse

History of domestic violence by either parent, even if the violence was toward each other or an outsider and not at all directed toward the child, is a major consideration for the court. Violence or threat of violence against the child is of course another major factor.

Parent’s ability to foster a relationship with the other parent

In most cases, courts in Illinois want the child to have a relationship with both parents, so if one parent shows a willingness to foster the relationship between the child and the other parent, that will be looked on favorably.

The child’s involvement in school and community

Kids need to be social and involved in things like school sports or other programs, or community programs and events. They also need friendships. Parents hoping for custody should show they are actively promoting these things.

Child’s age

Younger children need more supervision and hands-on time with their parents. If one parent works long hours or has an inconsistent schedule, that could be a negative for the judge.


If one parent is staying in the child’s hometown while another is moving across the country, the judge might look on the hometown parent more favorably because it means the child won’t have to change their routine.

If you want to have custody of your child, show the courts you understand these points and have your child’s best interests at heart. Mike Schiffman is also a certified Guardian ad Litem that has  dealt with hundreds of these cases and can help you best make your case. Mike has practiced family law for over 30 years and has a proven record in the courts that will guide the process to a resolution — one that will result in the best possible agreement that provides both quality time with your children, while also doing what’s best for their futures.

Set up a free one-hour consultation with Mike Schiffman today to learn more about how the best interests of the child are determined in Illinois courts and how an experienced attorney can achieve your best outcome.