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Housing Arrangements and Child Custody

Fri 30 Dec, 2022 / by / Divorce

Deciding how to co-parent in the event of a divorce or breakup is challenging. Children need a safe, stable environment, now more than ever, in the midst of their parents moving apart. While parents will present a plan or parenting arrangement to the court of how they propose to co-parent, the court will take several factors about the child and the respective parents’ living situations into consideration before making a final determination. Here is how housing can affect those agreements.

Co-Parenting in Illinois 

In Illinois, there is officially no child custody anymore. Instead, there is what is called a “primary residential parent.” A primary residential parent has the address that the child will use to enroll in school. The partner who is not the primary residential parent cannot enroll his child in the school district where his house is (unless they are both in the same zone of the school district). The home of the primary residential parent is the “home base”–that is, the legal home of the child.

There is a primary residential parent even if the parents each see the child 50% of the time.

In 2016, the Illinois legislature divided parental responsibilities into “parenting time” and “decision-making.” Parenting time is–you guessed it–the time when each parent will be responsible for taking care of the child. Decision-making refers to choices about the child’s religion, education, health, and extracurricular activities. Parents will make decisions during the day-to-day but may need mediation to agree on important issues. Even if someone is the primary residential parent, they typically will still need approval on major, non-emergency decisions.

Proving Suitability to Be the Primary Residential Parent

In amicable situations, the parties will agree to who is the primary residential parent. Other times, the court needs to make that determination. Ultimately, judges consider the facts regarding who is the primary residential parent on a case-by-case basis when making a decision. The children’s best interests are always paramount.

The “best interests of the child” can be a confusing standard because often children have little input into what happens to them. Here, the judge must step into the shoes of the child and make a determination for what he or she thinks would be most advantageous to the child. While they may take the child’s preferences into account, ultimately the judge decides based on what would give the child the best life.

Parents who are requesting to be the primary residential parent may need to present evidence in court about how their living arrangements are suitable for their children. A parent’s housing arrangements in Illinois could affect their chances of being deemed suitable.

Here are some factors that the court will consider.

Number and Size of Rooms 

The court will first consider if the housing accommodations are appropriate for a child’s age and gender. Young children of the same gender may be able to room together; at a certain age, that will no longer be appropriate. A small bedroom may work for a toddler, but may not work for a fifteen-year-old. Many judges expect that teens will need more space and privacy than young children. 


The court will also consider how a living environment (including the surrounding neighborhood) could impact the child’s safety. For instance, if one parent lives in a neighborhood notorious for drug deals, it would not be a first choice for a child. If a judge has concerns about risks to a child’s safety, they may limit overnight visitation or impose other restrictions consistent with promoting safety.

Likelihood of Adjustment 

Courts will also consider the ability of a child to adjust to a new environment. This comes into play if a parent is requesting an arrangement that would require the child to spend time in an unfamiliar home. A judge may consider how a proposed living situation is similar to a child’s current housing accommodations. For instance, if a child is used to living in a suburban area and will move to an urban area, this can be a change that a child may not tolerate well. Different environments are not a dealbreaker, but a judge will take that into consideration.

Seek Legal Guidance Today

An attorney may be able to help a client who is going through a divorce or determining how to split up child visitation. During court hearings, legal counsel could emphasize the positive facts of the client’s situation. For example, an attorney might be able to present evidence that close relatives live nearby and have a positive relationship with the child. Legal counsel could also demonstrate that facts have changed when a parent needs to request a change in child parenting arrangements.