Do Illinois Courts Favor Mothers Over Fathers in Child Custody Matters?

The short answer to this question is that Illinois courts do not favor mothers over fathers in custody determinations.  It’s helpful to understand how Illinois courts have evolved in making custody determinations, and which factors are the most relevant today.

Historical Biases Favoring Women

One of the most difficult aspects of a divorce is determining which parent will receive primary physical custody of the children.  Often both parents will want primary custody, which is not always possible.

Illinois courts, like most other courts in the United States, long had a built-in presumption that children were best served by awarding primary custody to mothers.  This bias resulted from two beliefs:

  • Mothers were long considered the better “nurturers” for children
  • Fathers historically were in a better position to provide for the children through work.

This ability of fathers was not necessarily that men are smarter or capable of more demanding jobs than women, rather that men tended to be more educated (in part because of the built-in biases against women in higher education in earlier times), as well as the very real “glass ceiling” that women experienced.

It was not that long ago that many women were only thought capable for holding “women’s” jobs – such as teachers, secretaries, and nurses.  Companies often were reluctant to promote women to advanced positions, as any companies viewed these women as taking a man’s job, who needed to support his family.

Women and Men Are Now on More Equal Footing for Custody Matters

Today, women are on more equal footing with men in the workforce.  Both genders are equally capable of high-paying careers.  As a result, the economic factors that favored women in the past have largely disappeared.

Today, Illinois law mandates that the best interests of the children be considered.  There is no automatic favoring of the mother.  Illinois courts use what is referred to as the “Best Interest Test,” which sets forth 10 key factors to be evaluated when considering which parent should be award primary physical custody.  These factors are described here.

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