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Illinois Child Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents

Child custody matters arising from a dissolving marriage relationship are often straightforward and established by statutes and case law in each state. However, when the parents of a child are unmarried, custody can become a more complicated matter if the relationship ends. In contrast to their married counterparts, an unwed father is not automatically presumed to be the child's biological father. However, upon establishing parentage, certain parental rights are granted to the parent. Simultaneously, other legal obligations to the child arise. This article reviews the methods for unmarried persons to establish parentage in Illinois and explains how this determination may affect their visitation and custodial rights.

Establishing Parentage in Illinois

Parentage (also known as "paternity") is the recognized legal relationship between a parent and a child. In Illinois, parentage can be established outside of a marriage relationship by:

Once parentage is established under Illinois law, either parent may be required to begin paying child support. However, creation of a parentage relationship with a VAP or Administrative Paternity Order will not necessarily guarantee custody or visitation. All custody and visitation issues, known respectively by the terms "parental responsibility" and "parenting time" in Illinois, are determined by the courts.

Illinois Child Custody for Unmarried Parents Laws at a Glance

There's value to reading the literal language in a statute, but it's helpful to also see the statute in plain English. The chart below provides you with a helpful overview of child custody laws for unmarried parents in Illinois.


Illinois Statutes Chapter 750, Section 46/802 (Illinois Parentage Act of 2015, Judgment)

Allocating Custody During Judgment of Parentage

When a court issues an order adjudicating whether a person is the parent of a child, that judgment will usually contain child support provisions. It may also contain directives regarding:

  • the allocation of parental responsibilities or guardianship of the child;
  • parenting time privileges with the child; and
  • furnishing a bond or security for payment of any judgment owed.

In determining the how parental responsibilities will be allocated, courts look to the "best interests" of the child and consider many factors which could affect the child's mental, physical, developmental, and emotional well-being.

Judgments Not Including Allocation of Parental Responsibility

If the court's judgment on parentage does not explicitly allocate parental responsibilities, establishing a child support obligation or allocation of parenting time to one parent will be construed to mean all parental responsibilities are given to the other parent. If the judgment is silent on child support, parenting time, and parental responsibility:

  • all parental responsibilities are presumed given to the mother; unless
  • the child has resided primarily with the other parent for at least 6 months before the date the mother sought to enforce a judgment of parentage.

Related Statute(s)

Illinois Statutes Chapter 750:

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Illinois Child Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents: Related Resources

Get Legal Help with Your Child Custody Issue in Illinois

Establishing parentage is the first step in determining a person's legal rights and obligations toward his or her child. Whether you're trying to establish paternity or think you don't owe any parental obligations to a child, it's a good idea to get in touch with a skilled child custody attorney in Illinois who will be well-versed in the state's child custody and parental responsibility laws and how they apply to your situation.

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