In Illinois, more and more people are ending heterosexual marriages and relationships and entering into same-sex relationships. There are also many others who have been in long-term same-sex relationships, without being able to marry and have children together. As this becomes more common and, especially, as same-sex couples are now able to legally marry in Illinois, child custody disputes involving LBGT individuals will become more and more common.
A recent study showed that there appears to be a bias towards LBGT individuals in the court system. The study found, generally, if a person is ending a heterosexual marriage with children and entering into same-sex relationship, that person generally loses custody of the children. The study also indicated that recent research shows that same-sex couples are able to parent just as well as heterosexual parents, and there should not be a bias in the courts. There are also issues when same-sex couples break up because only one partner is the legal parent of an adopted child, leaving the other one without any custody rights.
The laws governing child custody disputes in Illinois do not differ for gay and lesbian individuals. The courts use the same guidelines as if it was a heterosexual couple. How the factors are applied by an individual judge may differ, but the law is the same. These factors include, but are not limited to, the wishes of the child, if old enough; the stability of the respective homes; the child's relationships with others in the homes; mental and physical health of the parents; the child's adjustment to schools and others.
The judge weighs all the relevant factors and determines whether there should be joint or sole custody, where the child should live and when they should see the other parent. The parents also can come to a child custody agreement themselves through mediation or other means.
In Illinois, as more LBGT individuals are involved in child custody disputes, the courts will have to weigh child custody factors regardless of the parent's sexual orientation. There are many legal complexities to child custody determinations and understanding them may be very beneficial for parents.
Source: Drexel NOW, "In child custody disputes, LGBT parents face bias in the courts, new Drexel review finds," April 14, 2014