Can I leave my child alone in Illinois?

Russell Knight

Russell D. Knight has been practicing family law as a Chicago divorce lawyer since 2006. Russell D. Knight amicably resolves tough cases while remaining a strong advocate for his client’s interests.

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How Long Can You Leave a Child Unattended In Illinois?

Can I leave my child alone in Illinois?

In today’s society, children are not left alone.  Kids just aren’t trusted to be on their own. The concern is rarely the children themselves but outside threats, perceived or real.

Still, it is impractical to think that a parent will never ever leave their child alone.  Sometimes a parent has to go to the store, jog around the block, or talk to a neighbor outside.  The wisdom of each absence of a parent from a child is always debatable…until something happens to the child.

A child getting hurt, lost or sick because they weren’t supervised is a problem. But, if the child’s other parent is no longer partners with the parent who wasn’t watching the now hurt child finds out….it’s going to be a massive problem.

Every parent should know exactly what the law or the standard is regarding leaving a child home alone in Illinois.

Is Leaving A Chiild Unattended A Crime In Illinois?

In Illinois, leaving a child alone is a crime under some circumstances. It’s called “Child Abandonment”

“A person commits child abandonment when he or she, as a parent, guardian, or other person having physical custody or control of a child, without regard for the mental or physical health, safety, or welfare of that child, knowingly leaves that child who is under the age of 13 without supervision by a responsible person over the age of 14 for a period of 24 hours or more.” 720 ILCS 5/12C-10(a)

So, the short answer is “don’t leave a child ages 0 to 12 home alone.”

And if you have a babysitter, In Illinois, the babysitter cannot be 13 years old.  The babysitter must be 14 per the statute. 

“Child abandonment is a Class 4 felony. A second or subsequent offense after a prior conviction is a Class 3 felony.” 720 ILCS 5/12C-10(c)

For Class 4 Felonies, “The sentence of imprisonment shall be a determinate sentence of not less than one year and not more than 3 years.” 730 ILCS 5/5-4.5-45

For Class 3 Felonies, “The sentence of imprisonment shall be a determinate sentence of not less than 2 years and not more than 5 years.” 730 ILCS 5/5-4.5-40

Illinois criminal courts are not throwing parents in prison for years for abandoning their children for a few moments (or even days).  Parents automatically get probation. 

“A person commits endangering the life or health of a child when he or she knowingly: (1) causes or permits the life or health of a child under the age of 18 to be endangered; or (2) causes or permits a child to be placed in circumstances that endanger the child’s life or health.” 720 ILCS 5/12C-5

“Whenever a parent of a child as determined by the court on the facts before it, pleads guilty to or is found guilty of, with respect to his or her child, child abandonment under Section 12C-10 of this Article or endangering the life or health of a child under Section 12C-5 of this Article, the court may, without entering a judgment of guilt and with the consent of the person, defer further proceedings and place the person upon probation upon the reasonable terms and conditions as the court may require. At least one term of the probation shall require the person to cooperate with the Department of Children and Family Services at the times and in the programs that the Department of Children and Family Services may require” 720 ILCS 5/12C-15(a)

If probation ends successfully, there will be no conviction for child abandonment in Illinois.

“Upon fulfillment of the terms and conditions imposed under subsection (a), the court shall discharge the person and dismiss the proceedings. Discharge and dismissal under this Section shall be without court adjudication of guilt and shall not be considered a conviction” 720 ILCS 5/12C-15(b)

But don’t push your luck. Probation without conviction can only happen once.

“Discharge and dismissal under this Section may occur only once.” 720 ILCS 5/12C-15(b)

Child abandonment is not easy to prove in Illinois, however.  There are 15 extremely broad exceptions. 

“For the purposes of determining whether the child was left without regard for the mental or physical health, safety, or welfare of that child, the trier of fact shall consider the following factors:

(1) the age of the child;

(2) the number of children left at the location;

(3) special needs of the child, including whether the child is a person with a physical or mental disability, or otherwise in need of ongoing prescribed medical treatment such as periodic doses of insulin or other medications;

(4) the duration of time in which the child was left without supervision;

(5) the condition and location of the place where the child was left without supervision;

(6) the time of day or night when the child was left without supervision;

(7) the weather conditions, including whether the child was left in a location with adequate protection from the natural elements such as adequate heat or light;

(8) the location of the parent, guardian, or other person having physical custody or control of the child at the time the child was left without supervision, the physical distance the child was from the parent, guardian, or other person having physical custody or control of the child at the time the child was without supervision;

(9) whether the child’s movement was restricted, or the child was otherwise locked within a room or other structure;

(10) whether the child was given a phone number of a person or location to call in the event of an emergency and whether the child was capable of making an emergency call;

(11) whether there was food and other provision left for the child;

(12) whether any of the conduct is attributable to economic hardship or illness and the parent, guardian or other person having physical custody or control of the child made a good faith effort to provide for the health and safety of the child;

(13) the age and physical and mental capabilities of the person or persons who provided supervision for the child;

(14) any other factor that would endanger the health or safety of that particular child;

(15) whether the child was left under the supervision of another person.” 720 ILCS 5/12C-10(b)

All of the above points will get almost any prepared parent out of a child abandonment charge much less a pseudo-conviction as provided by the statute.  Still yet, it’s easier to just avoid the possibility of criminal charges by not leaving your child unattended.

There is a lesser misdemeanor charge called “Endangering the life or health of a child” without all of the defenses that the crime of  child abandonment provides.

“A person commits endangering the life or health of a child when he or she knowingly: (1) causes or permits the life or health of a child under the age of 18 to be endangered; or (2) causes or permits a child to be placed in circumstances that endanger the child’s life or health.” 720 ILCS 5/12C-5(a)

This is very vague.  Leaving a child who is 17 alone for 10 minutes might qualify as “child endangerment. It will be up to the parties to argue their case in front of a criminal judge in order to determine guilt.

There is one part of the misdemeanor of child endangerment that is not vague: leaving a child in a car. Don’t ever leave a child alone in a car in Illinois.  It will lead to an arrest and a subsequent investigation of your house for further child endangerment. 

“A trier of fact may infer that a child 6 years of age or younger is unattended if that child is left in a motor vehicle for more than 10 minutes.
    (c) “Unattended” means either: (i) not accompanied by a person 14 years of age or older; or (ii) if accompanied by a person 14 years of age or older, out of sight of that person.”
720 ILCS 5/12C-5(b)

Endangering the life or health of a child is a Class A misdemeanor in Illinois.  A Class A Misdemeanor shall have a “sentence of imprisonment…of less than one year”730 ILCS 5/5-4.5-55(a)

For parents, the same probation without conviction penalties are available for the misdemeanor as are available for the felony.

“A parent, who is found to be in violation of this Section with respect to his or her child, may be sentenced to probation for this offense pursuant to Section 12C-15.” 720 ILCS 5/12C-5(d)

How Long Can You Leave Your Child Alone If You are Divorce Or Separated?

Illinois law has one set of rules for leaving children alone but your child’s other parent may have another set of rules.

Typically, the rules of how two parents who are no longer together raise their child are set by an Allocation Of Parental Responsibilities and Parenting Time.  This document is an agreement and/or order governing issues like how long children can be left alone.

I, personally, do not include a clause that says “the children shall not be left unaccompanied” because I think it is an opportunity for mischief.  How do you define “unaccompanied?” In this age of cameras and cell-phones, it is impossible. 

Instead, I include a clause in my Allocations that refers to the parent leaving the child for a certain amount of time. This is what actually determines how long you can leave a child at home. That clause usually reads as follows:

“If either parent is unable to be present during their parenting time for a period longer than 8 hours, they shall offer the other parent the option to exercise the right of first refusal to care for the children in their absence.”

This clause usually refers to the Right of First Refusal which strongly implies that the parent not able to be present has given the children to someone else to supervise. Leaving a child alone is not technically, according to the Illinois Statute, a Right of First Refusal…but it’s close.

[R]ight of first refusal” means that if a party intends to leave the minor child or children with a substitute child-care provider for a significant period of time, that party must first offer the other party an opportunity to personally care for the minor child or children.” 750 ILCS 5/602.3

While I initially wrote that children are not left alone, things are changing. With internet cameras, cell phones, and smart watches, the concept of leaving a child “alone” needs to be re-evaluated. If need be, include a clause in your Allocation that reflects this new technology. The better idea is to realize that the pseudo-responsible age of 10-13 is fleeting and to just buy your child a phone which both parents can track.

It only takes one parent to enforce the Illinois criminal law or the parties’ Allocation of Parenting Time and Parental Responsibilities.  So, If you’re dealing with that parent and trying to manage a hectic life while parenting your children, feel free to contact my Chicago, Illinois family law firm to talk to an experienced Chicago divorce attorney.