Every state treats grandparent visitation differently. In Illinois, grandparents do not have an automatic right to visit their grandchildren when their grandchild’s parents are divorced or separated. In fact, the bar for a grandparent to seek and get visitation is quite high. Only grandparents in particular circumstances may even ask the court for visitation denied by a parent. Even if a grandparent meets the criteria to request visitation, a judge will only override the decision of a fit parent to withhold visitation when the grandparent can demonstrate that the parent’s actions actually harm the child.
Get educated about Illinois laws on grandparent visitation
Grandparent visitation laws in Illinois changed several times at the turn of the century. Until the year 2004, Illinois law found that grandparents had a right to visitation in certain circumstances. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that law unconstitutional and a new statute was written, becoming effective on the first of January, 2005. The law was further revised in 2007, again to address remaining constitutional concerns, and resulted in the current law that permits only certain grandparents to seek visitation under very limited circumstances.
Who can seek grandparent visitation and what factors does the court consider in granting grandparent visitation?
If you feel that you have been unreasonably denied visitation with your grandchild, first determine if you can seek help from the family court. For divorce laws to apply, there must be a pending divorce case or other case involving parental rights and responsibilities. The next hurdle is whether you are the type of grandparent that can even ask a court for visitation with your grandchild. The law only allows grandparents to apply for visitation in the following circumstances:
- The child’s other parent is dead or absent;
- One of the child’s parents is incompetent;
- One of the child’s parents is in jail;
- The child’s married parents are separated and at least one of them does not object to grandparent visitation; or
- Certain circumstances when the child’s parents were never married.
If the facts of your case fit one of these categories, the court will then look at a number of factors to decide if the parent’s decision to withhold visitation from you is harmful to your grandchild. Those factors include the wishes of the child, the mental and physical health of the child and grandparents, and the intentions of the parties in seek or withholding visitation.
Judges may have to balance the wishes of the parents and grandparents as they make their decisions. If the child is old enough, the judge may interview the child to find out what they want.
Additional factor that the judges must consider are the length and strength of the child-grandparent relationship. The law further defines the importance of that bond by looking at whether the child lived with the grandparent, had regular contact with the grandparent, or if the grandparent was the child’s primary caregiver.
Reaching a grandparent visitation agreement through mediation
A court hearing where a child has to testify about their feelings can be very traumatic and may not be the best option for determining grandparent visitation. To limit the emotional impact on the child, family members might prefer – or the court might order – that the parents and grandparents discuss the issues and attempt to reach a resolution through mediation. The experienced attorneys of Beattie Freeman Onorato Family Law Group will discuss all of your options with you and help you reach a decision that best serves you and your family.