Who is Eligible to Receive Custody Rights Over a Child in Illinois?
Disputes over child custody and visitation between parents are an unfortunate but common occurrence. Further, when parents separate or divorce, the impact is felt far beyond the core family unit. Relatives and friends often lose valuable and important connections in the aftermath of these decisions, however necessary and well-intentioned. The significance of some of these relationships between a non-parent adult and the child can sometimes be enough to motivate the other adult to explore the possibility of seeking visitation or custody rights if there is a fear that contact will be cut off. However, the law is not especially keen to award parental responsibilities to non-parents, and great pains are taken to limit when exceptions to this policy may apply.
Parents are viewed as the primary and best source to raise a child, and other adults are always considered a last resort. Consequently, non-parent adults are generally unable to receive custody rights over a child, absent extenuating circumstances. A recent example of this policy is evident in the denial of a grandmother's petition for guardianship over her young granddaughter. The child's mother is serving a prison sentence in Bali for murder, but the Court said that even in this situation, the mother's consent to guardianship was necessary. However, Courts are permitted to make exceptions for certain parties seeking custody under specific circumstances.
Who May Petition
As stated above, parents are usually the only parties with the right to request allocation of parental responsibilities from a Court. Illinois expands this right to petition for decision-making authority or custody to the following parties if certain conditions are met:
- Other adults who live in same county as the child;
- Step-parents; and
Circumstances That Must Exist
The only time any adult, relative or not, can petition for custody or visitation is if the adult lives in the same county as the child and the child is not currently in the physical custody of either parent. This provision is meant to cover relatives and other adults who took over childcare responsibilities from the parents, and need legal authority to fully provide for the child. Such an exception would come into play only rarely.
Step-parents, on the other hand, especially those in a child's life from a young age, are more apt to want some rights over a child they may have invested years in raising. Despite this closer connection, a step-parent's ability to ask for custody is very limited, but allowed in two instances. The first exception applies if all of the following conditions are present:
- The parent holding the majority of the parenting time must be deceased or disabled and unable to care for the child;
- The step-parent provided for the child before proceedings to allocate parental responsibilities began;
- The child wants to live with the step-parent; and
- The child's best interests indicate living with the step-parent is the correct choice.
In addition, step-parents, as well as grandparents, may petition for parental responsibilities if they are related to a deceased parent, and the surviving parent:
- Has not lived in the family home for over one month, and the deceased spouse did not know his or her location;
- Is in the custody of state or federal authorities; or
- Was convicted of an offense related to the sexual assault of the deceased parent or child, harming or abandoning the child, or violating an order of protection issued for the deceased parent and child.
Essentially, non-parent adults can only hope to gain rights if the natural parents are wholly unavailable to care for the child. In the absence of this situation, the non-parent adult's role in the child's life is dictated by the choices of the parents. A Court will only override a parent's decision in this area for closely-related family members who want visitation only.
Contact a Family Law Attorney
If you have concerns about the custody arrangements for a child in your life, and want to know if you have any right to intervene, talk to a family law attorney about your possible legal rights. The law is fairly rigid on who can ask for legal authority, and this complicated situation is best handled by an experienced family law attorney.
The Law Office of Nicholas W. Richardson, P.C. has extensive experience with child-related disputes. Contact the office for a free consultation, and learn how skilled Arlington Heights family law attorney Nicholas Richardson can help you.