The Rights of Grandparents After Divorce
Children of divorced parents must deal with losing the stability of a two-parent home, potentially moving away from friends and family, and adjusting to living in multiple households. Losing friends and family is often the most difficult part of the divorce process. One family member that would be particularly hard to lose is a grandparent.
Grandparents commonly play a large role in a child's life, and have a large impact on a child's development. In fact, some grandparents find themselves raising their grandchildren. More commonly, though, is the grandparent trying to stay in the good graces of both parents in hopes of avoiding a reduction or termination of contact with his/her grandchild.
Parents may choose to cut ties with an ex-spouse's family, particularly if there are issues of domestic abuse or protracted, high-conflict custody disputes. However, the end result is the grandparent and child losing this relationship. Legally, parents are given broad latitude in deciding who is permitted to see their children, and this authority extends to grandparents. Thus, if a parent decides to block communication between a grandparent and grandchild, there is typically little the grandparent can do. However, many states, Illinois included, are starting to recognize the value a grandparent brings to a child by passing laws that grant grandparents some visitation rights following a divorce.
When a Grandparent is Permitted to Request Visitation
A grandparent who is unreasonably denied contact with a grandchild may file a petition asking for visitation, if this lack of contact is causing the child harm and one of the following conditions is met:
- A parent is deceased or missing for at least 90 days;
- A parent is legally incompetent;
- A parent was in jail or prison for at least 90 days before the petition was filed;
- There is a pending Court case involving child custody, and at least one parent does not oppose visitation; or
- For maternal grandparents, the child was born out of wedlock and the parents are not living together. Paternal grandparents may only petition in this situation if paternity is established.
Factors Affecting the Court's Decision
When Courts consider these requests, they start from the position that the parent's decision to deny contact between the grandparent and child is not harmful, and the responsibility to prove otherwise rests with the grandparent asking for visitation. To assist the Court with assessing whether this situation does in fact hurt the child, the law prescribes a number of factors judges must weigh. Factors include the following:
- The wishes of the child in light of age and maturity;
- The child's mental and physical health;
- The grandparent's mental and physical health;
- How close the child and grandparent were before contact was denied;
- How much time the grandparent is requesting and any potential adverse effects on the child's daily life;
- If the grandparent's request is made in good faith; and
- If the parent's denial of contact was made in good faith.
Note that if visitation is granted, the visitation does not necessarily need to include overnight stays or allow the grandparent to take custody of the child to be reasonable. While this law skews toward a more restrictive view of visitation rights for grandparents, the law does open up legal protection that was previously unavailable.
Hire an Illinois Family Law Attorney
Children need as much support as possible during a divorce, and a grandparent is certainly a source of stability to help a child cope with all the changes. If you are being blocked from seeing your grandchildren, speak with a compassionate Palatine family law attorney about your right to visitation. The Law Office of Nicholas W. Richardson understands all of the competing interests driving family law matters, and will work to obtain your goals. If you live in northwest Chicagoland, contact the office today for a free consultation.