How an Illinois grandparent gets visitation rights with a grandchild

An Illinois grandparent has the right to file a petition for grandchild visitation in particular circumstances.

Because May is Older Americans Month, it seems appropriate to look at the importance of grandparents in the lives of grandchildren. A grandparent can teach a grandchild about a healthy relationship, make a grandchild feel safe, create meaningful emotional bonds, involve the grandchild in the family's cultural inheritance and provide companionship, according to the Attached Family magazine in a recent literature review.

Of course, many grandparents spend time providing direct care for their grandchildren, sometimes regularly or over long periods of time, providing even more chances to build these unique, important relationships. It is easy to imagine that the interruption of a healthy grandparent-grandchild relationship would cause the parties distress.

In Illinois, the law gives a grandparent (or great-grandparent or sibling) the right to petition the court for court-ordered visitation of or electronic-communication with a grandchild who is at least one year old in certain circumstances. Grandparent visitation may be with or without overnight visits or visits in the grandparent's home.

A grandparent may request grandchild visitation if there is an "unreasonable denial of visitation" by one of the parents and one of these things are true:

  • The other parent is deceased or has been reported missing for at least three months.
  • One parent is legally incompetent.
  • One parent has been in jail for the past three months.
  • The parents are divorced or legally separated or there is a court proceeding in which custody or visitation is at issue and one parent is open to grandparent visitation, so long as the grandparent visitation does not lessen the time the parent unrelated to the grandparent has with the child.
  • The petitioner is a maternal grandparent, the child was born outside marriage and the parents do not live together.
  • The petitioner is a paternal grandparent, the child was born outside marriage, the parents do not live together and paternity has been determined in court.

The law says that there is a rebuttable presumption that a "fit parent's actions" denying visitation to the grandparent is "not harmful to the child's mental, physical, or emotional health," and the grandparent has the burden in court of showing that the denial of visitation is harmful to the child.

In making this decision, the court must look any relevant fact and at several specific factors:

  • The child's preference if he or she is mature enough to say
  • The child's mental and physical health
  • The grandparent's mental and physical health
  • The "length and quality" of the child-grandparent relationship
  • The "good faith" of all adult parties
  • The quantity of time with the grandchild requested and whether it would interfere with the child's schedule.
  • Whether the child lived with the grandparent for at least six straight months
  • Whether the grandparent had regular grandchild contact for at least 12 straight months

Grandparent visitation petitions are very fact specific and Illinois courts must carefully examine each individual family situation. For example, in one recent decision, the state appeals court upheld a trial court decision that had granted maternal grandparents the right to visit with young grandchildren after the grandparents had cared for them for 18 months after a car accident had killed the mother and temporarily disabled the father, noting sufficient evidence supported a finding that the father's denial of grandparent visitation was unreasonable.

Any Illinois grandparent with questions about visitation rights should seek the advice and representation of an experienced family lawyer. From offices in Rockford, the attorneys at The Law Office of Bradley R. Tengler, Inc., represent clients in grandparent visitation and other family law matters.

Keywords: Illinois, visitation, grandparent, grandchild, child, parent, court, petition, unreasonable denial