Grandparent Visitation

Grandparents in Illinois are not automatically granted visitation rights with their grandchildren. However, they can petition the court for visitation. To secure visiting rights with a grandchild, grandparents must present a compelling case to the court showing that visitation is in the best interests of the child.

Do grandparents’ relationships with grandchildren have any protection under the law?

Many grandparents form strong, meaningful bonds with their grandchildren, similar to those they share with their own children. Under the law, however, the inherent value of maintaining a connection between a child and his or her grandparents is not compelling enough to warrant legal protection. When a child’s parents divorce, grandparents may find an ex-spouse restricting their access to their grandchild. In some cases, even their own children may prohibit visitation.

What is the law on grandparents’ visitation rights?

There is no federal law on grandparents’ rights. Each state enacts its own laws governing grandparent visitation. The guiding principle is the fundamental right of parents to raise their children as they see fit without interference from the government or third parties unless the child is being harmed. There is a rebuttable presumption that parents are acting in the child’s best interests by prohibiting visits with grandparents. However, Illinois law gives grandparents the right to petition the court for visitation with a grandchild at 750 ILCS 5/602.9.

When can a grandparent petition the court for visitation with a grandchild?

If the child is at least one year old, a grandparent can file a petition with the court requesting visitation in a separate action or as part of a pending divorce or any legal action that involves the allocation of parental responsibilities (custody). For the court to grant visitation, one of the following circumstances must exist:

  • One of the child’s parents is deceased or has been absent for 90 days or longer.
  • One of the child’s parents has been confirmed as legally incompetent or unfit to care for the child.
  • One of the child’s parents has been in jail or prison for 90 days or longer.
  • The child’s parents are divorced or legally separated and at least one parent does not object to visitation with the grandparent.
  • The child’s parents are not married and do not live together.

What must grandparents prove to gain visitation rights in Chicago or the Chicagoland area?

A grandparent seeking visitation with a grandchild must prove to the court that spending time with the grandparent is in the best interest of the child. The burden of proof is on the grandparent to show that the parent’s denial of visitation is unreasonable and absence of a relationship with the grandparent negatively affects the child’s quality of life. Many factors may affect the burden of proof, including:

  • Length and quality of prior grandparent-grandchild relationship
  • Preference of the child, if old enough to state a reasoned opinion
  • Whether the child lived with the grandparent for at least six months, with or without a parent
  • Whether the grandparent acted as the primary caretaker to the child for a minimum of six months
  • Whether the grandparent had regular visitation with the child previously for at least six months
  • Reasons of the grandparent for filing the petition
  • Reasons of the parents for denying visitation
  • Any factor showing that loss of the relationship with the grandparent would harm the mental, emotional, or physical health of the child.

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