Do Grandparents Have a Legal Right to Visitation with Their Grandchildren in Illinois?

Little can strike more fear into a grandparent’s heart than to learn the parents of their grandchildren are divorcing, leaving the grandparents to worry about how and if they’ll be allowed to have time with their grandchildren going forward. That’s especially true if it’s not the grandparent’s own child who will have parenting time rights (formerly known as child custody).

In Illinois, unlike some states, grandparents have the right to request visitation with their grandchild, but the law doesn’t guarantee their request will be approved. While the court will consider the grandparents’ wishes, their primary concern is what’s in the grandchild’s best interests.

How Do the Courts Determine What’s in the Grandchild’s Best Interests?

The child’s best interests when determining which parent (or both) will have parenting time with the child and whether the grandparents will be granted visitation rights. When determining if the grandparents should have visitation, the courts will look at the following when considering if it’s suitable for the grandchild.

  • The reasons the grandparents want visitation rights
  • The type of relationship that exists between the grandparents and the grandchild
  • If one or both of the parents don’t want the grandparents involved, the court will want to know why
  • The child’s overall physical and emotional well-being

Is There Anything Grandparents Can Do to Improve Their Chances of Being Granted Visitation?

There are several things grandparents can do. The best first step is to schedule time with an experienced grandparents’ rights and family law attorney who can review their situation and advise them on the next steps.

Among the other actions grandparents can take:

Demonstrate the bond that already exists between the grandparents and the grandchildren. That may come in the form of filling out a calendar that shows the amount of time the grandparents and grandchildren spent together in the past, including the activities at each visit (trips to the park, story times, etc.).

If the parents have objections to the grandparents having visitation, learn what the causes are and find ways to resolve them. For example, suppose the concern is that the grandparents are too elderly to care for active young children. In that case, it might help to provide a doctor’s letter testifying to the grandparents’ health or agree to visit with at least one of the parents on hand to assist.

Note that if the parents can prove that the child’s relationship with the grandparents is fraught or abusive in any way, the courts may not agree that grandparent visitation is a good idea.

Conversely, suppose the grandparents previously had a strong, positive relationship with the grandchild, and one or both parents abruptly cut the relationship off. In that case, the grandparents may be able to prove that the grandchild is negatively affected by no longer having the grandparent relationship. Again, working with an experienced attorney is vital in these cases to help frame the issue in terms of the child’s best interests.

What Steps Should We Take to Pursue Visitation Rights with Our Grandchildren?

The first step is to try to work something out with the parents. The courts prefer to see these matters handled among family members if at all possible. Grandparents who make a good-faith effort to resolve the issue without going to court may appear positive and proactive to the court.

One tactic to consider if the parents and grandparents have reached a stalemate is to work with a mediator. A mediator is a neutral third party who can’t issue legal orders but who can work with both sides to come up with compromises in a collaborative fashion. Usually, the parties at odds with each other are in separate rooms, and the mediator goes back and forth between them. The mediator’s job is to listen carefully and thoughtfully to both sides, then try to help each side understand the other’s point of view and potentially suggest solutions neither side may have thought of.

While any outcomes are not legally binding, they could be presented to the court as something both sides agree on, possibly shortening the time in court before the agreement is accepted and finalized.

If mediation doesn’t work and the case is likely to go to court, the grandparents should engage an experienced family law attorney if they haven’t already. Given that grandparent visitation isn’t an established right, they’ll want to build as strong a case as possible that being involved in their grandchild’s life is in the child’s best interests.

As difficult as it may be, remaining calm when working with the parents is also important. Losing your temper could lead to saying things that, once out of the heat of the moment, you don’t mean. But those words could be used against you in a court case. Anytime a discussion with the parents turns heated, it’s time to take a break.

What Should I Do if I Need Help with Grandparent Visitation Rights in Illinois?

Call the Law Offices of Robert Buchanan at 312-757-4833 for a no-obligation case evaluation. We understand how vital it is for grandparents to be part of their grandchildren’s lives–vital for both the grandparent and the grandchild. You’ll work with our team of experienced, knowledgeable family law attorneys to determine the best approach for your case and what the likely outcomes will be. We know how stressful this is for you, and we’ll provide compassionate, focused legal services for you.