It’s not uncommon for grandparents in Chicago, Illinois, to play a substantial role in the upbringing of their grandchildren. According to the Illinois Department on Aging, more than 200,000 minor children live in Illinois homes headed by grandparents. Sadly, when parents separate or a family goes through other forms of upheaval, some grandparents may lose the close relationships they previously enjoyed with their grandchildren.

If a parent directly prevents a grandparent from spending time with a grandchild, the grandparent may have legal recourse. Illinois law recognizes grandparents’ rights to visitation. However, these rights are not automatically granted. Grandparents must demonstrate that visitation is in the best interests of the child, and the family situation must meet certain qualifying criteria.

Eligibility for visitation

 First, grandparents must prove a parent has unreasonably denied their rights to visitation. Illinois courts presume that the parent is fit to make decisions regarding the child’s upbringing and visitation with other family members, including grandparents, great-grandparents and even siblings. If allowing visitation would have an adverse impact on the child’s activities or parent’s schedule, a parent’s denial may not be viewed as unreasonable.

Grandparents must also show that the family situation meets qualifying criteria. Grandparents may seek visitation rights if the child’s parents are divorced, legally separated, or living apart while raising a child born out of wedlock. Grandparents may also petition for visitation if one parent is dead, missing, incompetent or incarcerated for over three months. Legally, grandparents’ visitation rights cannot be granted until the child in question is over one year old.

Child’s best interests

If these criteria are met, the court must still determine whether visitation is in the child’s best interests. Judges may evaluate various factors to determine whether to grant visitation, including:

  • The previous relationship between the grandchild and grandparent.
  • The preference of the child, assuming the child is mature enough to make the decision.
  • The good faith of both the parent denying visitation and the grandparent filing the request.
  • The mental and physical health of the grandchild and grandparent.
  • The amount of visitation time requested.

Judges also consider the grandparent’s role in raising or caring for the child. If a grandparent was the primary caretaker or resided with a grandchild for more than 6 months, this contribution is weighed. Similarly, judges take note if the grandparent consistently or frequently visited the child during a period of at least 12 months.

Although Illinois law recognizes grandparents’ rights, it treats them primarily as a privilege that should interfere minimally with parents’ rights. Due to the law’s assumption that parental decisions are in the child’s best interests, it is often necessary for grandparents to seek legal representation when pursuing their rights to visitation.