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Grandparents' Roles and Rights

Posted by attorney Michael Craven

It used to be commonplace for multi-generational families to live together with all adults having a hands-on role in the rearing of children. In those idyllic days grandparents played a special, part-time role. Nowadays many grandparents have more involved roles and it's usually because of a sad story that left no other choice.

According to AARP, 31% of adults are grandparents. 8% of those grandparents are regularly providing day care and 3% are raising a grandchild. It is rarely ideal for a grandparent to be the primary caregiver. However, it is a situation that is on the rise and it is affecting people of all races and socioeconomic status.

When a grandparent takes on this huge responsibility, it has a life altering affect. As a result, more and more programs are being set up to assist grandparents. The government has a website dedicated to helping grandparents, and AARP provides a website on grandparenting as well.

Author Alex Haley said "Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children." As a society we want to strive to make sure grandparents have a healthy relationship with their grandchildren, whether it's in a traditional or expanded role.

Grandparent's rights vary from state to state. In Illinois the law attempts to balance the traditional deference to a parent's right to make decisions regarding their children with the reality that in many family settings grandparents are taking on a more active role in rearing grandchild, often out of necessity.

While most relationships between grandparents and grandchildren are loving and supported by the parents, there are cases where a parent objects to a relationship between their child and a grandparent. If this happens, there are legal options a grandparent can take to get visitation with their grandchild. Visitation can mean time alone with grandchildren without the child's parent present. It can be for a few hours, or even overnight.

In Illinois a grandparent, great-grand-parent, or sibling, may request visitation with a minor child if a parent unreasonably denies visitation and at least one of the following exists:

  • The child's other parent is dead or missing for at least 3 months
  • One of the child's parents is incompetent;
  • A parent has been in jail for the 3 months before making the request for visitation
  • The child's parents are divorced, legally separated or in the process of getting divorced and at least one parent does not object to the visitation
  • The child was born out of wedlock, the child's parents are not living together, and the requesting grandparent, great-grandparent or sibling is from the child's maternal side; or
  • The child was born out of wedlock, the child's parents are not living together and the requesting grandparent, great-grandparent or sibling is from the child's paternal side and paternity has been established by a court.

When a grandparent requests visitation, the court will presume that the parent's decision to deny or limit visitation is proper. This forces the grandparent to prove to the judge that the parent's denial of visitation is harmful to the child's mental, emotional, or physical health. If you feel you are wrongfully denied access to your grandchild, contact a Family Law attorney to learn more about your options.

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