On August 13, 2001, the Illinois Appellate Court upheld the constitutionality of the Illinois Grandparent Visitation statute in the divorce case, Michael Mehring vs. Julie Mehring. This decision was significant for all grandparents throughout the State of Illinois, because last year, the Illinois Grandparent visitation statute was partially struck down in the case, Lulay vs. Lulay. In the Lulay case, both mom and dad opposed parenting time by the paternal grandparents, and in that case, the paternal grandparents were prohibited from petitioning for parenting time with their grandchildren. The current Illinois law regarding grandparent parenting time with grandchildren can be summarized as follows:
Grandparents can petition for parenting time privileges with their grandchildren in general under the following circumstances:
- Mom and dad do not live together;
- Either parent has been absent from the marital home for more than one month; or
- Either mom or dad is deceased.
Typically the issue of grandparent parenting time arises during a divorce proceeding, or after a divorce proceeding has been completed. The constitutionality of the Illinois statute, as well as many other state grandparent parenting time statutes across the country, has been challenged on the basis that parents’ rights to make decisions for their minor children should be absolute because these rights should be guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
In rejecting this reasoning, the Illinois Appellate Court has stated that for intact families, the State does not interfere in the decision-making process for minor children. Also, there are many situations in which Illinois does impose its rules on behalf of parents. For example, the State government can:
- Require parents to keep their children in school;
- Prohibit parents from placing their children into the labor force;
- Require blood transfusions for children over the parents’ objections for religious reasons;
- Prohibit children from getting married under the age of eighteen.
If all of these laws are constitutional, then what is the problem with an Illinois law allowing for grandparent parenting time over the objection of one of the parents if the court feels that such parenting time would be in the best interests of the minor children? If both parents object to grandparents visiting with their grandchildren during or after a divorce proceeding, then such parenting time can be prohibited; however, so long as one parent believes that grandparents should visit with the minor children, then the issue can be raised in court.
By way of example, assume that Charlie Brown and Lucy get married, and have a child named Peanuts. Peanuts is five years old, has visited with Charlie Brown’s parents once or twice each month since Peanuts was born, and would like to continue seeing Peanuts. Lucy files for divorce against Charlie Brown blaming Charlie Brown’s parents for their breakup. Lucy says Charlie Brown is “too attached” to his parents and she does not want Peanuts to see his paternal grandparents on a regular basis. Lucy says during the divorce process, that Charlie Brown’s parents are prohibited from visiting with Peanuts. Under these circumstances, and pursuant to Section 607(b)(i)D of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, Charlie Brown’s parents can file an independent petition for grandparent parenting time privileges with Peanuts, and there is a reasonable likelihood that this petition will be granted.
In summary, the validity and enforceability of the Illinois Grandparent Visitation Statute, which came into effect on August 19, 1999, is both constitutional and fully enforceable.
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